I began the evening writing about Derek Jeter: it’s the sort of thing one does out of obligation, a futile action that marks one as a Baseball Writer. It’s seven o’clock and a faceless tweet reminds me that the Mariners have begun the second half of their season, so I throw the game on in the background and continue perusing Henry David Thoreau, collecting my thoughts on America’s Captain.
The game proceeds as one would expect. Josh Hamilton sends one over the wall in the first, Nelson Cruz does the same in the third. Jason Vargas appears confused, suddenly unsure of what it means to be Jason Vargas. The voice of Mariners’ broadcaster Dave Sims rises and falls like a metronome in the background as the Rangers tack one run after another, until in the middle of the sixth the score is 5-0 and Thoreau is irritating me even more than usual. “If I have unjustly wrestled a plank from a drowning man, I must restore it to him though I drown myself,” he smirks. The banality of the broadcast booth might be even worse, but I’ve learned to tune it out. Still, these are no conditions for art. A headache burrows behind the edge of my temples, as if I’d gulped down a half-bottle of Boone’s.
The Mariners, over the course of six games, have dropped from a playoff probability (according to coolstandings) of seventeen percent to two. The baseball season grinds on in its plodding, determined fashion, but the average fan isn’t expected to accompany every step of the voyage. There are days like these, when the weather is nice and the lawn needs watering and the inevitable result of a terrible baseball team hardly requires us to devote three hours in observation. This is why writing is hard, and why there is such appeal in being a dilettante. Days like this make me want to write about politics, or food, or insects.
Is this a personal voyage, or a universal one? Is it a test of strength? Like anything else I can only know baseball through my own perspective, and there’s little use in hiding the fact that, for all my years of casual fandom, as a writer I’m a neophyte. I can’t help but wonder if I’m experiencing, for the first time, the truly unrequited love of the baseball fan, subjected to countless weak ground balls to second, home runs by opponents that barely clear the walls. Baseball’s routine is more punishing, more rhythmic and unerring and indomitable than any other sport. Losing is lonely, and it takes forever.
Patrick Leigh Fermor, acclaimed British travel author, wrote a book about his experience living in a French monastery entitled “A Time To Keep Silence.” Short on money, and in need of a secluded place to work on a manuscript, Fermor found what he felt to be a perfect fit in the Abbey of St. Wandrille. His initial reaction:
Back in my cell, I sat down before the new blotter and pens and sheets of new foolscap. I had asked for quiet and solitude and peace, and here it was; all I had to do now was to write. But an hour passed, and nothing happened. It began to rain over the woods outside, and a mood of depression and unspeakable loneliness suddenly felled me like a hammer-stroke.
The fate of my hometown baseball team did not perhaps deal quite so severe a psychological blow as the bare, foreign walls of this elementary prison. But as the bottom of the sixth arrives, the broadcasters begin to discuss Derek Holland’s prospective perfect game, and watching the spectacle, I begin to wonder how this doesn’t happen against the Mariners every other week, or how anyone ever successfully write an article about Derek Jeter. I feel like I understand the tiniest fraction of Fermor’s despair.
But Fermor continues:
My first feelings in the monastery changed: I lost the sensation of circumambient and impending death, of being by mistake locked up in a catacomb. The mood of dereliction persisted some time, a feeling of loneliness and flatness that always accompanies the transition urban excess to a life of rustic solitude. … One is prone to accept the idea of monastic life as a phenomenon that has always existed, and to dismiss it from the mind without further analysis or comment; only by living for a while in a monastery can one quite grasp its staggering difference from the ordinary life we lead.
Fermor went from sleeping eighteen hours a day, living in a haze, to sleeping five, his body sharp and his mind focused on his work. So perhaps there’s hope after all for the monastic life of baseball. Every writer stares at the blank page sometimes and wonders if they’ll ever write again, just as every baseball player goes through a slump and wonders if another hit will drop in. Every fan, at some point, wonders if they’ll ever again have a team worth rooting for. And yet we all muddle on.
Derek Holland opened the bottom of the sixth with a bases loaded walk to Franklin Gutierrez. Then, of all people, it was Chone Figgins who fought off an inside fastball, dropping it over Ian Kinsler’s glove for a single. I smiled, turned off the television, and took my wife to go walk in a nearby park.