My experiment with 2nd-person perspective--
The first baseball game you attended without holding your father’s hand through the turnstiles was on November 1, 2001, fifty-one meaningless mornings after his murder in downtown Manhattan. Dad was beginning a new day at the top of the World, while you were still sleeping, dreaming about the Little League game he was to watch you play in that evening. The better part of two months did not exist for your nine-year-old self that year and, still, the exact circumstances of living during that period are absent from your memory, an entire fucked-up decade later, perhaps the worst ten year span in American history.
To wit: in 2004 alone, you saw the Red Sox win the World Series for the first time since the decade that the Titanic sank (1918 & 1912, respectively) and then watched Dick Cheney George W. Bush promptly engineer a reelection. Coincidence? Maybe it was, until 2007, when the Sawx sequeled and a Democratic surge predictably failed to stop Dubya’s own in Iraq. Consider: Elder George’s slowest son was born in 1946, the first new year in the apocalyptic Atomic Age, a mere 136 miles from Boston, during the summer of a season in which the Red Stockings won 104 games and went to the World Series’ seventh. Beantown’s American League baseball franchise has won greater than 99 games only three times. The first? 1912, also the year that America’s first Progressive Party, led by Theodore Roosevelt, failed to win the White House.
But do you, Willie Cobb, give a shit about any of this, even ten years later? No, the only part of Autumn oh-one which mattered to you was that night at the Stadium, where baseball first flirted with Mr. November and Jeter’s Game 4-winning catharsis emphatically told a smoldering City that red-stitched distractions do, in fact, matter. Your father may have been gone, but Derek said life goes on. And so on it went, eventually taking you all the way to The Show…
The first baseball game when the name ‘Willie Cobb’—your name--was announced before the Star-Spangled Banner ended turned out to be your extraordinary moment during the World Series of 2011. Before the contest, a local beat writer described your nineteen-year-old game as, “the collision of grace and furiosity, come to the Pinstripes by way of Providence in late September, destined to help drive the Yankees on towards another new glory.” Was it a bit much? Your teammates kidded you incessantly about that damned NY Daily News article all morning. Yet, when it was your time next to bat, all of Gotham stood in ovation for number 64, the unstoppable Willie Cobb.
Thunder in hand, the spikes below your feet grind deep into a sacred space. Not the batter’s box, that’s where squared losers go to make frightened reactions. The on-deck circle is your temple, where a tactical mind draws final plans for the imminent engagement. For some, being first in line to bat is like being the last soldier running across no-mans’ land, purgatory with nothing for protection but a steel donut and a 32oz. wooden hot dog—fresh from the trench and next to face a southpaw firing squad. But not for you, Willie--for you, the on deck circle is where battles are won and fear is loathed.
So you tap the chalked circle’s center with a lead bat-head before entering. Walking with nonchalance counter-clockwise from noon, you step inside, falling instantly into a world of calm and esoteric understanding. Suddenly, Willie’s place within this timeless game becomes clear. The contest is deep into the middle innings, and there is still no score. The opposing hurler, a nasty son-of-a-bitch with a curve thrice convicted of breaking the balls of hitters far better than you, had been slightly off his game, getting outs, until that point, by way of luck and called strikes due largely to reputation. From inside the circle, and with the virtue of a left-handed lead-off man, you could see, today, that the curve’s bite was actually just a big, fat bark being left out over the plate for a bigger dog to devour, like a rabid wolf pack come across a grassy outfield of visiting bunnies.
The third baseman hugs the line--sharp doubles are forbidden consequences during the Series. The shortstop, though, is a step too close to second and playing the hole a foot too shallow. Not that this mattered to the struck-out hitter sulking back to the dugout. Calmly approaching the plate, the path of your attack has become clear. Most hitters will wait on a fastball, either taking the garbage stuff or leaving it up to Fate, but you know better. Willie, you are a man that creates his own destiny.
Strike one, a hard dart, snaps into leather, a pitch that even a dead Tiger coulda’ smacked around in his dirty sleep, but you want to wait this bastard out…outfox him and then break his confidence for the next guy watching on deck. Just as in life, this is a game that can’t be beat, only challenged occasionally by an individual who is willing to sacrifice everything at the altar of team success.
The second strike is more of the same and just as the cocky fuck thinks that you, the foolish rookie, is about ready to take a shower and start searching the local want ads for a vocation that might not require quite so much hand-eye coordination, he drags out that dead, tired curve. It is an oh-and-two kinda effort, meant as a lazy distraction, designed to draw out an overeager bat; the loud drunken fisherman figuring that even he can catch a dumb fish every now and then. The slow rotation takes a hop but never dives…you swing a microsecond early…pulling the ball-in-play slightly to the left…the hard contact reminds you, Willie, that no game tingles the bone soul quite like this one…
The ball ricochets off the mound, towards third, and now the hot corner-man has his own shot at heroism. He dives and comes up with it…first base is so close, you can do it…first base is too far, you won’t make it…a throw, a lunge, a step, a snap. “Safe!”
Now, with a man on base, the pitcher has two minds. Keeping you on base is like trying to keep an angry wasp trapped inside a ratty old mitt. The next pitch is a bouncer and you break for second like a backseat teenager wildly groping at her first tittie. Taking the base wasn’t a steal, but was it a gift from the Gods? No, Willie Cobb earns his own rewards. Another bad pitch gets swatted just past your head, on into the outfield, and all of a sudden a rally has been sparked. If you played across the country, in San Francisco, joints would have been sparked, too, in celebration.
Runners at the corners and only one man down. The game is happening to you—right now. No time to think about grass, Willie, you’ve gotta get your candied mulatto ass back home, first.
The infield is in tight, overplaying to prevent a run during a championship game that is thisclose. You look around…everyone is tight. The boys in the trench are on the edge of their benches; the men in the grandstands cheer wildly with beers in both hands, but you and the secret anguish in all those faces know that one ground ball may kill this moment—your moment. Now was the only right time to make your move in a timeless game. Anticipating anything, but knowing what is going to happen next, you are as cool as a cucumber sleeping under the other side of the pillow.
The frustrated pitcher bends to begin his wind-up. The nervous lefty batter digs in to receive the pitch. The fielders inch forward on their toes, brains twitching while considering all the possible outcomes from this one next pitch…here it comes…
You make your break before the ball crosses mound dirt, Willie versus the fast ball—first to home may still lose. The ball is traveling forty over the speed-limit and only has 60 feet, 6 inches to go. You are running at the speed of adrenaline, but a full ninety is between you and glory. A full ninety is between you and bitter failure—this is the essence of our Pastime. Ten feet out, the catcher has the ball and moves to block the plate. Five feet out, your eyes aren’t fixed on white rubber—you’re looking for the soft spot between the catcher’s ribs, the exact intersection of flesh and pain where uninformed people say baseball isn’t a contact sport. He brings the mitt down towards the plate, you bring a shoulder up towards his chest…eyes wide shut, you can only hear some poor bastard’s bones crackle…then the air escaping from the Stadium, and finally, the sound of the ball. Five and a quarter ounces of leather, string and stitching fall to the Earth in zero gravity time; when the sphere bounces off the rubber plate, a sound akin to nuclear echo makes the easy call. The stadium itself was quaking, rolling and rocking as your inflammable play creates what would prove to be the game’s only run. “Safe!”
Post-game, you, number 64, the night’s unquestioned superstar, are the only headline. The reporters get on you before the street clothes do, so it’s just another naked interview in front of the ‘beat hacks. Female reporters are your favorite, obviously, but tonight is about honoring your father, not your showing off victory-willie. Save it for later, tiger.
“People want to say sports don’t matter,” you begin answering some inane question on how you feel, “that what we do is just a distraction from real life. Well, nothing has ever been more real to me than baseball. When I see those fans, I see my dad in their smiles. That’s what real is to me. To see my dad cheering for me all these years later—that never would have happened without this game. Write that down. That’s how I feel.”
That night turned out to be your only moment in the diamond spotlight. For some reason or another, the Gods of Cooperstown had decided against your future induction, yet that was never something that burdened the rest of your life. Playing a child’s game had given you one more chance to know your father, to feel his embrace, to hear him say, “Son, you made me proud.” Ten years of thankless toil, continual failure and swinging through the fabric of time, only to resurrect a dead man’s faded smile…tonight, Willie Cobb, you have learned the Zen of Baseball.