Mountains of clouds stood high along the horizon as the 737 made its way to U.S. soil. Through my little window, a frame for the southbound view, I could see the little lights of America piercing the pink-gray haze of dusk.
A week had passed since I’d seen any trace of baseball. Deep in the Canadian Rockies, where elevating the heart rate via a custom called “hiking uphill” is the preferred way to pass the time, I had been denied the signals – both TV and Internet – that pump America’s own Pastime straight to the brain, and now, as I slanted toward the land that gave us infield dirt and its corresponding fly rule, I looked forward to leaving elevation behind and getting on with the custom of keeping up with baseball.
What, I wondered, had happened in my absence? The question echoed all the little inquiries that had paced through my headspace as I lay in my tent or tramped toward unreachable fields of snow. For seven days and six long nights, I had gone without news of beanball wars and replay controversies, winning streaks and hitless streaks, Tommy John heartbreaks and dramatic episodes of Puig Derangement Syndrome. I had opted, instead, to sleep in 30-degree (Fahrenheit!) temperatures, my head on a pillow of insomnia and mud.
In the absence of electrified screens, imagination had provided what reality could not: scenes of big league exploits, vivid if perhaps untrue. Abreu hits a waist-high fastball deep into the left field seats … no, out of the stadium … no, out of the stadium and through the open window of a speeding Ford Taurus, the ball settling at last in a carton of crinkle-cut fries (seasoned and still piping hot). Simmons, though shifted toward second base, races to the 5.5 hole and snares a grounder with his bare hand – no, his bare face, like between his teeth or with his left ear somehow – and then guns the runner at first just prior to performing a double-twisting backflip in the tuck position. And here’s Billy Hamilton, somehow in my tent, speeding through a cloud of sausage farts to establish a land-speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats.
Oh, and he is also safe at second.
Or maybe he is out.
Safe or out – neither here nor there, this was. In the zone between takeoff and landing I wondered again: What happened, really, while I was away? From the emerging mosaic I fashioned a dazzling no-hitter, somewhere to lingering applause. Why not? It had happened 285 times before – including no-hitters tossed by gents named Cannonball Titcomb and Bumpus Jones – so, yeah, why not guys named Sale and Kluber and Keuchel and Cueto?
The imaginary is believable when history has given samples.
Hey, maybe Sale went back-to-back, like Vander Meer.
Up in the air, this is what I told myself.
Cloud-mountains pressed against a pinker west now, their peaks like the snowy summits I had only seen, not touched, from the space of out-of-reach places. Below these made-up shapes and attached to something far more touchable, the lights stretched beyond the horizon and gathered at the place where my man Beltre had pounded four home runs, maybe, in a single game.
Oh, man, did I record it?
Or was it floating away, unbound to anything but a memory I didn’t share?
We were on our final descent now. Shapes were more solid, geometric. The clouds, like the mountains, were gone from the moving frame. Somewhere on the surface, facts awaited my finding. Truths would erase the visions.
Just before we touched down – just before my homecoming – I imagined Mr. Jeter on his farewell tour. I saw him moving from place to place, each an embrace and a bon voyage; every departure is a long ovation, every destination a welcome back. The locals give gifts that reflect the spirit of the place and its people. I wondered: Which objects, symbolic of which spirit, has the Captain received this week?
Upon landing I turned on my cellphone, to gather facts from thin air. I saw nothing that threatened belief: no back-to-back no-hitters, no four-homer games. I then saw another item. The Blue Jays had given Jeter a special gift: a trip to the same Canadian Rockies! I laughed at Jeter in a frigid tent, his breath pushing vapor through sausage-fart clouds. I chuckled at the Captain, in muddy boots and dampish pants, trudging toward a community shower where he’d nudge past a dude named Günter for the final jets of tepid water. I then saw the fact of the matter: Jeter would be staying in the Royal Suite of the Fairmont Banff Springs.
What a dream that is; what an unbelievable dream.
John Paschal is a regular contributor to The Hardball Times and The Hardball Times Baseball Annual.