Dispatch #7: ICHIRO SUZUKI, THE STAR OF BASEBALL
Baseball season is here, and sinkhole has drafted contributor Andrew Forbes to accompany our readers through it. All season long, Forbes will be following the exploits of Seattle Mariners legend Ichiro Suzuki, and using Ichiro as a lens through which to view the game, both in the US and Japan, its history, and the culture surrounding it.
I’ve had an email account since about 1992 – a span of more than twenty-five uninterrupted years. The first, I believe, was a National Capital Freenet account, non-personalized, which was, if I’m remembering correctly, two alphabetical characters, followed by four digits. It was more license plate than personal identifier. Access was via dial-up modem, of course.
I’ve been alive more years with the internet than without it. I’ve written for the internet, and been employed populating small corners of it, and done vast amounts of research over it. I watch baseball on it, and make phone calls through it. And yet, for reasons I can’t quite articulate, when thinking about how things work, or the way things are, I default to an un- or pre-connected world. The internet, I’m trying to say, still feels new to me. Not in the way of my parents, I sincerely hope, who remain leery of using a credit card online, but still as something novel, or nascent.
So there’s a bit of a sense of disconnect when I stumble across something to remind me just how long the thing has been a part of our lives. In the course of researching this column on (read: indulging my fascination with) Ichiro, I came across this Tripod fanpage, which is a little bit of the early aughts preserved in amber.
As you know, time on the internet is not measured as it is irl. I literally have, and continue to wear, items of clothing older than ICHIRO SUZUKI, STAR OF BASEBALL. But internet-time is accelerated to such an absurd degree that a website from fifteen years ago represents an opportunity to peek through the geological ages. It’s digital archeology.
Likely the most famous example of this sort of old-website-as-nostalgic-curio is the original homepage for the Michael Jordan/Looney Tunes vehicle, Space Jam. Side frame menus, comparatively rudimentary graphics, a wallpapered background, clunky URLs. These basic things, miraculously, suggest to us a simpler time, or at least a less sophisticated internet, slower, boxier, and a great deal less integrated into our daily lives.
ICHIRO SUZUKI, THE STAR OF BASEBALL is a few years younger than Space Jam, but no less jarring as compared to things as we now know them. When the site was last regularly updated, not only was Ichiro a new sporting phenomenon in America, but the world was a different place. Bush II was your president, and it felt as though he was not only the worst, most brazen, least qualified president in history, but that it would not be possible to elect to the office a person who more offensively pushed all those needles into the red. Surely there were mechanisms in place to prevent such a thing.
And the internet was different, in great and largely unarticulatible ways, from the one we use today. It was, in its mannerisms, cheerier and more innocent. We used it to talk about the things we liked.
Right around the time, in November of 2000, that Ichiro signed his contract with the Mariners, someone named Wincey decided that they admired Ichiro enough to proclaim that admiration regularly, and in a public space, with information, and regular updates. It’s not such a strange thing to do now, and it wasn’t so unusual then. We were lurching into this new world, and there was a limitless space to populate with our enthusiasms. A baseball player was a worthy subject for such a project. Given my enthusiasms, I might have done the same thing. You might have, too. This was before Twitter parody accounts, after all. This was before Twitter.
Sometime around the end of June 2003, though, Wincey decided to move on, as eventually we all must. They lost interest, or life took over; circumstances changed in such a way that prevented them from devoting their attention to their little corner of the internet. Then as now, personal web spaces, in their glorious and unruly abundance, bequeathed on their keepers an anonymity at once liberating and defeating.
That an inactive fansite should survive such a span of time – three administrations, several wars, five Star Wars films – is not remarkable. The internet is vast, and great swaths of it have succumbed to link rot, domain scrapers, the churn of ISPs, but most of it remains, hidden only by the great volume of new content. Your Blogger site is still kicking around somewhere, as is your Myspace page. These digital presences accumulate as a matter of course, and as we abandon them they spread out behind us like a wake.
The online spaces which survive time’s onslaught represent a strange and poignant hybridity; permanence and ephemerality both, the commingling of disposability and stubbornness. Like plastic, abandoned websites are here with us forever, even if they’re no longer any good to us. They are for the most part quiet, but we encounter their intermittent pulsing from time to time, our attention drawn to them as to a smoke alarm with a low battery. They don’t function properly anymore, but we place them under glass, specimens, testimony of a prior age which, again, though recent in human terms, is nigh on ancient in the internet’s warped chronology.
At Wincey’s last update, the Mariners’ next scheduled game was against the Anaheim Angels, Freddy Garcia matching up against Aaron Sele. The Mariners would win that game, 6-4, with both starters factoring in the decision. Ichiro would go 2 for 4, raising his average to .358, and scoring a run. But the value of the page isn’t in the information it preserves. That’s all available elsewhere. Rather, the site, and millions of others like it – onetime testaments to fandom – now function as commentary on insubstantiality in the age of digital memory, of time and its passage. Here is something I once loved, it says, and this was the manner in which that love was once expressed, mawkish and amateur though it might appear to you now. But all ages pass; everything is surpassed. The world will innovate and evolve, and today’s sophistication is tomorrow’s punchline. That’s the whisper beneath the page name’s all-caps shout. One day all of this will look innocent, too.
header image: "inside the ruins," micolo j / flickr