The other evening, I stood under the eaves of my house in the rain, holding a plastic spatula in one hand and my phone in the other, watching the water pool on my deck. The Mariners were losing their fifth straight game. We had just signed the paperwork to refinance our mortgage. Thirty years left on this house, I thought to myself, watching rain hiss on the grill cover as our pre-shaped hamburger patties tanned themselves inside. Thirty years. Fifteen more times I have to stain this deck, if we last.
This deck is like a baseball team, I thought to myself, because I was stupid and tired and hungry. I replace a couple of boards each year, each time one snaps under someone’s foot at a party. But it’s still the same deck. It’s always the same damn deck.
Yesterday, with the playoffs in the balance, the Mariners defeated the Angels, 4-1. Yesterday they were eliminated from the Wild Card. Today I am free.
As a Seattleite, I grew up with Dave Niehaus, but it’s Ron Fairly I remember the most. He wasn’t a great broadcaster. Fairly would fill the empty innings with tales about the past, stories with different names in different seasons that all sounded exactly the same, a comforting sea foam green blob of language. He was doing his job, I suppose, which is to supply the connective tissue, the pink slime that fastened one Mariners game to another, especially the late summer evenings of the eighties.
Baseball is about routines like these. It’s about building up muscle mass and programming it, and then shutting your eyes and letting go. It’s about forgetting yesterday and ignoring tomorrow, living in a single moment: not out of some thrill of living, but because yesterday and today and tomorrow are all essentially identical. We take one day at a time all the time, take all days at a time.
When I was young I despised routine. It terrified me. In college I played at Hemingway and cultivated insomnia just to keep each day from ending, wrote little poems on looseleaf paper so I could prove to myself that each day was different from the others. Now that I am a parent I create routines: sing the same two verses of Summertime and read the same Llama-based bedtime stories before pulling the chain on the same lamp at night, before going to work the next day and collect identical paychecks. Sometimes my daughter learns a new consonant blend or tries and fails to somersault or falls in love with some weird tribal whale art in a hotel room. This is adulthood: life in the little things.
One of the reasons I write about baseball is because of its routine. The solemnity, the self-seriousness, the absurdity of the rituals strikes me as genuinely wonderful and human, and the urge I feel to mock it isn’t out of a desire to destroy, but to join. I don’t have the talons for satire, or perhaps enough hatred for petty evils. I grew up among second-hand copies of Camus and Thurber, developed a slippery philosophy of laughing off troubles too great to conquer. You face the unfeeling world and you search for something to do besides fool yourself or give in. It takes creativity. Maybe that’s why I’m a Mariners fan: it’s essentially a collective spiritual exercise for dealing with pain without being controlled by that pain.
Martin Amis, in the foreword to his collection of essays, touches on this in his discussion of what it is to be a critic, something we all, in this heady Internet age, are. “Enjoying being insulting is a youthful corruption of power,” he notes, not actually mentioning Bill Bavasi by name. “You lose your taste for it when you realize how hard people try, how much they mind, and how long they remember.” The last of these is no concern for me, thank God – I write for the niche section of a niche blog. He continues: “To idealize: all writing is a campaign against cliché. Not just clichés of the pen but clichés of the mind and clichés of the heart.”
That’s how I separate the routine of action from the routine of living, to be without sleeping: the spontaneous generation of diverting triviality. One of the my favorite hobbies is to lie. Not lie in the surreptitious, deceptive way, but the opposite: lie in the blatant way, lie about things that can’t possibly be true and are in fact so far from truth that they become funny. Lies that stretch the imagination like a hamstring, place Raul Ibanez on the curb of random streets at midnight and send Casper Wells on cross-country journeys in a Chevy Suburban.
I guess that’s what made this season so difficult for me: winning makes slaves of us all. We narrow ourselves back down to the pursuit of winning, and vary only on how best to win, and how winning feels. There’s a dark, fanatical patriotism to it. I still wanted to make jokes, but I didn’t want to ruin the moment for everyone else. If the winning had continued, maybe it would be worth it, although it stops for 97% of teams at some point. The high ends. There’s always the same amount of pain waiting, stretched or pressed into a different container. This year we got a year’s worth of pain in a single week.
Maybe someday, I’ll ascend. I’ll cast off this unflattering attachment to victory, to a team that is wholly unaware of my allegiance or existence. I’ll rise above, smiling down on the game like a kid watching an anthill, never wondering if these ants are better at being ants than the other ants. Winning isn’t funny, or even particularly filling. Worst of all, it’s not even very original.
Maybe someday I’ll grow up and stop pining for it. Next year.
Patrick Dubuque is a wastrel and a general layabout. Many of the sites he has written for are now dead. Follow him on Twitter @euqubud.