Dispatch #9: I Shall Not Pass This Way Again
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.
Having gained Labor Day, we’ll now watch summer recede in the rearview with alarming speed, smaller and smaller until it resolves into a single point, the way a slider is said to reveal itself to hitters with the appearance of a red dot. It’s still hot where I am, but the light is changing in ways which portend the end of certain things, and the onset of others.
To see off our carefree days, I grabbed the kids and our passports and drove three hours from our home to Buffalo, where the AAA Bisons – top farm club of the Toronto Blue Jays – were playing their final home game of the year, ending their season with abundant giveaways, $1 popcorn, and fireworks. We crossed the border and joined sixteen thousand others in the stands at Coca-Cola Field and we weren’t in our seats long when Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. – known informally as The Future to eager Blue Jays fans – poked one over the wall in left-center. The Bisons eventually fell to visiting Pawtucket, but that didn’t seem all that noteworthy as the shells exploded above our heads in red and green and blue and white splashes and my kids whooped and screamed and laughed. After the last of the smoke drifted over Swan Street we headed for the gate in no particular hurry to get anywhere, though we were suddenly on the wrong end of a three hour drive, our beds at the other. Leaving, we all intuited, meant saying a practical goodbye to what had been a very good summer indeed, though it was then not yet September.
The whole evening had been joyful, but at its edges infused with a warm melancholy, tinged, as are all end of summer observances, with the soft grief we share in the face of the dimming of our sweet and trivial warm-weather entertainments. There was also a feeling particular to minor league ballparks this time of year, a loneliness and a reflexive kick against the thought of a winter spent without even so much as a ballgame as insulation against the cold and the dark.
In the bigs, of course, things sit at an excited simmer, and will only continue to heat up through September and October. Several of the divisional races remain tight, including the American League West. But whereas two months ago the team in hot pursuit of the defending champion Astros was the Seattle Mariners, the M’s have been overtaken by the surging Oakland A’s. Oakland’s gone 34-15 since the All-Star Break, whereas Seattle’s scuffled along at 21-27. On the blogs and in the comment sections, mid-summer’s optimism has given way to a very familiar despair among Mariner faithful. This is, remember, a team which has not seen playoff action since the day before the introduction of the first iPod.
Ichiro, his effectiveness as a player no longer a given, transitioned to the role of elder statesman and positive clubhouse influence well back, when the summer was still young. Much has transpired since, including injuries, the demotion to the bullpen of a beloved and once dominant franchise pitcher, and the suspension and reinstatement of Robinson Cano. On balance, what had been a very promising season has slipped into anguish and what is likely to be yet another missed opportunity, and the frustration thereby engendered apparently boiled over into a clubhouse shoving match last Tuesday afternoon ahead of a game at Safeco Field. Not even Ichiro’s level head and cool character could mollify the offended parties.
Both Seattle manager Scott Servais and beat reporter Ryan Divish were quick to suggest that such things are not all that unusual; what set this apart was only the fact that it was partially witnessed by members of the media. That’s probably true, though it doesn’t do much to reassure the partisan. From the outside, the Mariners look very much like a unit in dissolution, and the sight is difficult to stomach. Tuesday’s fracas suggests it looks that way from the inside, too.
Afterwards, players and management alike took great pains to tell the world that all was fine, and then the team went out and lost a lousy game to the Baltimore Orioles, who have already lost more than one hundred games this season.
Stretching back, I can only just recall the belief, however briefly held, that Ichiro, though no longer an active player, would be in some way connected to a winning club, that his even demeanor might have a balancing effect on the younger players in his midst. It’s hard now to escape the sense that the Mariners have already seen the best this season had to offer.
I understand that summer doesn’t end on Labor Day, but I’d argue that’s when it begins to strain at its seams, to betray its porousness, the shorter days and the chillier nights admitting a vulnerability. The kids are back in school, but are wearing shorts, not parkas, yet the ease of summer is suddenly gone, its wide openness, its possibility for adventure and aimlessness.
On the drive home from Buffalo, after we’d crossed back over the border and the highway opened up, all three of my children fell asleep, and I lapsed again into a feeling I’d had only the week before, as we’d driven through wet weather, on our way home from our Catskill vacation. Near the Finger Lakes we’d passed over and next to gorges and modest valleys where mist had collected, opaque and soft-edged, like milk in a bowl. It was beautiful. But what was I to do with that? I wanted to stop and take photos, though I knew that photos would fail to capture what I saw. I knew, too, that I might never see those things again, those valleys, those gorges, that heavy mist in those particular places. The urge to document bumped up against the desire to simply experience. I never stopped to take a photo, deciding instead to look hard, to imprint the images to memory. The decision allowed me to absorb the sights as moments in which I was resident, rather than opportunities I was missing. And yet even with that I found myself dipping toward grief for something which was not quite gone, but which would soon be carried by its own momentum to a place I could no longer reach.
header image: tricia hall / flickr