Several weeks ago, Ryan Zimmerman hit a double, and Cardinals outfielder Jon Jay looked foolish.
According to the metrics, according to the scouts and the fans, according to the line drive that Jay snared later than game to send it to extras: according to all these things, Jon Jay is a good outfielder. For a moment, he was not, and earned a highlight.
Lives are not lines or arcs: they are scatterplots. They are not, as we’d like to believe, a constant evolution, but instead a series of moments, discrete and disconnected, that we continually absorb and react to. The hot takes are not hot because they burn; there is no time to burn. They explode, and vanish. Such was the case with on Jay, who somehow made perhaps the worst dive of all time, and one that was immediately forgotten.
Players make mistakes all the time. They swing at bad pitches, hang breaking balls, get thrown out on the basepaths like nincompoops, and make pickoff throws to the tarp in right field. Players make mistakes, and we thrill at the schadenfreude, and forget. But Jay’s dive was different: it was no error. There was no evidence of his failure. Zimmerman received no extra base. The world chastised Jay not for his weakness but for his gall.
It’s exactly why I’ve discovered that I love Jon Jay’s dive, two weeks later. Not because it failed, and not because it displayed some showy, self-aggrandizing grit. Those are later moments. The one I treasure is just before.
The ball, in this blurry photograph, is next to the “PIT” on the scoreboard, slicing right. In baseball terms, Jon Jay no longer exists. He cannot make the play. Perhaps he has misread the arc of the line drive, struggled to find his balance on contact. Those were earlier moments. At this exact moment, his actions no longer pertinent, Jay leaves his feet.
It’s a meaningless gesture, an admission of his triviality, an act of defiance against an uncaring universe. It has no impact on the play, or on life. It has nothing to do with the flight of the ball, or the oncoming ground, or any of us. It is apart. In that moment of failure, Jon Jay is free.