cold takes

untimely baseball shortform

Category: A Picture

Jon Jay Left His Feet

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.

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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.

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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.

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What Does Phil Niekro See?

philPhil Niekro sees Bob Horner, crouching uneasily at third awaiting the pitch, sees the rippling powder blue of his oversized, wrinkled pullover. And in it he sees the ocean.

He hears the crowds rolling like waves, pleasant baseball cries like seagulls signaling a long-sought shore. He hears distant shanties, shapeless and rhythmic, beating at the pulse like a whip. He feels the warmth of the sunlight baked into his neck like a memory. He smells it, too, the sharp relief of saltwater, a purity so uninterrupted that it loses its flavor. It’s so thick, the air, sometimes, that he has to rub it from his eyes.

As he opens them again he sees the rolling red tide wash over the sides of the boat, hears the harsh nasal tones of the bosun shouting words he and the others do not hear and already know, his arms aching with hours of rowing. He can taste the whale, soft and plaint under jaws too tired to chew, the flavor of red meat straining through his teeth and into his cheeks, rich and red like bison. He sees the glint of the morning sun on its skeleton hung from the mast, gleaming white as his own hair. He feels the heavy blanket of endless afternoon.

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Doug Drabek, Frozen in Shame

The present tense doesn’t exist. We’re constantly told by our dance music and our teenagers to live in the moment, but by the time we recognize that moment, it’s gone. We act in the future, driving toward an imagined state, and we rest in the past. In between is nothing but a haze of dendrites and lost potential.

The alternative is to see ourselves how the camera would see us, how the people around us see us: the spinach in our metaphorical teeth, the slight sneer of our resting face. It is existence without context, without explanation or apology. It is terrifying.

Photography is small sample size: a moment cherry-picked out of a motion, inaction plucked out of action. Photography is either fake or flattering, or unflattering. It is a soft, firm lie.

This is not you, Doug Drabek. This was never you. The moment where this was you, by itself, never existed.

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Farewell to a Friend

erasmo