Shohei Otani and Three Magic Words

My junior year of undergrad I had a professor, we’ll call him Mr. Williams. He was in his early 30’s, energetic, passionate, and opinionated. His class at my small bible college was one on the Book of Revelations, the Bible’s lowkey signing off on recreational drug use.

A major topic in Revelations, one debated by scholars for centuries, is whether the Rapture, the event in which God calls his still living faithful from earth to heaven to create a new heaven and new earth, is to occur before or after The Great Tribulation, a period cataclysms and horrors set to wipe out a vast swatch of humanity, and signal The End Times.

The two camps of this argument are shorthanded in Evangelical scholarly circles as “Pre and Post-Trib”. Mr. Williams was Pre-Trib, and was to such a passionate degree that you could almost forget that brilliant men had been arguing over this, a prophesy written in a foreign language scribbled down by a guy most likely under the effect of hallucinogens while sitting around on a small Greek island, for hundreds of years. In all that time there has never been a consensus opinion to emerge, and that probably has something to do with the fact that Koine Greek is a bit of a bitch, and that the future is, per my experience, inherently unknowable.

Nonetheless Mr. Williams was unshakable in his belief that the only possible reality was that God would spare his Faithful the horrors of the Tribulation. It was in that class that the largely dormant, but very much alive, seeds of speculation in my mind began to grow, and has led to a philosophy of stubbornly resisting passionate argument, probably too much so.

It was in that class I formed the opinion that the best and most correct answer for something as unknowable as the Tribulation/Rapture debate was one Mr. Williams seemed unable to see, let alone arrive at:

“I don’t know”

***

Shohei Otani is a unique player, in a unique situation. The perplexing and shortsighted willingness of the MLBPA to negotiate away the earning power of future players has put a cap on what teams can pay international free agents. As such Otani, who has made it mostly clear that he intends to come to MLB during this offseason, will most likely make the decision on where to play based on factors that have little or nothing to do with the terms of his initial contract.

As financial compensation is traditionally motivating factors 1-10 for deciding where an athlete is going to play, the absence of it in Otani’s case leaves a vast, gaping, crater in which we can pour our speculations, dreams, and hopes. This is a natural instinct. Humans like to know, and when we can’t we grow uncomfortable and oftentimes try to shape reality to our will.

We have seen plenty of exactly that with Otani this week: “Seattle is close to Japan”, “The Mariners have a strong track record with Japanese players”, or “Otani doesn’t care about money”. The latter is particularly fraught, as it can lead to assigning a moral superiority to a player accepting less money than he can theoretically extract from cutthroat billionaires, where in fact it’s easy to posit that getting every last cent possible out of them in order to use it for the ease of the suffering of the impoverished is at least as, if not more in line, with a highly-aspiring moral code.

The reality with Shohei Otani is we do not know. It’s entirely plausible Otani himself doesn’t know. We have no reason to believe the Mariners are any more or less desirable to him than any of the other 29 major league baseball teams. We do not know how much money means to him, nor should we ascribe a sort of Sunday School Morality to the possibility that he is almost assuredly giving up short term financial gain with the timing of his arrival in MLB.

We should allow Otani the dignity and mystery inherent in all the wildly complex depths of each human soul, and admit that we do not know why he is coming to America at this exact moment, and we do not know where he will choose to play. To attempt to distill the human spirit into simple cultural and/or moral archetypes to fit our predispositions does him and us a disservice. This is the most honest appraisal of the situation, and as it is so often with honesty, the most freeing.

Shohei Otani could become a Mariner, and he most likely will not. While we can read whatever we like into how much money he lives off of in Japan, or channel a Western understanding of Japanese culture into motivations for him to feel honored/dishonored by this or that, doing so plays into many of our worst American/Western/Imperialistic instincts. Real information will come in due course. For now, the best course of action is to embrace the three magic words:

We don’t know.

 

To Know Someone

(In the spirit of this post we wish to direct our readers to where they may donate to the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, an excellent charity working to defeat cancer for all.)

As we stumble through life we have slowly, haphazardly, developed a rough system of determining the quality of a person. Of course, we acknowledge that perfect knowledge of a human’s personhood is practically impossible, thanks to the incredible depth and complexity of the human spirit. This is part of its appeal, and a great contributing factor to many of our trials and tribulations, in our estimation. However, with what little time and exposure is afforded us, here is the cribbed version of our person evaluation process:

How does the person treat other persons when no other persons are watching?

Some years ago we were traveling on the ferry, heading home after a Mariner game. We had consumed somewhere between one and ten beers, and the way we were feeling indicated it was toward the upper levels of that range. At departure from the Fauntleroy Ferry Terminal our traveling companion sat up with a start and said, “That is Angie Mentink, you must go talk to her.” Having just started writing about the Mariners on the internet at the time, we and the beers were in no position to disagree, and so off we went.

Introductions were barely completed when Angie said, politely though briskly, “Great. Can you walk and talk?” Due to our beers this was more of an open question than is typical, however we said yes. During the 20 minutes between Fauntleroy and Vashon Island, Angie did two things ceaselessly: She did not stop walking in circles VERY quickly, and she did not at any point treat us as a hassle or unwelcome interruption, although we surely were.

We have no illusions that Angie remembers this interaction, or a single word we spoke, but we do not care. In the busy excrutiations of adulthood, there is a very real kindness and charity to projecting the illusion of care, whether or not care actually exists. Angie was extremely kind to us in this way, for no other reason other than we were there. We do not forget that.

How does a person respond to the unexpected, and/or that which is out of his/her control?

We have some mild experience with public speaking, stage place, and public performance. The process demands the utmost exactitude, combined with the ability to make everything seem organic and natural. When things go sideways, and surprises pop up, it can be extremely jarring, and we believe reacting to such things with grace and humor belies a strength of spirit, and peace with oneself. These are excellent qualities, and ones we wish we contained to a greater degree.

On July 22nd, after a walkoff win, Angie Mentink was doing her job and interviewing Mariner outfielder Ben Gamel, when:

Danny Valenciea’s poor aim, far from throwing Angie off her game, led to one of the great moments of the season, and perhaps the finest tweet of 2017:

As a mild postscript we remember that, after a walkoff home run on June 7th Angie, a former softball player at the University of Washington and no stranger to how athletes congratulate each other, smacked Mariners catcher Mike Zunino on the ass. This was, in the absurd modern world we exist in, cause of some consternation. We like to think Angie has not spent one moment worrying about that, and we also acknowledge we would very much also like to smack Mike Zunino on the ass.

How does a person react to hardship?

In the case of Angie Mentink, it’s just grace and humor, all the way down:

It has been said many times and ways, but we will repeat it here: A local baseball team’s broadcasters, more than any other sport, become family. They are daily guests in our home and lives, part of the rhythmic routine that marks our days. In this way we grow to appreciate their presence, a comforting salve which we apply over the aches and pains of existence. Their words are like a nightly nip of brandy for the soul, and we are very grateful for that.

***

We said at the top of this that a human’s capacity for layers and depth makes them all but unknowable, at least in the fullest sense. The act of choosing to love will always contain risk, because the possibility of darker, previously unseen nature is always lurking, regardless of how much time we have spent with a person. But we still choose to love, and sometimes we don’t need to see much to feel comfortable making that decision.

Angie, we love you. We believe you to contain a strength and fire that burns hotter than any disease or malady can defeat. Whether we do so in person, or from afar, we look forward to celebrating your triumph over cancer, and we stand by you in your journey to do so.

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.

The Perfect Pitcher

4-11-06

There are a few things I want you to keep in mind about today, so in the interest of brevity, and rather than trying to sound like someone with a lot to say, or a poet, or someone else that I’m not, I’m going to just list them here:

1) Felix was coming off his first Opening Day start of his career, an 8 IP, 12 K obliteration of the Oakland A’s. In between those two starts he would turn 21 years old. Think for a moment about how preposterously young that is. Here are the ages of some of baseball’s current bright, young, pitching stars:

Luis Severino – 23
Jimmy Nelson – 28
Aaron Nola – 24
Marcus Stroman – 26
Michael Fulmer – 24
Gerrit Cole – 26
Kevin Gausman – 26
Dylan Bundy – 24

Felix Hernandez was 21 years, and 3 days old when he took the mound at Fenway Park. It was the 45th start of his major league career.

2) This was a coronation, but for once Felix had nothing to do with it. The Yankees and Red Sox were in the middle of their decade-long blood feud over the AL East, and the Red Sox were debuting their newest weapon of war, Daisuke Matsuzaka. Matsuzaka threw something called a “gyroball”, which legend made sound like a cross between Sid Finch and black magic, and he was making his second start of the season as well, after demolishing the Kansas City Royals on the road in his first start.

ESPN was on hand, Fenway was packed, and one of baseball’s glamor franchises was prepared to celebrate their newest hero.

In the middle of the 7th inning I was scrambling to a church youth function I’ve volunteered for and I was screaming at the guy there “You HAVE to get this game on TV! I am not missing a Mariner pitcher no-hitting the Red Sox in Fenway!” He got the game on, and as I walked in I saw Jose Lopez diving as J.D. Drew’s groundball finds center field.

Damn.

One inning later, Fenway is empty, figuratively if not literally. Its soul has been swallowed by the all-encompassing totality of Felix’s genius. There are two outs in the ninth, and two strikes on Kevin Youkilis. The play-by-play marks it as a swinging strikeout, but that was no swing. It was surrender.

Felix_Youkilis__2_

4-24-2015

When you’ve seen it, you know you’ll never see it again. But, you’re a hopeful kind of idiot, so you think, maybe, just maybe.

The 2015 Twins are supposed to be atrocious. It’s through three and not only has no one reached base, Minnesota’s hitters are approaching the batter’s box like meek, contrite, sinners come to suffer god’s judgment. Felix has six strikeouts, five swinging. The Mariners are winning at home, early into their most anticipated season in half a decade. New DH Nelson Cruz has homered. There is a crescendo building, a feeling that burns through the television, that something may be happening.

We’re into the fifth, and I’m writing the recap, and I’m thinking about writing a game story about the first pitcher in baseball history to throw two perfect games. This is the power of Felix Hernandez. His youth and talent, like Ken Griffey Jr. before him, made anything seem possible. Every achievement left unlocked for a pitcher in baseball history could be viewed with Felix as, “No pitchers has ever done X……yet”.

There is still, of course, no pitcher in baseball history to throw two perfect games. With two outs in the fifth Brian Dozier got a running, buzzing, chainsaw-with-seams on his hands and dumped it into rightfield for a single.

Damn.

Felix finished it out, he would not be denied his shutout. He spent the first three innings surgically removing the Twins’ heart, and the next six slowly feeding it back to them.

9 IP, 5 H (all singles), 9 K, 0 BB, 0 R, 102 pitches. Dominance upon dominance.

8-15-12

Like many, I left work. Though I was too far from Safeco to get there in time, Gameday and the radio were simply not sufficient. After the 7th I closed my computer, walked to an empty Mexican restaurant bar, and ordered a Dos Equis.

They were tolerant of me in there, if mildly annoyed. I got them to turn off a car race, and helped them find the channel the baseball game was on. Someone the bartender knew sat down, and they started talking about nothing in particular. There was no audio, and no music. No real sound other than the constant, ceaseless tapping of my feet on the ground.

Tap tap tap tap tap tap tap

The 8th is where it was going to live or die, you just knew it. Tampa’s best hitters were due up, Felix’s pitch count was approaching 100 and, Mariners being Mariners, the team had managed only one run on the day. Everything; Perfect Game, No-hitter, shutout, complete game, win, hung in the balance of the next three hitters.

Evan Longoria – Strikeout Swinging. Tap tap tap tap

Ben Zobrist – Strikeout Swinging. Tap tap tap tap tap

Carlos Pena – Strikeout Swinging. “YES! HELL YES!” Tap tap tap tap

***

Felix Hernandez has known, seemingly his entire life, the abundance of ability he possesses. You can, and many people have, debate the various nuances between cockiness and confidence, but I don’t intend to do that here. Felix Hernandez has spent his life believing he is the best, and whether it’s fate, hard work, good luck, genetics, or something else the simple fact is that for a very long time he was absolutely correct.

I have often thought about the picture of him finding out he won the 2010 Cy Young Award:

Felix

There are tears, yes. And joy. There is also something else, and who knows if it’s actually there or if I am, always the slave to narrative, simply reading too much into it. But I see relief.

Felix Hernandez spent his childhood and early career believing he was absolutely going to win awards and set records, and the 2010 Cy Young was confirmation he was not wrong. Preposterous talent brings preposterous standards, none more so than his own. He had met them. Partially.

***

In the 9th it was the split-change, or whatever that pitch actually was, that carried him through. Felix Hernandez’s changeup at its peak is unlike anything the game has ever really seen before or since. He used it to strike out Desmond Jennings for out number one, got Jeff Keppinger to ground out to shortstop with it for out number two, and you know, with two strikes, it was a hot-breathed demon sitting in the back of Sean Rodriguez’s mind.

tap tap tap tap tap

Felix stepped back, lifted his leg, and pivoted his torso slightly past 90 degrees from home, showing Rodriguez the 3 and maybe half the 4 on the back of his jersey. Perhaps the first pitcher since peak Pedro Martinez to possess four true out pitches, a player whose insistence on overusing his fastball famously got him an open letter written by a now famous baseball blogger, Felix Hernandez had worked his entire life to get one pitch from a perfect game. What is the one pitch he wanted at that moment, more than anything else?

Fastball, inner half, with movement. Hit it if you can.

Damn.

Five years ago, today. Perfect. No one has been since.

Hail to the King.

 

If It Goes Half Right

1) The rain is starting to fall at Safeco Field, just like the forecast said. The last home game rained, too, but that was nine days ago. Somewhere in that span summer finally left. There’s no warmth in this rain. It is cold, oppressive; the kind we sat through all winter and spring. It feels like football and, indeed, the Seahawks just beat the Colts across the street, two days ago. It was the same day the Mariners finished up their season in Anaheim, with a 6-3 win. Cano and Haniger went deep, and Moore gutted out 7 innings, like he somehow did the whole second half.

The season is over, but I’m at Safeco Field, because there’s a baseball game today.

2) I’m stuck in line, a long line. A Black Friday kind of line. The kind of line that doesn’t make sense to be in. There must be something better to do with my time; some friend to go say hello to, a beer to find, batting practice to watch, signs to enjoy. I’m in a line that reaches its foolish length because there was something after all to what James Earl Jones said in Field of Dreams. I am wading in baseball’s magic waters and I, like seemingly everyone else here, know the only right thing to do today is to go say hi to Dave. I don’t mind the wait. Impatience melts away when you’re sure of your destination.

3) It doesn’t make sense, what Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz have done the past two and a half months. They are too old, and too gimpy, to have provided the ceaseless, daily impact they have in this second half. Signing these two men to play in Seattle was folly. Their ages, the amount of money they commanded, the years on those contracts. They should be albatrosses, dead weight. Baseball history is littered with contracts for players like Carlos Lee, Vernon Wells, Adrian Gonzalez, and Albert Pujols. Great players who were paid for past greatness, and never approached it again.

Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz are not those men. They are instead two of the finest players in the American League. They are All-Stars. They are the absolute, full stop, beginning and end of what drives the Mariners clubhouse. They are kind, smart, charitable, engaging, funny, and brilliantly talented. They have given us not just wins, and a game 163 at long last, they have given us a team to be proud to root for, win or lose. They are Mariner legends, without playing another day. I look forward to standing in line for their statues, too.

4) While standing in line, the moments pass by quickly in my head: Haniger’s walk off bomb against the Rangers, only one strike from defeat. I remember watching a late-inning double sink into left-center, only to have Jarrod Dyson streak into frame, running in that slow-appearing way that only truly fast people do. I can see Shae Simmons, all but forgotten, providing the desperately needed additional bullpen arm. There is Felix, these days so mortal, fighting through every single start. Once so mighty, still so proud, he would not allow himself to fade into oblivion. Not yet. Not this year.

As the rest of the American League continued its mediocrity only the Mariners, finally, were able to take advantage. Through good luck and good play they carved a 43-29 second half out of the muck and mire, and they won the Wild Card. To paraphrase a great man, sixteen long years of frustration, is over.

5) Was it worth it? Was it worth these sixteen years? Was it worth the Jeremy Reeds, and Carlos Silvas? Was it worth the Adam Jones trade, and LollaBlueza, and 2010? Was it worth Bill Bavasi, Rick White, Eric Wedge, Chone Figgins, Ryan Anderson, Danny Hultzen, Jeff Clement, Michael Garciaparra, and on?

The 2017 Mariners should have been sellers. The 2018 and 2019 team will be worse off because they did not. Was all the time spent, both in the past and now in the future, worth it for a hot few months, and a one game playoff against the Rays?

I don’t know the answer to that. Professional sports are a dumb investment of practically any resource we choose to assign to them. Money, time, emotion, etc. all flow from us in huge quantities, and there is no guarantee that anything worthwhile is ever coming back. This is not a sound decision, to be a sports fan. Perhaps, somehow, that’s part of the appeal.

6) I’m in my seat, finally, but there’s still plenty of time before first pitch. Everyone is here: Alvin Davis, Dan Wilson, Jamie Moyer, Randy Johnson, Bret Boone, and many others. Russell Wilson and a bunch of Seahawks are in a suite. Sitting in the front row are three tall reminders of childhood: Detlef Schrempf, Gary Payton, and Shawn Kemp. The Mariners, always hitting the PR notes perfectly, have Marilyn Niehaus throw out the first pitch to Junior. It’s raining at Safeco Field, and it’s cold, and it’s perfect. It’s family.

7) If the Mariners lose this game, their season is over, and their future remains cloudy. As a child I would never have thought twice about that, I would have just cheered. Time and understanding have slowly made that basic act more and more complicated. Sports are not that simple. Life, far less so. I’m pondering all this, still sitting in my seat, when the voice of Tom Hutyler begins to speak, but he’s quickly drowned out, as everyone already knows what to do.

My head snaps up, for one final glance at it all. I see 45,000 dots of yellow, each with their chest cavity ripped open and heart fully exposed, as though the simple act of naked vulnerability, of offering their very essence, can assure victory. They are so present, desperate for echoes of the past, that it might lead us to our future. The door to the bullpen opens, and he’s walking out: Old, less, ours, proud, regal, King.

The PA faintly echoes in my head; is it a directive, or a simple observation of what we already knew to do?

“All rise.”

The Mariners are Not Toast

On May 3rd, forty-seven games ago, I wrote that the Mariners were probably toast. They were 11-16, missing Felix Hernandez and Mitch Haniger, Edwin Diaz was a mess while still being their best bullpen arm, and the team did not (and still does not) have the talent resources on the farm to acquire help via trade.

Those things were true then, and I do not regret writing them. What is also true is that, despite losing Jean Segura (twice), Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Kyle Seager, Hisashi Iwakuma, James Paxton, and doubtless a few others I’ve forgotten to injury the Mariners have managed to go 26-21 since, and after tonight’s 7-5 win over Justin Verlander and the Tigers, sit at 37-37.

Additionally, and crucial to the headline of this post, is that the American League has refused to run away from the Mariners while they spun their wheels and filled up punch cards at the local Group Health. While the Yankees and Red Sox are trading division leader/WC1, only the Twins and Rays sit a few games above .500 and the Mariners, and I am here to tell you despite their many flaws the Mariners major league roster is every bit as talented as those two teams.

It’s important to note that the Mariners are not by any stretch a lock or even a front runner for a playoff position at this point. Their Baseball Prospectus Playoff Odds coming into today were 25.1%, somehow down from the 28.7% they were at when I condemned them to heck last month. They are still massively flawed, with little depth beyond the outfield, a bottom third (at best) major league rotation, and a bullpen that, while improved since April, is far from the league’s best.

This team, even if everyone stays healthy and Drew Smyly comes back and contributes at the levels expected in March, is not a team I would feel comfortable shooting for a playoff spot in most years. Only the AL’s parity and the benevolent gift of WC2 from His Holiness Allen Huber “Bud” Selig have given this team life. This is a confluence of good fortune, and one that does not come around often. With the 2nd Wild Card typically falling between 88-90 wins, likely a total well beyond this team’s capability, the possibility of only needing to win 85 games or so is as responsible as anything for the stay of their execution.

Still, the team deserves credit. They have not thrived, but they have survived. They have overcome their weaknesses, both built in and unexpectedly arisen. They have managed to build a roster and culture that has allowed Ben Gamel, Guillermo Heredia, and Mitch Haniger to flourish, bringing the possibility of the most complete Mariner outfield in franchise history very much into focus. They have assembled, when healthy and when Mike Zunino has not been fed after midnight, as fearsome a 1-9 offense as there is in the American League.

Tomorrow, Andrew Moore makes his debut, and while I don’t believe he’s a budding star, I have little doubt he is better than many pitchers who have started games for the team this year. Friday, Felix Hernandez returns. A Paxton/Felix/Miranda/Moore/Gaviglio rotation is nowhere approximate to “good”, but if you’re optimistic and have had as much booze as I’ve had tonight you can squint and make it passable, particularly if your offense can casually score 6-7 runs any given night.

They are many things. They are unfinished, flawed, broken, old, exciting, tough, frustrating, confusing, persistent, and infuriating. But they are not, as I said most recently, toast.

On May 3rd I wrote this:

“To root for a team to overcome long odds is one of the most rewarding experiences we as fans can have.”

They have proved me wrong, by proving that correct.

To beating long odds, and the roar of the faithful when Nelson Cruz’s double found grass tonight.

GOMS

GOBIZ

 

 

 

 

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.