Festina lente

On hurrying, slowly.

There’s a lot of writing about baseball that opens up the sport as an allegory or metaphor for something large, something obtuse. Baseball as love, as heartbreak, as life itself. This can be quite powerful and evocative for both reader and writer alike. I’m quite guilty of it myself. The sport lends itself to daydreaming between the pitches. Three hours is an awfully long time to be doing anything. You’re bound to muse, if you’re so inclined. Lately, though, I’ve begun to think something else. What if baseball is simply its own space to be left alone? What if something could plainly be what it is and nothing else? Isn’t that just as special, if not more so, than allegory or metaphor?

I’ve come to this sentiment as I’ve come to a similar view within my own life. That spaces don’t always have to be shared. What if I could only make a beer? Forget style, forget pleasing customers, forget costs. Forget all of that. Does the intensification of a singular act allow for a better process? And what is a better process? Optimization and singularity are often spoken of within the same breath. While I cannot claim expertise or even a remote sense of completion in this line of thinking, I can ruminate on the recent months of my life. Perhaps I have recently found joy by taking things more plainly. Perhaps, if I could do the same with Baseball, the same thing could be said. What if I could go back to simply playing catch in the backyard. To the slap of leather, the motion, and the toss. The unspoken trust of hurling a ball of leather towards a team mate, a family member, someone you love. What if I could break baseball down to this core value?

August is a time within the 162-game schedule for reflection, but only for a moment. July has passed and the heat of the day seems to magnify greatly the strengths and shortcomings of every roster. The point of the season has arrived where managers know exactly what they have in their deck of cards and all that is left to do is simply play the hand. For two months, inevitability and talent, and perhaps luck, are your guides down the river. Just don’t stop paddling. If you do, the rapids will take you; but if you paddle too hard, you won’t make it to the end due to exhaustion. Simply read the river, moment to moment. Be singular in your task. This is the sentiment for every game from here until the end of the season. Now is the time for this sort of single-mindedness within ourselves, too.

You can feel it in the morning air, can’t you? I know I find myself bracing for Fall. For the crisp mornings and the end of lazy afternoons. Often we hear of the awakening Spring brings, but there is also one in the Fall. Awakenings happen wherever change can be found. Within touching-distance of a playoff spot, perhaps it is time for the Seattle Mariners to have an awakening of their own. Maybe the simple act of a baseball game, won or lost, can transcend a million other simple acts until, finally, a city is alive with the buzz of October baseball. It takes many small events to go from scoreboard to city-wide energy, but it’s simple enough. It takes a focus. It takes structure for the sake of achievement. It is the same idea across any form of accomplishment: winning a baseball game, falling in love, or playing a game of catch.

And so that is what I am going to do. In a week I will take my first vacation in nearly two years and fly down to see someone I love in a place I once lived. It’s a simple thing, really. To make a journey to a destination worthy of the trip is an easy choice. We’ll do the things people do when they’re in love and in the same place. We’ll walk places together, talk about where we’ve been and where we’d like to go. We’ll focus on the moment. Packed in my suitcase will be my glove, as well. An old piece of leather that has seen better days and survived nearly a decade of constant use. It should be replaced, in all reality. However, the root of things shouldn’t always be discarded. Perhaps, if anything, it should be sought out again this time of year. Maybe that’s what we’ll seek together, her and I.

Maybe we’ll simply play some catch, too.

Jerry Dipoto presents: Return of Erasmo

It’s late-July and I’ve started to do that thing where I’m worrying about Summer someday ending. The same is true for MLB teams all over this nation, and for their respective executives and managers. It’s high-time for big moves to make a splash, one last chance at summer romance, and maybe by the end of the whole thing we’ll have some great memories to embellish and share with our friends when school starts back up again. In a transaction that is sure to move the “swoon” barometer approximately one tick towards “hard swoon” and then another tick back towards “hard pass”, Jerry Dipoto traded Steve Cishek for former-now-again Mariner Erasmo Ramirez. I always hate when I start thinking about Fall again.

Acquiring Erasmo Ramirez has a million different angles that I can think of but let’s start with the obvious one. If the Seattle Mariners are going to Do The Damn Thing they need live arms that can throw strikes that are not in turn hit over a fence. This is not necessarily what Erasmo Ramirez is in 2017, but he has run out a GB% slightly above league-average this year in 69 nicely pitched innings. Ground balls are something the Mariners are rather good at dealing with. This site would like to put itself forward as a pro-grounders blog. Erasmo is, however, also running HR/9 and HR/FB numbers that are both slightly above league-average, so really what the M’s received is someone who is a bit better than league-average (his FIP agrees). But just barely.

What has to be said is that the acquisition of David Phelps clearly made Jerry feel comfortable in giving up a ~late-inning bullpen piece to potentially stabilize an often frightening rotation. This may or may not prove to be prudent, but this was certainly not a case of dealing from a position of strength. The bullpen has recently felt more stable, but the idea of Phelps-Cishek-Diaz as all potential shutdown arms at the back end of a close game felt a lot better, stuff-wise, than Phelps-(insert like four names)-Diaz does now. The Mariners are a bat-first team and it is 2017. Wake up, Sheeple.

It’s also hard to say, and I’m sure by the time I hit ‘publish’ this will be foolish because some quote will have come out from the front office, exactly how Ramirez fits into the 25-man. Does he straight swap out Moore or Gallardo? Does he immediately move to the bullpen as a three-inning swing arm? Does he convert to an 8th inning guy and blow 99 mph fastballs under the chin? I’d bet against at least one of those.

It feels mostly like a lateral move for this season. While Erasmo has eight starts in 2017, he certainly isn’t a massive upgrade over Moore or Gallardo. The same problems are there, really. Stuff that can be thrown for strikes, but maybe too many strikes. The Big Inning being the downfall, or being bled to death by spreading four dingers over six innings. While the cost is relatively low in giving up a bullpen arm with only three months left on his contract (plus $1M), in exchange for an arm with 2.5 years of club-control, it has to be said that the Mariners kinda already had this arm before 2017 began in the form of Vidal Nuno. Vidal was, of course, flipped for Carlos Ruiz to shore up a backup catcher position after Jerry decided to let Chris Iannetta walk. It all just feels lateral, maybe almost revisionist, to go get a league-average swing arm in late-July.

There is another angle here that expands beyond 2017, though. With acquisitions like this and David Phelps, Dipoto could be pre-empting a 2018 trade market that should value swing arms. Erasmo’s 2015 season is well-behind him at this point, and maybe he is a guy that steals a couple wins by locking down the 6th and 7th for the Mariners in August, but this could also be a play to acquire future value for the 2018 season. It could also just really do nothing.

It’s Summer – go have some fun, you knuckleheads.

One and two

In the Art of War, Sun Tzu describes that an enemy is not easily defeated by surrounding them completely. One must present their adversary with an apparent way out of danger, and there lies your trap. It is for this very reason that 0-2 is not the most difficult count for a hitter, it’s 1-2. At 0-2 a pitcher is never supposed to throw a hittable pitch. At 1-2, you’re backed into a corner. The pitcher has already wasted something offspeed to show you the wrong part of the outside corner. They could easily do it again, you have that to worry about. Their full arsenal is available; the pitcher has their entire repertoire at hand. The enemy has the green light. You are a boat stranded upon the ocean and the storm is swirling around you. The waves, taller than the mast, they are coming. But in your hand, you have an oar. Down 1-2, a hitter is up against the odds. Yet the odds always allow for two outcomes.

When I was six years old, for whatever reason, my parent’s had mostly childless friends. As an only-child myself, I was often the one kid at parties full of 30 and 40-something’s and my dad let me drink a finger of wine whenever he found it fitting. I hated it, but it seemed en-vogue and it’s what adults did when they got together. At six years old, I turned to him in a moment I distinctly remember and told him, “I want to be a winemaker.” I’d heard him say that word, “winemaker”, before and Dad and one his best friends often discussed making wine in the garage. There was no knowledge of what the job entailed, simply that it appeared to provide pleasure and a space for friendships. In that instant his response to me was plain, facetious, honest, “Then you better get your Masters from UC Davis.” It was a joke. I had no idea what that meant. What that would cost of me. It stuck.

My senior year of college I was all over the place. I applied to seventeen law schools, and three schools for enology and viticulture (the sciences of winemaking and grape-growing, respectively). By early April I had replies from 19 schools. UC Davis was the one missing, and I simply figured that I messed up my application. It had been several weeks since I had heard from my second-to-last school. Yet on a Sunday morning at 8AM, Central Time, an email was waiting for me from UCD – “Your Application Decision”. It took me ten minutes to summon the courage to open it.

“Attached is your Admissions Decision”

Another few minutes to gather myself and open the attached document of which I read only the first word, “Congratulations…”

It’s 6AM in Seattle but I call my mother with the biggest news I’ve ever received and been able to deliver in my young life. A goal fifteen years in the making achieved, all my roommates awake from my monstrous victory yell, she answers the phone.

“Mom, guess what.”

“What?”

“I got into Davis.”

A brief pause. I’m ecstatically waiting her unbridled joy. A response I’ve been waiting for since almost before my memory can reach.

“How are you gonna pay for that?”

I wasn’t raised in a house that dwindled long on accomplishment. Victories were briefly celebrated, if at all. They were simply treated as fuel for the next fire to burn. I was taught from a very young age that without stoking your own furnace, you will one day go cold and void. It sounds like a harsh way to live, but it’s an honest one. It’s about being able to inspire yourself. You have achieved this mountain top, now what about the next? It’s about a willingness to fail in hope that the next valley is more shallow than the one before. It’s about resiliency. Teaching this is a dear, dear form of love. Because in this life, well, more times than not, you’re gonna take a step out of the box, catch your breath, adjust the gloves, and stare out at the mound, down 1-2.

Every at-bat has a certain scheme and rhythm before the music starts. A routine before even stepping into the batter’s box, a certain way you tap the bat to the plate. There is always this plan. It’s not even learned, it’s within you at birth. You reached out and grabbed this plan, these habits, so very long ago from the stardust surrounding your soul before you become matter. But plans mean nothing when the bullets start flying. As you step into the box, settle yourself and free your mind, the pitcher comes set.

It’s a grooved fastball. Middle-away, full extension of the hands is easier here, clearly a mistake. You swing as hard as you possibly can while trying to keep your head in. You can already feel the effortless crack of the ball hitting the sweet heart of maple, the ball over the fence, the cheering crowd, the slow, purposeful arc and crisp final one-hundred feet of a bundle of leather and string defying all given physical expectations. The ball instead is fouled straight back.

Strike one.

You missed your shot.

I was once asked where the richest place on Earth is. Sensing a trap within the question, or some sort of riddle, I thought about mineral wealth of nations. What laid buried beneath. Papa New Guinea was my first thought. I was on the right track, but miles away from the wanted answer.

“The richest place on Earth is the graveyard.”

There lies the songs never sung, the letters never written, the stories gone to bed too soon. There lies love lost, the regret of silence, the eternal question of what happens when you leave something behind. The answer? Nothing. Nothing happens because the spark was never given a chance to light fuel. The question isn’t what happens when you leave something behind. It’s what didn’t happen. And we’ll never know. It’s a heavy-handed metaphor, sure, but the sentiment is a true one. A lot of people die full. Full of their talent, full of their ability, their skills. They never used it because they were scared to take a risk. You have to shoot your shot.

Sometimes, you miss. You still have a strike to give.

The pitcher is set again. Down 0-1 you’re still very much in this at bat. Gloves properly adjusted, the pitch arrives, another mistake, but this one too far off the plate to even give a chance. The pitch darts away and into the dirt. Ball one. Some decisions are so easy they seem almost to be made for you. Some forks in the road have a very clear choice. The count is 1-1. You’re back on track. You step out of the box to mentally check the plan.

A deep breath and a return to the inside of the chalk lines, the next pitch is delivered. It’s coming inside and tight.

I am sitting with her as she attempts to talk her sister out of suicide on the phone. My room is eerily quiet. I’m holding her hand. It’s the only thing I can feel in the darkness of the space.

I am sitting next to a man in a ditch. He is dying. My arm is around him as I give him water and wash his wounds. “You’ll be okay. We’re here with you.”

I am standing in a bar as her last beer turns into the story of how she was beat as a child. Her tears are warm against me as I hold her while the music drowns out the rest of the world. The warmth of her pain made physical is all I feel.

I am sitting on her bed when she tells me she is going to marry another man.

My phone rings, an old friend. I take a walk to answer the call, expecting to catch up during a warm, Summer’s evening. She has other news. Dave died this morning.

I am sitting on her bed as her PTSD returns. She can’t be touched in this moment. I ask if it’s better for her if I stay or leave. She asks me to stay. I sit at the foot of the bed, quiet.

I am driving my car when she starts to cry. She heard first the news of my grandmother passing. It strikes her too close to home. I hold her hand. It’s a Sunday morning and we have a tradition of getting breakfast. In this instance and all the others, I have no words. I am a passenger. I am not enough. They are, though.

All these people will leave me, in one way or another. In that leaving they will take with them a piece of myself. Not out of malice, but out of necessity. It’s not even a conscious act. It is what we all do when a body catch a body coming through the rye. In those moments there was deep love, but deep inadequacy, too. I was measured too light. I didn’t recognize the pitch.

The ball curls wordlessly away from your body and into the zone. The movement deceptive. You were simply a passenger, the bat still on your shoulder. You never saw it coming.

Strike two.

So there you stand, two feet out of the batter’s box and in a hole. There you stand with no strikes to give. No room for error, pieces of you gone, and at the will of an enemy who has you backed into a corner. The waves are rising, your vessel looking smaller and smaller against them. In this moment, as in every moment, you have a choice. You can wait and hope, or fight. It won’t be easy. I wish I could tell you it gets easier, but it doesn’t. You have to find something inside yourself. You aren’t in the graveyard yet. You still have an oar. Start paddling. Put Fate, Circumstance, whatever form of free-will you believe in, into your own hands. Go down swinging.

The pitcher comes set again.

It is not the things we do in life that we regret on our deathbed, but the things we do not.

Swing if it’s close.

If it all goes right

Just this one time, with meaning

I once heard that the way to experience true happiness is to picture the precise moment you fell in love with the object, idea, or person in question. Not the month, the week, day, but the moment. You see, these instances are important for contemplation and deep focus because they, just as our very lives, are fleeting. We often speak of a limited time on Earth, but what we rarely discuss, because it gnaws at our very core, is that the processing power of our mind is also limited in both ability and duration. I am doomed to suffer the same, eventual memory loss of my grandparents, their grandparents, even my mother and father. Those memories, those moments where we fell in love, eventually they will be wiped away, replaced or simply lost. For me, the moment I fell in love with the Seattle Mariners, I can still feel it.

On October 6th, 2000, I was in a car, the same car I still drive, a 1993 Toyota Landcruiser, with my dad, waiting in the midday Sun to go and get a haircut. Delaying our appointment because the Mariners were on the radio and about to sweep the Chicago White Sox. I loosely knew the characters associated with the 2000 M’s. There was Edgar, Dan the Man, A-Rod, Guillen, Rickey Henderson, Charles Gipson, Kaz, Freddy, Cammie, and others. The names were mostly all I had. That team won 91 games. I hadn’t processed joy, yet. Maybe I still haven’t really gotten down to it even to this day. Yet, I do know, that the moment I fell in love with the Seattle Mariners was right about here:


So it makes sense that between then and now, love has changed its course. Between then and what we all witnessed tonight, there was a dynasty built, torn apart, and then stones thrown at the rubble. Weeds scatter the remains, some spring and summer flowers grow there. We came to know the Mariners amongst a pile of failed prospects, half-season hype-trains, Cliff Lee, Chone Figgins, Dustin Ackley promotion and demotions, losing Adrian Beltre, and Felix Hernandez. It hasn’t been until rather recently, from 2014 to now, that anything has stirred those feelings of true, unbridled love. Sometimes, we just need a reason to believe.

I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the relevance of the Mariners has coincided with the tenure of Robinson Cano. It’s no mistake that everything simply feels different with him in teal. And in 2017, he didn’t disappoint. We all knew that in order for this to work, Robi would have to bear a large burden. Yet, he made it look so easy. If we thought 2016 was the final chapter in the MVP-career of Cano, we were dreadfully wrong, and we needed him to prove us wrong. There he was, double into right-center after double. He was relentless and his partnership with the powerful Jean Segura was likely the most entertaining double-play combo the franchise has ever seen. That Cano smile never left all season, and why would it have? I still remember the exact moment I fell in love with him, too.

The rest we saw coming, James Paxton led a rotation featuring a junk-balling Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma riding off into the sunset. The bullpen was terrifying, both in its volatility and use of relative unknowns. It felt like almost every night someone new was throwing a high leverage eighth. Nelson Cruz kept his magic intact for one more season with another 40-homer year and the outfield defense was good enough to make up for their issues at the plate. What we didn’t account for, and maybe never should have as fans of the Seattle Mariners, was a rather large dash of luck.

It wasn’t hard, back in April, to see this team making the playoffs, you could even see 90 wins. What was worrisome was the other side of the coin. Just as simply one could see 90 losses. But, we never account for luck as fans of the team that until today, had the longest active postseason drought. We’ve been through this before. We’ve heard the hype only to have every single wheel come off the rails. We remember 2010, 2015, 2008. Think back on all the walkoffs in August. The O’Malley bleeder down the right field line, the Segura grand slam in Houston, Haniger stealing home to beat the Royals. Remember Zunino’s three home run game? Now, we’ll remember the exact moment we fell in love with playoff baseball again.

Looking back on it, it makes sense that the Seattle Mariners hosted the Texas Rangers in the Wild Card Game. It makes sense that three AL West teams made the playoffs, and one of them, this time, was the Mariners. You see, you start to learn something about love as time goes on. That it’s more adult than you’d care to admit. That loving a sports team is full of rage and intensity, grace, silence, echoes, they come together if you’ll let them in. That, like loving another person, when something is out of your own control, you cope in different ways. You buy in further and further, rejection drives you deeper and deeper. And that when love is so lopsided that it destroys you, and you have to keep mortgaging yourself to keep it alive, that one day, Leonys Martin changes everything. He makes you fall in love, again.


That’s what we all saw again tonight. Leonys, playing for the team that finally made him feel welcomed, like he belonged, and in the midst of one of the worst slumps of his career, took an 8th inning Matt Bush curveball ten rows deep. It was a bit of that same magic he seemed to possess in 2016, that one night in May. A call back to a time that feels so long ago, but so new again. A roofless Safeco almost fell to the ground. Those old, wrinkled gods of baseball long ago heard us in their sleep. Felix watched as his seven inning, two-run gem was finally, thirteen years later, made good. Edwin Diaz closed a ninth I don’t think I felt a single moment of. I’m still numb. The love I feel has shaken my bones of their feeling.

I don’t want to feel, either. Perhaps that is the most important aspect of love in the moments you find it. At the same time you are both completely full and void of feeling, of regard or care. There is only this moment, this person, this being that you love. The Seattle Mariners, at some point in the next several hours, will fly to start a Divisional series in Boston. Felix, Cano, Cruz, Seager, Paxton, and Leonys all will be beaming. But that doesn’t matter. Tomorrow doesn’t matter.

Simply this moment does.

It grows back stronger

The time of year beckons the Sun to shine. The buds on the bush and tree alike are waiting, the birds, too. Here and there it comes but goes. The Sun gives us that preview of the good, simple times in waiting. Of those Summer months where Baseball reigns upon us like the holy waters of those long-ago rivers. Of green trees and greener grass and blue skies. Of nights like perfumes left alongside an expansive spice road. That Sun is an ancient marker. I, and you, as well, have been waiting.

There’s something to be said here about that waiting time. About those spacious moments of breath that Baseball uniquely affords. Spring is known as a time of cleaning, of righting the wrongs of Winter’s long embrace. So, too, we turn to hardball to make us clean again, perhaps now more than ever. I’m not entirely comfortable with the waiting, though. And I’m not entirely sure these words will ring true to you, but there’s this sort of comfort in looking into the middle distance. I know that in these times I find myself now in, running myself ragged trying to make ends meet future beginnings, that I lose myself in that middle distance. It’s where I go to comfort myself. To just feel nothing for once. But, just maybe, that space isn’t what makes Baseball special at all. I think it’s those moments of terror that punctuate the hazy middle distance. The terror is what defines us.

I’ve found that one of the truths of my own existence is that all people of all creeds and colors have battles to fight. The question isn’t in the binary, it’s more a question of how many wars you are willing to wage to make yourself clean. To forge yourself takes the constant dusting one self off. Baseball, just as Time, makes fools of us all. You will fall flat on your face, be made a fiddle in another’s play, and the whole world will see. If you are willing to bare your soul in this way, to prepare your hands for battle, your fingers for war, you will not ultimately win. You will one day fall for the last time. All you can do is simply earn yourself another contest. And another. And one yet again. That’s what life is about. The one-hundred and sixty-third game. There is nothing else but the horizon.

How many battles are you willing to fight?

We’ve reached that time of year where baseball fans are stir crazy enough to care about practice. Simply hearing a ball meet bat, or a ground ball fielded correctly, is enough to spike our interest. It’s because of a return to routine. It reminds us of brighter days ahead. Perhaps we read too much into it. I know in my current mode, I still need a break from baseball. There’s too much pain intermingled in it for me to touch it now.

Yet, I’d like to say one thing about practice. Spring Training, for all that it is not, is absolutely a display of the work behind the work. If there’s one thing to take from the games now being played in Arizona or Florida, it’s that there’s plenty more work to be done. This isn’t true just for the twenty-five men who will represent the Hometown Nine. It’s for you, too. To reach the joyous part of summer, you need to work harder. There is no offseason.

To be quite honest, I’m not sure if these words are more for you or for me. They are ill designed and sporadically scribbled down. Yet, they are the words now pounding in my head. In my heart, maybe even more so. These are the manic phrases of a man driven mad by his own shortcomings. They are the angry ramblings and rumblings of the embers being blown back to life. The reason that we collapse upon ourselves in moments of pain. Because that is how the higher metals are fashioned by stars. I am the bastard grandson of the first fusion. I turn dust to gold. This is the moment before the storm. The next wave is coming. We brace for battle. For Spring and Summer. This is for the moments that the Sun will soon show clear. This is the time to do your worst. I bet you didn’t know I was a savage.

This is for those faithless who turn the other way when the road becomes dark. For the haters and the critics who’ve all seen better, but never done it themselves. This if for those who shook my hand but wish me dead. For them who broke bread with me only to poison my cup. Who believe they feel the pressure when I know the pressure. I write these words for those who think I don’t see but I do. I know what you’ve done. For the leeches who need my body to live. The ones who work behind my back. You shoulda got your weight up. This is the reason I’m not smiling. Because you forgot my life is a constant live-fire exercise. That if you want it bad enough you had to give something for it. This is because you’re too scared to look in the mirror. Too weak to play injured. Too afraid to sacrifice. For the snakes in the grass. I’m gonna get my hacks in. Thanks for the reminder.

These are the words to remind yourself that when you’re cut down, you grow back stronger. That when you fall again, you have the same choice again.

Rise.

Spring nears to make fools of us all. The Sun has marked its path. For 162 games and the rest of your life. It’s about to get very real. I hope you’ve done your work. Sharpen me. I did mine. I’m still doing mine. I’ll show you how great I am.

Let’s play some ball.