Archive for the 'Features' Category

We Are Baseball: A Manifesto

I am more smitten with baseball in the last two weeks of February than at any other time of the year. It was in the last two weeks of February in 2009 that I conceived of this blog and opened it for business. This time of year, before Spring Training becomes a tired rehashing of the same position battles, before fantasy baseball numbs our collective intellects, before Opening Day creeps from the subconscious, is fertile for baseball writing.

It is also fertile for nostalgia. You can see it in that last paragraph and the optimism that spilled from it. Pitchers and catchers and left fielders and shortstops. They’re back. We’re back. Everybody’s happy. This post was supposed to be studied and precise – a sociological work, not a drooling soliloquy about green grass and red dirt. And yet here we are.

The truth about baseball is that there is no avoiding nostalgia. History lingers over everything, and our many different approaches to fandom are just mechanisms for coping with it. Nostalgia is a fundamental desire to be part of something better – to feel something great that you once felt, or think you felt, or imagine somebody else could have felt. Nostalgia is a way to align ourselves. That is the past I want and this is the present I must now deal with.

“Fandom, like nostalgia, is a way of wrapping ourselves up in sensible context”

Fandom is not so different. We place ourselves in artificial nations. We align ourselves. While the acts of fandom – watching games, researching stats, nurturing complex feelings about players or set of players – may be deeply personal, they amount collectively to a declaration of co-dependence, a linking of hands with history and the people who are currently making it. Fans, much like voters and activists and even opinionated readers of the news, are staking their claim in the culture of something meaningful to them. Fans are necessary. Instead of hesitating to refer to their favorite teams as “we,” fans should be going one step further and referring to the entire sport in the first person collective. We are baseball, hockey, hoops etc.

Fandom, like nostalgia, is a way of wrapping ourselves up in sensible context. But the relationship between the two is nuanced. Fandom also involves nostalgia. Especially in baseball, where the relationship is so storied, so ubiquitous, so self-perpetuating. Practically the entire history of baseball literature from Ring Lardner to Bill James deals with nostalgia in some conscious or subconscious way.

Some fans, of course, choose full immersion. For them, nostalgia is an active possibility, and living in the moment and living in the past are exactly the same thing. In 1973 Roger Angell wrote a story for The New Yorker called “Three for the Tigers” about three crazed Detroit Tigers fans. For these men, the past was as vital as the present. Time was fluid. Far more important was their full immersion in the sport, in the team. By way of their friendship and their fandom, they essentially created an alternate universe in which topics of conversation flowed unencumbered by time and were only marginally influenced by present-day goings on. In this fandom, nostalgia becomes present tense. Angell’s story is a reminder that fandom is an act of self-affirmation:

They are the veterans who deserve notice if only for the fact that their record of achievement and service to their game and their club often exceeds that of any player down on the field. The home team, in their belief, belongs more to them than to this passing manager or that arriviste owner, and they are often cranky possessors, trembling with memory and pride and frustration, as ridiculous and touching as any lovers.

The act is not always so aggressive or aggrandizing. One does not need to define his or herself by fandom to claim a stake in the collective nature of a sport or a team. And one certainly does not need to seek asylum in nostalgia like Angell’s Tigers fans in order to confront it. Even rejecting nostalgia outright as a component of one’s fandom is a manner of confronting it, acknowledging it and even embracing it. The ultimate model for this is Bill James, who’s thirst for convention-breaking was/is matched only by his fascination with the most arcane details of player’s careers. For a modern example: Jonah Keri is one of the baseball media’s most convincing purveyors of new ideas. But when he starts musing on the late Expos, you can practically see him before you picking daisies and staring longingly into the Canadian distance.

“Sabermetricians have bludgeoned the baseball dialogue into something unrecognizable (and I would say better) from that of a previous generation, but they have also bludgeoned their way into history.”

There is inherent tension in Jonah Keri’s fandom and in anybody’s who doesn’t succumb fully to their deepest nostalgic yearnings. We are reconciling our modern selves — our willingness to confront newness, our information-addled brains, our self-conscious multimedia identities — with an undeniable craving for solid ground amidst a cultural landscape that reinvents itself every minute. Sabermetricians have bludgeoned the baseball dialogue into something unrecognizable (and I would say better) from that of a previous generation, but they have also bludgeoned their way into history. In this way, they are creating solid ground for themselves.

But that doesn’t make them/us exempt from the trappings of traditional baseball nostalgia. It was those trappings that inspired me to start writing this post. I saw Bethany Heck’s Baseball Scorebook Revival Project on Kickstarter and immediately descended into what I call the thought spirals. The scorebooks themselves are beautiful, slender, and modern. The accompanying merchandise all has the same stylish retro-grace. It’s no wonder the project has captured baseball fans’ imaginations.

Ted pointed out that they are a product perfect for the moleskine era. How true. Moleskine notebooks themselves are nostalgic — and easily mocked — souvenirs. I bought my first one because it looked cool. I bought my second because of the little card inside the first one listing the great artists and writers (Matisse, Hemingway, Chatwin, etc.) who allegedly carried moleskines around. I was placing myself in history. We do the same by keeping score. It’s an inherently nostalgic act, a deliberate throwback. But by doing so with a delightfully well-designed product, we aren’t just steeping ourselves in comfortable tradition, we’re reconciling it with our present-day aesthetics and values. We’re making nostalgia modern.

Encino Man

When Milton Bradley was arrested recently at his home for making violent threats to a woman, I was surprised to learn that he lived in Encino, CA. Encino is a plain and pleasant section of Los Angeles right at the mouth of the San Fernando Valley. It’s nice –mostly white upper middle class families– but it’s not Major League nice. It swelters but not like the deep Valley cities swelter.

I have a theory about why Milton Bradley lives in Encino, where I attended a baseball camp and swam in our friends’ pool. I think he craves the quiet. I think to Bradley, Encino represents something of the idyllic pastoral existence that city people grow up idealizing. The air in Encino tastes nothing like the salty air of his native Long Beach. When he walks down the street, the people may recognize him but they probably don’t bother him.

If I ran into Milton Bradley on the street, I’d probably bother him. This isn’t true for most celebrities. But Bradley is different. If individual players can embody Pitchers & Poets and how Ted and I have come to consume and understand baseball, he is one of those players. By his attitude, his place in the ecosystem, his style of play, his perception in the media, he heightens our understanding of baseball. There are others like him — Ichiro, Zito, Berkman, and beyond.

Bradley switch-hits. That’s almost enough in itself. But it’s not just that – it’s how he hits and how he fields and the inexplicable dissonance between the cool and smooth and patient and effortless Bradley on the field and the turbulent and vulnerable Bradley off of it. When Bradley is playing his best baseball, it’s as if he’s revealing the man he wants to be – and by many accounts, usually is – off the field.

Therein lies the tension that defines him. Milton Bradley is not a volatile baseball player; even his signature season with Texas in 2008 was unassuming. He hit 22 home runs.  He got on base. He stayed relatively healthy. And in the course of that season we saw something different personally. We saw a contentedness in Bradley’s relationship with Ron Washington. “The embrace with Wash was a special one,” Bradley wrote in a guest post for the New York Times baseball blog on making his first all-star team. “It felt like a father-son moment to me. In 30 years, I’ve never really had one of those so I can only imagine that’s what it must feel like.”

Vintage Bradley is patient, collected, and dangerous. His swing is compact in the legs and the hips, and from both sides of the plate an aesthetic pleasure.  His arms lash across the zone with smooth and level grace. He gets on base like a professional, never seeming dissatisfied with a walk. Once upon a time, he was a decent enough outfielder too.  But not even the glimpses of effectiveness reveal Bradley to be a superstar. Instead they reveal him to be simply above average – a good ballplayer, a pleasure to watch, but hardly a superstar, hardly exciting, hardly excitable.

But of course he is excitable. He is practically a caricature at times. He loses his temper during games. He tore his ACL while arguing with an umpire. He broke a bat over his knee (why is this a magnificent achievement of brutal strength for Bo Jackson but a pathetic sign of anger and weakness for Milton Bradley?). I once saw him empty the entire contents of a bag of baseballs onto the field at Dodger Stadium, then fling ball after ball into center field in what appeared to be complete obliviousness to his surroundings. From where I was sitting, I could see whites in his eyes. They boiled.

What’s the right way to understand a player who swirls in so many self-imposed narratives, a player who requires so much? The trait that defines Milton Bradley, the one trait that sets him apart, even from the other smart and vulnerable and self-aware players, is that he demands to be taken seriously as a human being first and a ballplayer second. The earnest statements, the tearful pledges, the tremor in his voice during post-game interviews, the on-field incidents, the off-field arrests: they all reinforce the same subconscious drive to be appreciated or understood or at the very least accepted. Milton Bradley is a human being. And he might be a ballplayer and he might be emotional but those are less important things.

In this way, Bradley is the anti-ARod. (Some media folks love to posit Jeter and A-Rod as opposite poles, but really they are the same shiny clean-faced product designed for mass consumption. Jeter is just better at being Mickey Mantle.) Bradley is incapable of canned lines. He has no interest in public relations, in polishing his image. When Charles Barkley said he didn’t want to be a role model, he was rebelling against the expectations we have for superstar athletes. Bradley is probably aware of those expectations — but instead of dismissing them, he is realigning them: acknowledge me, respect me, then leave me alone.

The story of Bradley’s shortened 2010 season was the simple desire to be accepted as a regular person with regular feelings and regular problems. This desire was manifest in his preseason giddiness about sharing a locker room with Ken Griffey Jr. In the way he tipped his cap to Rajai Davis after Davis stole away an Opening Day home run. In the way he asked for mental help, and then came back, and then fucked it all up again. It was manifest in the way he emotionally confessed to an unsuspecting radio reporter after homering in an already meaningless May ballgame, “I was full of joy, everything felt right,” as if baseball had not felt joyful or right in a very long time.

Obviously, things didn’t stay right for Bradley in 2010. They haven’t begun right in 2011. The Mariners hired a former nemesis, Eric Wedge, to be their manager. Fans and local media wondered openly about his future in Seattle. And then there’s Encino. The arrest.

Maybe Milton Bradley wasn’t ready for the desperate quiet anxiety that suburban life can elicit, and his arrest and the incidents leading up to it were the product of that ever-simmering angst and the pressurized valley air and an offseason spent reading about all the different ways he was no longer a part of his team’s plans. This after the worst year of his professional career. Or maybe nothing happened at all in Encino. The charges were dropped. The Mariners had no comment. We’ll never know.

All we can know is that it’s a struggle to reconcile Milton Bradley. He is baseball’s Jacob, always wrestling with himself, his managers, his teammates. His demand — humanity — is basic. But his behavior is so erratic, his game is so unassuming, his very presence is so emotionally wrought, that  unless we step way back, it’s easy to not notice that humanity in the eyes of the public is already Bradley’s greatest achievement. Before he is a baseball player, even before he is a fuck up or a criminal or a walking injury or a whiner, Milton Bradley is a man.

The Game Called Catch (Part II)

Chrissy Wilson is a writer who lives in Reno, Nevada. She recently bought her first baseball mitt. We’re joining Chrissy as she breaks in, and ultimately becomes one with that glove. Read part one here.

“Well beat the drum and hold the phone, the sun came out today.” It seems this winter has brought insane weather all over the country. Blizzards, flash floods, endless cold fronts. Nevada, my current home, has had no salvation from these terrors. Mostly, we were completely robbed of a spring. It was cold and snowy throughout May with only a couple of days sprinkled here and there of tolerable weather where a light sweater was still required.

My new glove sat in the corner, and I yearned for sunlight and the opportunity to follow through on my purchase and break the glove in. Any time the weather was decent enough I would attempt it.

The first opportunity I got was in the beginning of April. My boyfriend and I headed to his childhood elementary school and played catch as the sun set. We wore sweaters; however, I eventually shed mine as I found myself running all over the place trying to retrieve the ball I was continually unable to catch. My boyfriend stood still fielding each ball I threw. I quickly learned that I luckily don’t throw like a girl, but I catch like one. With each ball he threw at me, I flinched and almost ducked out of the way, working up a sweat running back and forth for the ball. I was also disappointed to realize exactly how stiff my mitt was and how much breaking in this was really going to take. When the ball happened to land in my mitt, it would plop directly out and onto the ground in front of me in a depressing manner. Eventually we had to abandon ship as I was completely out of breath.

The author has more in common with Manny than she thinks.

I looked at my glove with disappointment and anger. Had I picked the wrong one? Why on Earth was it so stubbornly bowl shaped? Was it cheap leather? Do I have unnaturally weak hands? Will I ever be able to play catch without embarrassing myself? Maybe I really just wasn’t built for playing any sort of sport. I worried that maybe I should just stick to knitting and reading.

That night we went to sushi with my boyfriend’s good friend who is a die-hard Yankees fan but still a good person. His wife and my boyfriend are both novice baseball fans who just don’t understand spending a ton of money for online-streaming of games with poor video quality from mlb.com or watching the Ken Burns documentary over and over again in the winter. So when the four of us go out, we tend to cross-separate with each other’s significant others to talk about our respective interests.

He informed me that he was a little-league all-star as a child. His pitching was featured in the local newspaper, and he broke records for number of strike-outs. How much of this is true, I am unsure, but I was open to any advice he was willing to give me. He advised me to fold the mitt in on itself, wrap it with rubber bands, and sleep on it. So that night when I got home, I made sure my parents weren’t home as I snuck into the kitchen and found my mother’s prized possession, her rubber band ball. She has been working on it since she moved to Reno 13 years ago. It sit satop a crystal podium and measures about a foot in diameter. As you can imagine, regular old rubber bands no longer cut it. Her rubber band of choice is the thick blue one that come on broccoli or asparagus at the grocery store. This was what I was after. I stole a couple and hoped my mother would not notice. I slipped them around my mitt and went to bed, hoping this would work. An hour into tossing and turning because of the lump under my pillow, I got frustrated and chucked it across my room. My glove and I were really off to a rough start.

Another cold front swept through the desert, and it took a week or so before I had another opportunity to play catch. This time we went to a nearby park where a multitude of families were trying to soak up the intermittent sun and thaw out from the recent freeze. I had confidence that it would all go smoothly this time around. Yet the baseball just would not stick in the glove. I was frustrated to watch the ball we used grow scuffed from grass, asphalt, dirt, etc while the glove stubbornly remained the same as the day I bought it.

The boyfriend offered to trade gloves and quickly agreed with me that the glove was still stiff. We played for a while as he struggled to bend the glove around the ball. I watched the glove molding.

“Okay, we can trade gloves back now,” I told him.
“I’ll just keep using it. It will break in faster.”
“No, that’s okay. Give it back.”
“My hands are probably a lot stronger than yours; it’ll go faster this way.”

But I wanted to break it in. Even if it takes weeks to break in, I want the glove to mold to my hand, and I want the satisfaction of knowing that I broke it in. So I took the stubborn hunk of leather from him and put it back on my hand. That’s the only way it will ever feel like my glove.

The Game Called Catch (Part I)

Chrissy Wilson is a writer who lives in Reno, Nevada. She recently bought her first baseball mitt. In the coming weeks (or months), we’ll join Chrissy as she breaks in, and ultimately becomes one with that glove.

I’m a late bloomer when it comes to baseball fandom. Neither of my parents were sports people, and I was just never exposed to it. It wasn’t until I reached college and got a job with the Seattle Mariners that the excitement and obsession of being a baseball fan infected me in a way. When I hear my friends’ stories of playing catch in the backyard, trading baseball cards, and growing up with a team, I feel somehow that I missed out on an amazing part of being a baseball fan. I adore the game and am so happy it is in my life. But the fact that I never got to experience that childhood love definitely leaves my baseball story lacking.

My grandfather, in spite of the torture of not having any sons or grandsons, decided his granddaughters would have to be the ones to fulfill his son fantasies. At a very young age, in my church dress and Mary Jane shoes, he put a baseball into my hand and taught me to throw it into an old, worn glove he wore. I stood there in the leave-strewn yard wanting to go inside. But the proud look on his face every time I managed to throw the ball into his glove made it an irresistible game. “You know, girl. You could be a maaaaaajor leaaaague pitcher,” he’d say. “I think there was some curve to that one!” “Steeeeriiiike.” I didn’t really understand what he was talking about it, but like every child, I was intoxicated by his pride. These were my only experiences with the game called Catch.

“You should have a mitt,” he said. He was right.

Fifteen years later, the man who represented the active, masculine patriarch of the family has a hard time walking down the hall at his retirement home for dinner. No more fishing trips, bird watching in the park, putt-putt games. The most we do is sit in his room, him talking about memories of his glory days, me telling him about my exploits in this town. One day I stopped by and told him about a date I had gone on the night before with my boyfriend. We had gone to the Sparks Scheel’s, which (if you don’t know) is the largest sports store in the world. It’s more like an amusement park than anything. There’s a fudge shop, ferris wheel, talking president displays, and games. I told him how I had beat my boyfriend at the shotgun game, and how I threw some baseballs in the simulated throwing booth. He toothily smiled and pumped his fist in the air. “You should have a mitt,” he said. He was right.

As previously mentioned, I am a late bloomer and started playing my first games of real Catch about two years ago with friends, me borrowing their mitts. I had the time of my life and hardly noticed, until hours later, how my arm was almost numb with strain. I kept meaning to buy myself a glove, but just never got around to it. With the recent teasing of warm weather, I headed to Target, boyfriend in tow to help with the purchase. We walked up to the aisle to see a father helping his two sons pick out gloves and bats. Embarrassed of my age, I decided to do a lap around the store before heading back. When we finally arrived at the Baseball Aisle, I was nervous, looking at all the mitts. The boyfriend picked up a $10 softball mitt, placing it in my hands.

“It’s for softball? And it’s awfully cheap?”

“It’s just a mitt,” he replied. “You need a longer one like this if you want to play with us.” By us, he meant a softball league him and his friends are starting in Summer. “Let’s just get you playing the game, before you worry about getting a fancy mitt.”

“This isn’t kickball. I’ll be better at this. I know it.” He rubs the back of my neck with a face that doesn’t believe.

I had joined his friends for a kickball league in the Fall. Most of the games I spent in the outfield where I never saw any action, and when I was up to kick, our captain kindly told me to stand there and hope for a walk. One night, though, we had a rare 12 run lead. So as I got ready to walk up to the plate, the captain told me to hit it if I wanted. I DID want it. It was my moment. I was about to shine. None of them had any idea how hard I could kick that damn ball. I stood there. The ball rolled past far outside the strike zone. “Ball!” Then I saw my moment come rolling up to my feet. I ran up and kicked the hell out of it. To everyone’s amazement it soared through air over the heads of the infield. I was astonished at myself. I had a hit! I imagine that I looked like the cartoon roadrunner, I was so excited and my feet were moving so fast. I was about to show them all.

Easier said than done.

I don’t know exactly what went wrong. But my feet knotted together and I fell, arms flailing, dust rising around my skidding failure of a body. I was mortified. I could hear my team in the dugout to my right. Half of them were laughing loudly. The other half were yelling at me to get up, that I could still make it to first base. I picked myself up and jogged to the base and in the nick of time…..was tagged out. Defeated, I returned to the dugout, sat down and buried my face in my boyfriend’s shirt, wanting to cry. My hands were bleeding, my hip hurt, and I had once again (as I always, always do) failed athletically. I could feel his chest convulsing with suppressed laughter. It really must have been an amusing site, but I never returned to that kickball field.

“Baseball is different,” I told him in that Target store. We eventually decided on a 12”, tan, Rawlings mitt. I tried it on my hand. It was stiff. But I dreamt of all the future wear and tear I was going to earn. We took my fresh mitt, and his worn boyhood one to a local park. In the sunlight and Spring-like weather we ate the picnic we had packed. Once we had rested from our eating, we saw the grey clouds and felt the stinging chill breeze anticipating rain roll in. It’s Spring though, we’d have another chance. But, no, it’s not Spring. In the week that followed, it snowed and temperatures plummeted.

So the mitt that is finally mine sits in the corner of my room, still intact, perfect and imperfect in its lack of experience. And I, like a child wanting to grow up and see the world, sit here looking at my glove, still waiting for my own game of Catch.

The Definitive Unsourced Milton Bradley Timeline

Update:  As history unfolds, so must our recordings of it change. Here is the world famous Milton Bradley Timeline with an update for recent events:

I meant to say something intelligent and original about the recent Milton Bradley/Lou Pineilla fracas.  But the more I tried to write, the more I found myself thinking back on just how this ridiculous and completely unsurprising situation came to be.  What began a cursory glance at the wikipedia page of one of baseball’s most fascinating outfielders unraveled into the following:

1860: A restless printer/lithographer in Massachusetts invents a board game called The Checkered Game of Life and forms a company in his own name to release it. He accumulates vast wealth, and his name, Milton Bradley, comes to personify joy in the form of wholesome family fun. He will die an old and happy man, blissfully oblivious to the suffering his own name will one day cause a young man from Southern California.

1978: A healthy baby boy is born in Harbor City, CA just outside of Long Beach. The boy’s father goes behind his mother’s back to fill out the birth certificate, covertly passing his own name down. Thus is born Milton Obelle Bradley Junior. Said Junior’s duped mother of her husband’s deception: “He wanted a Junior, and made damn sure he got one.”

Milton Bradley has 11 career sac bunts.

Milton Bradley has 11 career sac bunts.

1996: Milton Bradley is drafted by the Montreal Expos out of Long Beach Polytechnic High School. Bradley graduated from Long Beach Poly with a 3.7 GPA, and was kicked off the baseball team only once (briefly, his sophomore season for “combativeness”).

2004: A busy year for our hero begins in February when he is sentenced to 3 days in jail for allegedly driving away from the police after being stopped for speeding. Mere weeks later, in March, he is pulled out of a Spring Training game by Cleveland manager Eric Wedge for failing to speed…down the base paths that is! The two exchange words after Bradley allegedly doesn’t run out a pop fly. He is promptly traded to Los Angeles.

2004 B: Bradley’s tenure with the hometown Dodgers  finally gets interesting. On a cool June night, Bradley is ejected at home plate after words with the umpire. He screams a lot, is sort of restrained by gangly manager Jim Tracy, and finally lays his helmet, bat, and gloves in the batter’s box calmly and exits the field. All seems right in Chavez Ravine until a moment later, when our hero emerges from the dugout with a bag of baseballs, emptying balls onto the grass and haphazardly launching dozens into the outfield. Five tool player indeed.

2004 C: A fan in Dodger stadium throws a bottle at Milton in the outfield. So he picks it up, strolls over to the stands, and slams the bottle down in the front row, treating fans to a colorful lecture on the fourth amendment and his rights to privacy and not getting beer thrown at him.

2005: Our slightly less angry hero calls teammate Jeff Kent a racist. Nobody really doubts him, but the Dodgers opt to stick with the healthier, more productive Kent. Milton Obelle is dealt to Oakland over the winter for food blogger Andre Ethier. “We got along as best as we could,” said Bradley of his imperfect relationship with Kent, “It didn’t work for me.”

Or maybe hes the only sane one left.

Or maybe he's the only sane one left.

2007: Milton Bradley is now a Padre. In a fervent late-season argument with an umpire, Bradley is restrained by his manager Bud Black. Somehow their legs tangle, and Bradley spins awkwardly to the ground, tearing his ACL. But wait, there’s more! In a Zinedine Zidanian twist, Padres’ First Base coach Bobby Meacham claims that Bradley was baited by the umpire, who uttered ”the most disconcerting conversation I have heard from an umpire to a player.” Either way, the Padres’ playoff chances spiraled to the ground with their center fielder.

2008: Bradley has his best and healthiest year as a big leaguer. As a DH, he leads the American League in batting average and OPS, and makes his first All Star team. He even writes a poignant guest entry about family, faith, and baseball on the New York Times Bats blog. Oh yeah, he also chases down a Royals’ TV commentator after a game over some comments made about his behavior issues. Thankfully, our hero is intercepted before reaching his target, allowing him to redirect the beating toward AL pitchers.

2009: Milton signs a 3-year deal to play outfield for the Cubs. Immediately the Chicago media calls him names. One columnist goes so far as to suggest that the Bradley signing is a mistake, because a player who once accused a teammate of racism might not get along with too well the charmingly racist fans in the Wrigley Field bleachers. (No, don’t examine the racist fan base; question the Milton Bradley for the speculated possibility that he might be sensitive to racism.) He bats terribly and has a rocky relationship with equally charismatically destructive manager Lou Pineilla. Somewhat more surprisingly, Bradley is responsible for a Phil Jackson-esque moment of charming high road Zen. The exchange, courtesy of Saturday’s Chicago Sun Times:

According to sources, Piniella then shouted at Bradley, ”You’re not a player! You’re a piece of sh–!”
Bradley then said, ”I have too much respect for you to respond to that,” a source said.

2009 B: Hitting .257 in September, Milton Bradley is suspended from the Cubs for the duration of the season after blaming Cubs fans for the team’s failure to win a World Series (you would suspect a GM would be thankful for that sort of comment). The suspension leaves Bradley and the Cubs in a sort of purgatory, as it is clear the team does not want him back and he does not want to be back in Chicago. How will this glorious soap opera end? Fear not. Evidently a graduate of the Nothing is Fucked school, or completely unaware that the goddamn plane has crashed into the mountain, Hendry reassures Cubs fans: We don’t anticipate any problems. We’ll have it all worked out in the next few days.

*Editor’s Note: I made a slight edit to the title of the post.  The old one was kind of pointlessly mean.

The Mulder Collective

Something really weird happened to me this afternoon. I got all nostalgic about Mark Mulder. I was thinking about pitching, preparing to write a post about the rise of a new wave of aces, when all of a sudden there he was. Mark Mulder, free agent. He was sitting in an empty dugout, gazing out on some nameless field, arms crossed, gangly legs kicked out.

Mark Mulder is only 32 years old. He’s got a career record of 103-60. He has started an All-Star game. He has won big in the playoffs. He has led the American League in wins. And now he is all but forgotten. He is not on a big league roster. He is not on a minor league roster. And he is definitely, definitely not among the National League’s ERA leaders.

That list belongs to a different generation. If in some alternate universe Mark Mulder was among the top ten pitchers in the NL in ERA, he would be the second-oldest pitcher there. Once again, Mark Mulder turns 33 in August.

As of today, June 17, 2009, 33-year old Ted Lilly is the elder statesman amongst NL ERA leaders. Next is Dan Haren, 28. After that it’s a bunch of guys aged 23-26. Their names are Johnny Ceuto, Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Chad Billingsley, Josh Johnsen, Jair Jurrjens, Yovani Gallardo, and Zach Duke.

ERA is a clumsy metric and stats in mid-June don’t mean a whole lot. But that’s not the point. The list above provides a rough snapshot of the next few years of NL pitching excellence. Surely some of these young guys won’t maintain their current paces, and some guys who aren’t in the top ten will surpass them. If you look beyond the photo’s borders (pardon the extended metaphor), you’ll find unsurprising things: Johan Santana is 11th in the NL in ERA, Roy Halladay is dominating the American League, and CC Sabathia is doing his usual.

But stay within the borders for a moment. Examine this snapshot in detail, ye nostalgic baseball fans, and despair. For soon, none of the old arms outside it will remain. In other words, classes of stud pitchers rise and fall. They rise in exciting waves, cresting like Ceuto and Cain and company right now. Then they fall as pieces, each pitcher alone in success or failure. Some linger, immune to gravity and time like Greg Maddux. Others go the way of the Mulder.

Consider, for a moment, the wave of the early 2000’s. We can call it the Mulder Collective and take 2003 as the year it crested. The American League saw big –or at least very promising – efforts from Roy Halladay, Barry Zito, Johan Santana, CC Sabathia, Mark Buehrle, Joel Pineiro, and Mulder himself. The NL saw big things from Brandon Webb, Javier Vazquez, Roy Oswalt, Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, and Carlos Zambrano. (At this point, Cubs fans are excused). It’s worth noting also, that a year later Jake Peavy and Ben Sheets emerged as aces.

The members of the Mulder Collective didn’t necessarily rise as a monolithic entity. They all entered the league at different times and ages, surrounded by varying degrees of hype and expectations. In the six years since, each member has found his own unique level of success, and they’ve combined for 25 top-5 Cy Young finishes. But at one point, before their destinies unfolded, an air of mystery surrounded the group. Who would climb Mount Olympus? Who would tempt greatness, but ultimately fly too close to the sun?

It’s all fairly arbitrary isn’t it? The Mulder Collective is my invention. It’s how I make myth out of men, because in the end they are just men. That these men happen to be the first pitchers I watched consciously as they entered the league and matured in it is coincidence. That their arrival coincided with the peak of my late-adolescent fantasy baseball obsession is also coincidence. For somebody a few years older, that first class of pitchers might be called the Millwood Collective.

I have no proof statistically that great pitchers arrive in clusters. They probably don’t. If the Mulder Collective is just projected out of my imagination, then the current state of the pitching leader board is an anomaly caused by small sample size, or just a sign of years passing. I’m looking for something meaningful in a relatively meaningless data set.

If the national pastime is baseball, then the national pastime of baseball fans is building up myths and debunking them. Baseball, more than any other sport, is defined by the tension between the truths we believe emotionally and the truths we understand intellectually. It’s about myths and symbols vs. facts and figures; guts and instincts vs. cold competence. In its current form (tools vs. stats, Joe Morgan vs. rational thought), the quarrel has escalated almost to the point where it undermines the fact that its own nature as a pastime. The joy of myth and the joy of fact need one another. Together, they buoy the Game.

In 2003, when the Mulder Collective began to assert itself, I did not have the burden of perspective. There were many great young pitchers and I watched them and I followed their performances and that was it. I would never have bunched them together as a unit like I do in retrospect. I would certainly never have named them. But at the same time, I was excited about them and amazed by them. There was so much joy in Barry Zito’s soul-crushing curveball, in Mark Buehrle’s robotic consistency that I feel ridiculous just typing about it. But it was there. I expected all of them, even Joel Pineiro, to be great.

Now the wave of pitchers dominating baseball is my age or just a few years older. Maybe that’s why I noticed them in the first place. But regardless of how good they are – and they are damn good – the myth seems a little less elevated. I know more about these pitchers as they rise than I did about the members of the Mulder Collective, and I certainly know more about baseball. I know with dead certainty that some of these guys will flame out, or go the way of the Mulder. But a couple will pitch like heroes long enough that they become them.

There is no back-story compelling enough to preordain success. Nor does any past achievement guarantee a future one. The Mulder Collective is breaking, piece by piece into the individual stories of its members. And it will be replaced by these new kids, with new stories. The real magic is in that cycle, those stories, and the mysteries of their unfolding.

The Decline And Fall Of The Complete Game

There’s something beautiful and perfect and symmetrical about a shutout. The line of zeroes on the scoreboard that feels like it could go on forever. The inevitable victory that comes when the zeroes do stop. It’s perfection embodied in the most practical sense – guaranteed victory. No hitters and perfect games are shiny, but underneath the veneer of individual glory, the end result is no different from that of the shutout. Unadulterated Triumph.

But this post is not about the perfect and symmetrical. It’s about the substantially flawed and the barely sensible; baseball and life and where they converge and everything wonderful and fucked up about that place. Not just shutouts with their big-T Triumph, but regular, boring, adulterated triumph. There is a more human glory, a blemished glory to be found in the complete games that aren’t shutouts. But why, if less electric, are these performances more dynamic? And where have they gone?

Last season, CC Sabathia threw ten complete games, becoming the first pitcher to reach double digits since 2002. Five of those were shutouts. In 1976, Randy Jones led all big league pitchers with 25 complete games. It was a mule-like, Cy Young Winning, 300-inning monstrosity of a season. In it, Jones threw 5 shutouts.

The decline of the complete game is not a new story. It has arrived in tandem with the much ballyhooed rise of the bullpen. There were barely closers when Randy Jones was pitching, and there sure as hell weren’t assigned setup men and lefty specialists. Baseball Reference makes this all very easy to track. In 1976, 27% of all starts resulted in complete games and 26% of those complete games were also shutouts. In 2008, just 2.5% of starts resulted in complete games, and 40% of those were also shutouts.

From a more nuanced perspective, this information is practically irrelevant. Statisticians rightfully don’t value a 9-inning, 3 earned run performance as highly as a 7-inning, 0 earned run performance. But one can’t help but wonder why complete games have fallen so drastically, and shutouts (as a percentage of those complete games) have increased. Consider the following chart, comparing the years 1973-82 to the years 1999-2008. I chose to start in 1973 because it was the first year of the Designated Hitter.

cg-chart

And those numbers don’t even take expansion into account.

My suspicion is that managers are much less likely to yank pitchers working on shutouts than pitchers who aren’t. This might seem obvious; any fool would know not to pull a guy who isn’t giving up runs . But what of the pitcher who has thrown 7 innings and allowed just 1 or 2, with a lowish pitch count. He is obviously effective. But I think the runs on the board trigger something subconscious in the manager. I think, with no hard data to prove this (correlation does not equal causation), that pitchers throwing shutouts are often left in a bit too long, and pitchers who aren’t are often pulled a bit early.

Wait a sec. Don’t the strict pitch counts we have in modern baseball completely unwind this argument? Maybe a little bit. But in the same sense that to yank a pitcher working on a no-hitter is unheard of, I’d bet that a shutout gives managers pause before taking that walk to the mound. Or at the very least, on a subconscious level, it shifts the way they view a performance.

The reason I said all that, was to give this context: I miss the flawed complete game. I miss it even though I was never really alive to watch it in its prime. I miss it even though I grew up with fond memories of Todd Worrell and came of age with Eric Gagne. Maybe I’ve read one too many stories about tough 1950s pitchers battling their way through trouble. But I love to watch a pitcher load the bases with nobody out, take a long walk around the mound, tug at his cap, breathe deep, stare up at the stars, then promptly strike out the side. I love 9 IP, 3 ER, 6 Ks, 7 Hs, 4 BBs. That, to me, is a real quality start.

That start has an essence of America that the shutout doesn’t. Start the job and you damn well finish it no matter how bad things get. Imperfections be damned. It’s a rough road, but you either conquer it or go down in the fight. Tom Joad in California. Ahab spotting Moby Dick. Harvey Haddix taking a perfect game into the 13th and in a flash, losing on an error, an intentional walk, and a Joe Adcock double.

Baseball is nothing like life. But these flawed complete games are a lot like life. Things may not end well, but we get to the end. Our innings may not last as long as we’d like, but we play all 9. No clock, no pitch count, barely anything seems to be under our control at all. Sometimes we walk the bases loaded and sneak out of it; sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we throw 0-2 fastballs head-high and our personal Vladmir Guerreros hit them 450 feet. Sometimes we can put our Vladmir Guerreros to rest on a half-hearted hanging curve. Nobody lives a 27 up and 27 down life. Not even the guys on the real field.

If shutouts are the Beatles than complete games are the Stones: dirty and rough around the edges; less expert, but so much more substantive. The kind of game where pitching mounds are to be climbed, where the pouring sweat isn’t just from exhaustion, where fathers are proud of their sons not just for their ability, but for their resilience and work ethic. I mean the kind of game that ends not merely in glory, but in something more personal: Satisfaction.

(Thanks to Scott for data help. There’s a bunch more interesting stuff about complete games that I might get into these next few days.)

Alex Rodriguez: Tragic Hero? (Final Thoughts)

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I.
I’ve lived in New York for two months. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about this city it’s that people here absolutely despise Alex Rodriguez. It’s more than steroids hatred, or sucking in the postseason hatred, or trying to usurp heartthrob Jeter’s iconic place status. No, this is a kind of weird personal fetishistic hatred. I’m not sure if it starts in the media and spreads to the man on the street or vice versa, but listening for A-Rod banter in the Subway and reading the tabloid headlines off newsstands has become a hobby of mine. The A-Rod chatter has sunk to the point where people are merely disagreeing over how much and why they dislike the guy. Note this insanely liming poll* I grabbed from the NY Daily News website:

Do you consider yourself a fan of Alex Rodriguez

No – he’s a disgrace to baseball and the Yankees.
Yes – he’s no worse than your typical pro athlete, and he’s still a great player.
No – but it’s not the alleged affairs or steroids – he’s still a lousy clutch hitter!

Well gosh, when you put it that way…

II.
It isn’t just here either. My friend Jamie is a Red Sox fan. When I told him I was writing a story about A-Rod, his first reaction was something along the lines of “Rip him a new one.” When I told him I didn’t hate the guy, it was like I just said I was eating a Siamese cat for dinner. “What?” he said. “I’m going to frame him as a tragic hero,” I told him. Then he called it bullshit and called me out as a liberal apologist. Maybe.

III.
A comment on the last A-Rod post bares repeating. It’s from Ted Miller, who writes a thought-provoking and superbly-titled blog called Waiting for Berkman. His point made me reconsider my own:

“Where he’s gained status as an all-time great hitter, he seems to have lost it as a champion of the sport.”

This is what puts the premise in question to me, in that I don’t think A-Rod ever “lost it,” but instead he never in fact was a baseball hero, in the Jeterian and Ripkenian sense of the term.

To me, he’s always been this great hitter who can’t get anyone to think that he’s a hero at all. We watch him as a kind of a walking stat-maker, an enthralling anomaly, rather than a compelling figure in the unfolding human drama.

I envy a man who can use the word ‘Ripkenian’ and still have me take him seriously – which I do, because he makes a very worthwhile argument. I may have projected my own childhood admiration for Alex Rodriguez onto society. But it seems like he’s too good not to be at least somewhat compelling. Bill Gates is dull, but compelling in his own way. And empirical evidence in the form of paparazzi attention and gossip indicates that so is Alex Rodriguez.

IV.
I don’t really know how to end this, because I’m still not sure what I think about it. I don’t have a good enough handle on public perception of Alex Rodriguez and how it has changed since he cracked the Mariner lineup full time in 1996 to completely buy into my own tragic hero theory, but I don’t have enough to let go of it either. It seems to fit; the dramatic rise, the resulting tragic flaw, the self-defeating behavior, and now at least in the public eye, the fall. Tragic Hero is a hard label to apply to real people. I don’t have the luxury of fiction and imagination that allowed Homer and Shakespeare to create worlds and concrete heroes inside them. I don’t have the talent to do it in this world either.

So you tell me. What do you think of Alex Rodriguez? Is he a tragic hero? Is he a baseball-swatting robot? Is he just a lousy clutch hitter?


*Analyze that, Nate Silver!

Alex Rodriguez: Tragic Hero? (Part II)

“Fair is foul, and foul is fair.” – The Witches of Macbeth


This started as an essay called Alex Rodriguez: Tragic Hero. I had noble intensions for it; I was going to compare A-Rod to Macbeth. I would have matched A-Rod’s time in Seattle to Macbeth’s glory as a military hero. I would have talked about how Scott Boras was his Lady Macbeth, encouraging him to take the money from Texas (or slay King Duncan). I would have argued that once A-Rod did go to Texas, his insecurities about the circumstance led him to steroids, and eventually the living hell that is New York and its media. Kind of like Macbeth’s raging paranoia on the throne. I didn’t have a match for the fortune telling witches, but otherwise the whole thing was going to be beautiful. Then I remembered this was a blog, not a high school essay.

(If it were a high school essay, the thesis would read something like this: So and So defines the tragic hero as a sympathetic protagonist who is undone by his own flaws or mistakes. Baseball player Alex Rodriguez (A-Rod), is a tragic hero because a blind, overwhelming desire to be loved by everybody has caused him to make some significant mistakes and hurt his reputation. The main example of this is his use of steroids.)

So I’ll just pose this as a question: Is Alex Rodriguez a tragic hero, well-intended at first but undone by one catastrophic flaw? Maybe. He’s certainly a wounded hero, hardly the knight in shining polyester who sat above even the great Jeter and Garciaparra on the triumvirate of convention-shattering shortstops in the 90s.

Where he’s gained status as an all-time great hitter, he seems to have lost it as a champion of the sport. First, he took the money with Texas. Then he got himself shipped to New York and did the honorable thing for his pal Jeter by shifting over to third base. The rest I don’t need to get into –the regular season dominance and postseason struggles are fresh in all our minds. The clubhouse dramas and marriage problems, and now the steroids are fresh too.

But what’s guided all this behavior? I think back about the excerpt I started with in the last post, from the poet Cody Walker:

When I was younger I wanted to be a baseball player. But I can’t remember whether I loved baseball, or whether I just wanted everyone to love me. A confession, then: I still want everyone to love me—blindly, entirely, without sense or reason.

Which motivates Alex Rodriguez? His love for baseball, or his desire to be loved? The answer is probably a lot more complicated than either choice. Money fits in there somewhere too, and a whole litany of subtle factors I probably couldn’t understand. But more than greed or competitive lust for victory, it feels to me that Rodriguez has been guided by an unquenchable desire to be loved, praised, adored.

If his tragic flaw (or at least self-damaging one) really is an addiction to Praise, Adulation, and Worship, then maybe it all makes sense. Maybe his crucial error was somehow letting his own sense of humanity get intertwined to unrealistic notions of heroism. Maybe it was the high off all that admiration that so skewed his understanding of consequence. Fair is foul, and foul is fair. Will heroism itself be the undoing of Alex Rodriguez?

Part III coming when it comes…

The Death Of A Pitcher

So this piece has been selected for the 2010 edition of Best American Sports Writing. Pretty amazing. It’s one of the first serious posts I ever did for this website and something that honored or not, I’m very proud to have written. If you’ve found it via the book (or news of it being in the book), then thanks for dropping by. I hope you enjoy it. -eric.

I.

They ran the bases for Jaime Irogoyen. His family, his friends, and his teammates were all there at Estadio Carta Blanca in Juarez, Mexico at 11:00 AM on January 17. I like to imagine they were still dressed up from the funeral; that they came straight from church. I like to imagine that they filed out of the dugout in their suits and lined up behind home plate like Little Leaguers.

In my version they all stand silently for a while, unsure of what to do. There is no pitcher to get things started. No base coach to windmill them around the diamond. They stand silently in the quiet sanctuary of the empty stadium. They scratch their heads and ponder life and death and the way a baseball field can make everything outside its lines or walls or fences disappear. Finally an old man (maybe a grandparent or a coach) grumbles impatiently; he knows death well. Let’s do something, he says. Vamanos.

The first person to run is Jaime Irogoyen’s sister. She jogs with her eyes on the dry clay in front of her, rounding each base perfectly, so that her foot only barely touches the inside corners of the bags. The old man who grumbled before nods at her technique. The next mourner runs and the next one. Each waits for the person before to reach first base before taking off. Each runs with his or her head down so as not to offend the imagined pitcher. After all, Jaime Irogoyen was a pitcher.

II.

Estadio Carta Blanca was built in the early 1970s, an era of rapid and unregulated economic growth for Mexico. Oil production and manufacturing rose sharply, but rampant corruption and poor fiscal management marred all that. Times that should have been prosperous became trying; as jagged and hard-to-navigate as the Sierra Madre mountain range that begins just a couple hundred miles southwest of Ciudad Juarez.

The reason for Estadio Carta Blanca’s construction was hopeful: the return of big league baseball to Juarez. The city hadn’t had a franchise in the top league, La Liga Mexicana, since los Indios de Juarez of the 1930s. Now, after years of second tier American minor league and Mexican semi-pro clubs, los Indios de Juarez were coming back. They threw their second first pitch as a franchise in 1973.

Like any expansion team, los Indios struggled their first few seasons. But in 1976, they tied for first in their division. In ’82, led by former Dodger and Red pitcher Jose Pena, they won the championship. Celebrations were short-lived. At the end of the ’84 season, after two years of hectic swirling rumors, the franchise was sold and moved to Laguna. After just a dozen seasons, seasons that saw a stadium built, a championship won, and a fan base develop, the Indios de Juarez were defeated for good.

But the name of the team, like the stadium, still lingers. Now the name, los Indios de Juarez, belongs to a local university. In the springtime, you can watch the kids play under the lights at Estadio Carta Blanca. You can close your eyes and imagine all the empty bleachers are full of screaming fans from a bygone era. It seems that in Mexico, the institutions of baseball can outlive governments. Regardless of the times, history is echoed through stadium speakers even as it is occurring.

III.

More than 7,000 people have died in Mexico’s drug war since 2007. A plurality of those deaths, nearly 2,000 of them, have occurred in Chihuahua, the border state in which Juarez is the largest city and Estadio Carta Blanca the largest baseball stadium. The persistent, increasingly macabre march of murder in Juarez is almost cinematic in its over-the top gruesomeness. But this is not a movie. Decapitated heads really are being found in ice chests across the country. Bodies really are piling up in the alleyway behind the Starbucks in Tijuana. Morgues really are overflowing. A New York Times headline called Mexico’s drug war a Wild Wild West Bloodbath.

To be sure, not all of the dead have been innocent. Many of the faceless (or headless) corpses belong to corrupt police officers, wily drug-runners, and gutless gunmen. But many more don’t. Many are mothers struck by stray bullets, innocents misidentified by flailing cops and soldiers, well-meaning immigrants trekking to America, robbed, raped and killed by their hired protectors. Some even are students and baseball players.

IV.

There was precious little media coverage of Jaime Irigoyen’s death. In the United States, our press has not yet begun putting human faces on the bedlam below our Southern border. In Mexico, there are so many dead, so many exceptionally tragic stories, that it is hard for journalists to single them out. Why is Jaime Irigoyen’s death more notable than that of any other innocent civilian caught in the crosshairs of anarchy?

From what is available, in both English and Spanish, it becomes possible to piece together a story. Jaime Irigoyen was 19 years old, a law-student at Universidad Autonoma de Ciudad Juarez and a pitcher for the school’s baseball team, los Indios. Judging from available information, he was a good one too. As he got ready for bed on the night of January 12, 2009, that was his reality: baseball, school, girls probably.

But those interests were soon to become historical facts; the kind that are recollected in obituaries and recalled years later by nostalgic relatives. As the Irigoyen family watched television in their Juarez townhome, just miles from the Texas border, a group of masked commandos approached their house and knocked the front door down. They surrounded the family in the living room. “Him with the glasses,” a soldier said, pointing at Jaime who sat quietly in just his shorts and socks and those glasses. They dragged him from the couch, gagging him and blindfolding him as his family stood by screaming. Then, with no explanation they took him away.

The soldiers forced his son into an unmarked SUV and sped off down the dark residential streets. Jaime’s father was able to follow them at first. But after ten or fifteen desperate minutes, the captors lost him and disappeared into the Juarez night.

Jaime’s mother reported that like many of the 3,000 soldiers patrolling Juarez on President Felipe Calderon’s orders, the men who took her son spoke in Southern Mexican accents. But otherwise, the family had no clue as to who they were or why they had come. Her son was merely a student, a baseball player. He was just a good kid.

The next day, with some friends, the Irigoyens staged a protest outside a local military base. Jaime’s parents demanded to know the whereabouts of their son. But the military denied any involvement, releasing the following statement:

That whoever deprived him of liberty were dressed in military-style uniforms in no way says they were soldiers. We call on the general public not to be fooled by criminal gangs.

As if it made any difference to Jaime’s family whether the men who took him were soldiers or not. As if criminal gangs were somebody else’s responsibility completely, and the military had more important things to worry about. Regardless, it was not long before the Irigoyen family got its answer. Just 30 hours after he was taken, as his family stood outside the chain-link fence that kept helpless desperate people like them from spoiling orderly military procedure, Jaime Irigoyen’s body was found dumped on a Juarez street. His eyes were still blindfolded and his mouth was still gagged.

The military never accepted responsibility for Jaime’s death, but most in the media have chalked the murder up to a case of mistaken identity. Some speculate that a low-level informant, perhaps under the strain of torture, misinformed some police or military officer. But nobody will ever really know. Nobody but the men in the masks.

V.

The memorial at the stadium did not happen quite as I imagined. The real version is much more organized. Jaime Irigoyen’s casket is brought to home plate on the shoulders of his teammates. The teammates, dressed in jeans and their blue caps and jerseys crowd alongside family and friends. There are strangers there, come to mourn the death of a pitcher, the death of potential, the state of a nation so unraveled it could let things come to this. Photographers from local and national newspapers take pictures, and reporters try to make themselves invisible but still get a sense of things.

The bleachers really are empty, and some of the mourners really are dressed up in suits. The service at the church is to take place right after the baseball stadium memorial. Once everyone has spoken, everyone who was going to cry has cried, and every available memory has been shared if not digested, Jaime’s teammates lift the casket once again.

They hoist the heavy box upon their shoulders, in it their friend and the idea of their friend and the weight of symbolism nobody can help but feel. They make their way around the base paths; a gesture they realize is cumbersome and ironic. After all, Jaime Irigoyen was a pitcher. But nobody says anything like that.

VI.

December 2, 2008. 46 days before the kidnapping

An editorial by Luis Carlos Martinez on out27.com, a Mexican baseball website, addresses the growing violence in his city of Juarez. He suggests that fans turn to baseball for comfort, for relief. In the column, he refers to a promising young pitcher named Jaime Irigoyen.

Talk is unavoidable, but in the midst of these violent outbreaks that reign in our city, we must turn to something that offers a more flattering panorama. Baseball continues as an interesting alternative to divert our attention from these lamentable events.

Bullets come and bullets go, but the sport is still king. Those of us who love baseball are convinced that the show must go on, that praying to our Creator; we can remain a part of this baseball family. And through it all, the various tournaments in all categories and of all ages will continue to unfold throughout our beleaguered city.

Our most recent major tournament went off without a hitch. Behind great work on the pitcher’s mound by youngster Jaime Irigoyen, los Indios de La Universidad de Juarez, won the first division at the third annual Hector Molina Interleague Baseball Tournament.

A nation can’t let violence get in the way of living, especially when living is sometimes the only thing one can do to escape from the mental prison that violence creates. Bullets come, bullets go, but baseball stays. What other option do we have? Even when those bullets are spraying the infield dirt, splitting bats, and landing in the bleachers, baseball has to go on. Even as war plucks off baseball’s innocents and blood seeps over its innocence, it must go on. Even as the clubhouse ranks are thinned, baseball must go on.

Luis Carlos Martinez could never have known that less than two months after his column was published, Jaime Irigoyen, the youngster who led his Indios to victory, would become a casualty. He could have never known that the game he turned to as a refuge from tragedy would soon bear witness to one. Or that Jaime Irigoyen would soon become a story much more prescient than any strikeout or tournament victory. He could have never known that so soon, the only option left on earth would be to run the bases and try to forget.