Happiness makes up in height what it lacks in length, said the poet Robert Frost. If you have spent a few days or weeks in my class on the Confessional Poets, or long enough in a bar in conversation with me, you would hear me repeat this quote. I am interested in Happiness. In recent years, the subject has been the source of many studies, a great deal of research and blogs(See Daniel Gilbert) and books, and now perhaps more of a topic at the tavern. (Well, perhaps it’s always been a topic at the tavern.) The difference is now we are looking at sustaining joy, beyond its term limits implied by Frost. But consider readers of Dante. The number of those who study The Inferno significantly outdo those who read Purgatorio or Paradiso, no to mention how many times The Inferno has been translated into other languages. Could this point to our desire to understand pain and tragedy because it feels more mysterious than joy? Or is it that pain is the territory we most often occupy?
The question I have about our current state, which is first place, is if the relief and joy we are feeling now is a result of how terrible April went for the Sox? On a more personal point, my blog has slumped for many reasons recently(including the switch to WordPress) but one of the reasons this week is a solid feeling of contentment. So, here is what I would like to celebrate with you, in communal happiness(doesn’t pain always feel too personal?):
1)Let’s give the middle relief some. How about Rich Hill’s curveball in the 8th in Cleveland
2) Carl Crawford’s awakening
3) Carl Crawford’s awakening
4)Carl Crawford’s awakening
5)I can’t say it enough, but I will move on to Ellsbury. We missed you last year for certain.
6)I bow down everyday to A.G.
7)How about Pap’s consistency?
8)If you get down for a minute or two one of these nights, consider that sweep a few weeks ago. You know the one.
Sometimes Jonathan Papelbon’s syntax is a little strange, not to mention a few mixed metaphors and some surprising, thinly veiled insults to others around him. Sometimes Jonathan Papelbon is a little strange, without the words. But in recent days, the king of the Red Sox closers–though that title is nebulous according to many–has made some sense, both scholarly and profound. With all the jubilation about our Winter Signings Wonderland, we have been counting the wins. 100? 103? The best records in baseball in 84 years? But Pap brings us back to reality. He deflates the hype the way he punctures the hearts of autograph seekers by driving right by them with nary a glance.
We don’t have the best bullpen in baseball until we win the World Series, he says. This led me to consider how an overloaded pitching staff can suddenly look like the rotation of the PawSox. After last year’s decimating injuries to just about everyone in the lineup, we must be cautious about our expectations. That doesn’t mean my heart isn’t racing with the sight of palm trees.More importantly, though, I am thinking about the way we assume our bullpen is overloaded. We assume Bard is the closer of the future. Hey, we have Bobby Jenks, too. Was anyone paying attention when baseball’s brightest star unhinged his elbow in the nation’s capital? Of course we all were watching. We watched more closely as our middle relief and closers blew lead after lead. We have the bats, but never ever enough arms.
The photos in yesterday’s Globe of the early arrivals reminded me of one significant fact in baseball–how many young players will play their guts out and never make the show.First there was the shot of Pap, looking perhaps like he needs to shed a few pounds, but possessing still his steely determination.Then there were the beautiful shots of “minor league players” unnamed, on the mound and strapped by workout parachutes. Parachutes not for landing anywhere but for pulling you deeper against the wind while running. As everything will seem to go with them, the game speeding them along to professional ranks, the reality of the greatness of so many others crowding the path will grow in front of them, in the grapefruit’s damp mornings and afternoon heat.
One of the great things of the game, which these players already know on so many deeper levels than I will ever know, is how one can return to it again and again for meaning and understanding. I love how the rituals of spring keep growing, with the celebrations for Truck Day and Pitchers & Catchers, etc. . It is sign to me that we want more from the game, with an almost insatiable desire. In celebration of every ritual, big and small, for Spring, and for the minor league players running wind sprints in Fort Myers, as I write this far north of them, and who will be still out there as the sun is setting, here is a poem by Mairead Small Staid:
IN THE TWILIGHT
A diamond is geometric, perfect,
lasting; no mathematician understands this
as we do. Paley found a watch,
believed in a watchmaker–
we do not question three strikes, three outs,
nine innings. We know like we know nothing else:
gods hewed this gem. Nothings less
could gild the grass in such a dying sun.
Nothing less could blur time like a field in haze.
The lanky leadoff, now, freckled wrists jutting,
crowding the plate, young enough to be cocky
& terrified–his bat kisses the ball, sweet & hard
& brief: we stand to watch this moment
arcing in the twilight, these boys
exploding into men.
(Published in The Southern Review, Spring 2010, page 297)
Mairead Small Staid is a resident of Massachusetts and a student at Pomona College. She has other work in The New York Quarterly
ESPN’s number three top play of the day is Nava’s diving catch. In Red Sox top plays, it is number 1. My other top play is Papelbon’s save, one of the best performances by any closer this year. He threw 14 pitches, 11 for strikes, while using every one of his pitches, including a 97 or 98 mph fastball. Mike’s Napoli’s whiff was a work of pitching art. For his 29th save, his numbers were almost identical. I know I am skipping over the painful blown save, but let’s look at Papelbon at his best. Dan Shaughnessy recently reported that there are only two other closers with better numbers than Pap. Mariano Rivera and Christy Mathewson. I can’t solve the debate about the closers, but I do know that two pitchers like the Bard and Pap are what most teams can only dream about. Give him the contract he wants, Theo. And hold onto the Bard. Many of our one-run game losses result from a rickety pen.
After the great win last night, with Nava’s stealthy dive, two things are important. First, momentum. How many times this year have we felt the high of a great win, with the premonition of the beginning of momentum, thinking, “hey it begins here, we will now win 12 of 14 or something.” Only more games and time will tell. Secondly, Nava’s hunger, along with his workmanship grit is all over that play. Watch the replay a few more times and what comes to mind is how bad he wants to play in the bigs.
One often wonders how the huge contract gets between the ears of a player. Jayson Werth of the Phillies comes to mind. A mid-season slump may have something to do with trade talks and his free agency. It might be a romantic notion to suggest that in this game money changes the intangible desires to win and prove oneself, but look at the young talent on this team. Watch Ryan Kalish getting advice last night from J.D. Drew after catching a fly ball either of them could have grabbed and you might see what’s in the blood of a younger player. Maybe we ought to let Pap keep grinding his teeth to more saves without the big payday.
Headline writers have fun, don’t they? Whether you buy newspapers like the New York Post or even the likes of the Global News, if that’s what it’s called, whatever your political party, sometimes titles are the most entertaining element of the news. So I thought I would follow the Globe’s “Shock and Awful” (with reminders of the bellyaches we are experiencing now) and toss a little shocking news out there with a title that might alert readers.
It’s not the same as “Man eats his way out of whale that swallowed him,” but you see when one types in “Red Sox’ on Google, the third or fourth choice links us naturally with the Yankees. Fiction writer Ron Currie Jr. has written one damn amazing essay about being a Sox fan, with the title I have inserted tonight as my own(titles can’t be copyrighted right?)
If you are feeling awful right now, following one of the most frustrating losses of the year, any good doctor would prescribe reading Currie’s essay, with a few drinks and good cigar maybe. I have been talking about The Southern Review’s Special Issue on Baseball since the season began. It’s loaded with great pieces, poetry, fiction, as well as non-fiction by fans and former players. Currie’s essay had me rolling in the sand, laughing out loud the other day.(ex. “Of course the big daddy of all disappointments, the event that made living in New England feel an awful lot like getting a rectal exam from Poseidon in the ninth circle of Hell, was the 1986 World Series.”)
One central piece of the guru’s(Currie in this case) wisdom is that “[b]aseball is a game in which injuries often determine the outcome of the season, so you learn to(try to) accept that.” The problem, the real pain, the true awfulness aiding and abetting some of the shock of today’s loss(and other parts of the season) is our list of the disabled. I am going to take a risk and suggest that the most crucial season-changing injuries are those to our catchers.
Vmart and Tek have suffered and so then our pitchers have turned beautiful leads into painful digits added to the loss column, right at the time we were making a move. I will have to ask around and throw this theory out to you to see if it has any weight. Maybe, like the bottom of a muddy pair of cleats, my brain isn’t operating clearly tonight after wanting to rip the Sox hat off my head, along with my head, and throw both into a fire and turn on Monday Night Football. There is a time, Currie says, when next year feels already like next year, but I am telling you, I won’t have any of it. Not yet.
Ron Currie Jr. is the author of Everything Matters! (2009) and God Is Dead(2008). He is the recipient of the New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award, as well as the Addison M. Metcalf Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
The Major League team leader in blown saves since 2008 is not the Red Sox.
My notes for this entry, what might have been my focus with a victory, were initially focused around the 98 99 mph fastballs Pap was throwing. That was gas to match the Bard.
Professor Daniel Gilbert(a real professor as opposed to my nicknamed Globe journalists), a professor of psychology at Harvard, wrote in the NYTimes about the mind’s workings under pressure, as in the case of Rodriguez’s 600th home run. In his opening sentence, he says “The Boston Red Sox haven’t given their fans much to cheer about this summer, so we have had to take our pleasure where could find it, for example, by watching Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees struggle to hit his 600th career home run—again and again and again.”
I am not about to take on a Harvard Professor, especially one who has written excellent books on the subject of happiness. After reading his bio, I realized I didn’t know he also has a tv show, “The Emotional Life,” to top off his achievements. His essay, “The Weight at the Plate” is illuminating. But it’s that first sentence that has got me stirring this morning. Some may say, well that’s because it’s true and the truth hurts. Not only that, these injuries, especially Youk’s thumb, hurt like hell. But is all this swelling going to silence us? Are all these broken bones enough to choke our cheers?
I wrote about an article earlier in the season that challenged Red Sox fans to stop acting like Yankee fans. With 27 rings, the Yankees have come to expect a championship every year. That’s natural, even if some think that the way they got there is unnatural. So be it. With two rings in the last ten years, are we spoiled and greedy? First, we love this rivalry. And any great play or better, any victory over the Yankees, gives us something to cheer about. Will this be a Bronx massacre that desecrates our entire season? Well, maybe.
I keep thinking about the tickets I bought for October 2 at Fenway. The second to last game of the season AND it’s against the Yankees. Some somber fellow Sox fans have said to me that the game will be meaningless, why bother going. I won’t write my dissertation on why i love baseball here. I will say that there is a long list of moments this season where I have thrown my hat into the air in celebration, some of which are listed in my first-half highlights list. Yesterday I saw a surfer with a t-shirt that said, “The Journey is the Destination.” Somewhat of a cliche these days, bur you know that phrase stuck with me through the day. I don’t mean to get too mystical, but I do intend to convince myself, or even you, that this season is not even close to over.
Right of the Pesky Pole Notes:
After yesterday’s entry on Youk’s thumb, I started thinking about a list of things we need in place of Youk’s thumb, or more literally, his absence.
In no particular order:
Drew’s clutch hits
Please add more to the list. . . .
Thomas’ Trolley Top First Half Highlights
10) Big Papi Winning the Home Run Derby: Meaningless but memorable
9) Darnell’s first at-bat home run and game-winning sac fly: Who’s there? Darnell I am
8) Opening Day Comeback against the Yankees: Full Blossomed Optimism, which vanished faster than Jayson Werth’s liner back to Dice-K on May 22, which leads me to . . .
7) Dice-K’s One Hittter against the Phillies, May 22: Dreaming in Technicolor of the old Dice-K
6) Clay Buchholz’s Complete Game Shutout against the O’s, June 4th: Masterful Season in the making.
5) Big Papi’s 2 homer, 4 rbi pounding of the Tigers, May 14: Meaningful & memorable May
4) Papelbon’s save against the Yankees, May 18th: Saving the game and our souls
3) Nomah Night, May 5th: The Past is the Present, or something like that.
2) Dustin’s 3 HR Laser Show, Colorado, June 24th: Fans required to wear protective gear in the left field stands.
1) Daniel Nava’s First-at-Bat Grand Slam: The story with many stories, like Tolstoy.