It’s Not Love (But it’s Not Bad) by Pete Beatty

You may remember Pete Beatty from “Jim Thome Takes His Rips,” during 90s 1b Week, from his having edited Craig Robinson’s Flip Flop Fly Ball the book, or from his key role in The Classical (pledge drive ongoing!). Pete tweets @nocoastoffense.

When serious rumors of Jim Thome’s return to Cleveland started to bubble up on Twitter yesterday, my first response was sourness. It felt like something between a mercy fuck and an indulgent non-victory lap. Thome is a great guy, a Hall of Famer, and an Indians legend. I love the dude. But he did say in 2002 that they’d have to tear the Cleveland jersey off his back. That was just before he tore the jersey off his back for 85m of the Phillies’ free agent dollars. It still rankles. But I carved out part of Thursday evening to slay those goblins of resentment, grieve them properly, and appreciate what Jim Thome’s return to Cleveland means.

To tell you that, I am starting with a confession: I like to look at pretty girls.

Living in New York City—and spending my 9-to-5 in a part of NY that it’s fair to deem as pacified by cappucino—I spend a lot of time in the presence of unattainable women. I’m not immune to noticing them. This neighborhood sure has a lot. And they’re dressed really well. Also it’s summer. I happen to be single at the moment, too. So I look. That’s part of being alive. Woraciousness is in my nature. The day I don’t notice pretty girls will be a sad day, probably because I will be dead.

I try my level best not to have a destructive male gaze. I temper my heart of a dog by making up stories about the women I see. I look at their shoes, their clothes, their auras, for hints about what their jobs are, who they are, what they’re like. I saw a girl this morning wearing floral print hospital scrubs. She had greasy ringlets and gaudy jewelry, but there was a calm warmth in her eyes that made me think she was a good sister/daughter/mom/girlfriend. There’s a girl I see often on my commute who is around my age. I assume she isn’t into guys because of her haircut. She has “So it goes” tattooed on her left bicep; she is worried about making ends meet, in my story. There’s the mid-twenties-ish lady who gets on the N train at Atlantic-Pacific with peroxided hair, an affinity for neon accessories, and a smoky voice. She’s a lot of fun to know, I imagine, a tomboy with terrible taste in music and guys, but a thorough enthusiasm for life that trumps my brainy cynicism. Or so I have imagined.

These narratives in re the hidden lives of pretty girls are not methodical, but there is a rough set of genre conventions. I try to keep things positive (mental hygiene is important), and I almost always check for a wedding band. I am not a saint.

This was a relatively short but intense summer on the east coast. That day when everyone’s sap rises—and my girl-storytelling season starts in earnest—came late this year. The annual riot of femininity in the male mind didn’t arrive until some weeks into the baseball season, after the Indians had posted a profoundly unexpected 30-15 start. In fact, the beginning of this year’s Indians felt like a month full of that one magical day when tank tops and skirts above the knee get reinvented every year. The Indians were succeeding by being both lucky and good, and it was rewarding to watch. A young, projection-thwarting team playing compelling, if sloppy, ball. They were an obvious regression-to-mean candidate, but fuck math in a summer like this.

Math has a way of fucking you back harder, though. Josh Tomlin’s alchemical command of the strike zone wavered, and a lot of his mistakes have been transmuted into home runs. Every decent bat save for the steady Carlos Santana has spent significant time on the DL. There was the Ubaldo trade, which felt a lot like buying groceries on a credit card. There were flashes of fight through July and the beginning of August, but when Detroit’s Austin Jackson gunned down Kosuke Fukudome to close out a three-game sweep for the Tigers last week, I said my goodbyes to the Indians’ hopes. But this team made me happy, on balance. The minor bummer of their sundowning is a vaccination against hopelessness next year, just like looking at girls in their summer clothes, girls light years out of my league, is an inoculation against loneliness.

And so in its way is Jim Thome’s return. For the same reason I look at pretty girls and make up stories about them, I can’t wait to see Jim Thome in an Indians uniform again. It’s rank sentimentality, it’s cheap, it’s whatever. It’s not a championship, it’s not lasting fulfillment, but it is real. Thome will look particularly ruin-porn-y in the cream alts and the block-C hat. He narrowly missed playing for World Series winners in Philadelphia and Chicago. I suppose I wish for his sake that he’d been on a winner. But seeing him walk back into Cleveland and dance across my laptop screen for this September, I can’t help but notice he’s not wearing a ring. I’m glad, because that leaves room in the story for me.

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