cold takes

untimely baseball shortform

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When I was a boy
I had a book that taught how to read palms.
I held mine up to the diagram
and studied the creases in my own skin,
embraced the lengths of my love and life lines
with the fervency of a phrenologist,
wishing my hands were more deeply lined.
All children wish they were older, in some way.

My hands are large, now.
I’m reminded of them
when I encase my son’s unwilling partner
to cross the street
or try to find the tiny frets of his ukulele
as he knocks over blocks with his plastic dinosaurs,
or when I sit at the piano
and my fingers find too many keys.

I am no Wing Biddlebaum;
my hands do not symbolize me.
I am not good with them.
They hold tools but do not become part of the tools;
they grip pencils and paintbrushes
clumsily, with all five fingers.

They are not good hands,
not the graceful, nimble instruments
I imagined in childhood.
They’re rough and half-callused,
betraying a lack of truly honest work.
the skin is dry and cracking
and tiny freckles of an old age I never imagined
are surfacing on the backs.
The hairs on my right index finger are burnt off,
victims of a semiannual cigarette held just too long.
I can no longer cross my fingers.
Someday they will begin to hurt,
and never stop hurting.

There are lines on my hands now
that weren’t in the book. I wonder
what parts of me they represent.




My first full-time job was at a bank. I worked as a teller, and behind the line was a row of tall, plate-glass windows looking back on the pavement of the drive-through. I worked there for a year but the scenery from those windows was always just the one scene, gray sky over gray asphalt. Sometimes cars swung by, like a broken metronome.

The drive-through teller was named Charlene; she sat in a back room, apart from us. One day we heard Charlene talking over the intercom though there weren’t any cars there. It turned out that a stray cat had decided to sit down in the drive-through lane. She tried to scare it off, but it refused to go. We watched the battle with interest. It had no tag. The manager decided to bring it inside, just to see if they could find the owner.

For the next couple of weeks the cat lived in the bank by day, and I took him home with me by night. It was a revelation. The customers loved the cat, who would attack plants and climb over cubicles; the gray people, waiting in line, were amused. Our monotone day was suddenly divided into cat-length increments. Then, one day, the regional manager visited and saw the cat dozing in a sunspot behind the counter. The branch manager got in trouble, and I got a cat.

We’ve spent most of sixteen years together. Gato is smart, sometimes cranky – he once launched onto the face of a rottweiler five times his size and drove it out of a doorway to protect his kibble – but always kind. I left him in my parents’ basement for a year when I lived in Korea; when I came in the door, he crawled all over me as if I’d been gone for a weekend, licked at my face. Often he would wake before me, sometimes four, five in the morning, and gently bite my face so I could wake up and be with him. He once popped a screen off a second-story window and leaped fifteen feet to the ground, and ran into the nearby trailer park; when I finally found him and brought him back, he ran over and did it again before I’d thought to shut the window. He was kind of a bastard, really.

Last night, the vet got back to us: the swelling in front of his left eye was not an infection, but lymphoma. He has about a week.

I cried, of course. Well, not at first. First Kjersten and I stood on the back deck in the darkness, planning all the things we would need to do, because I’m an adult. Our options: a week’s worth of pain medication. Grandma coming down to watch the kids. Who would take him in, who would put away his stuff, where was the little red mouse that he’d spent a lifetime ripping to shreds. Once the last detail was in place, I cried.

Sylvie and the cat have never been the closest friends; he likes her well enough, and she tolerates him but never quite forgave the claw-based play he engaged her in as a toddler. Felix adores him; last night, unable to sleep, he kept crawling down to the foot of the bed and yelling “cat!” at him, I believe (in my fatigue) to be declaration of approval. We bought a couple books on the loss of a cat; Sylvie has spoken of death, mostly in cartoon terms, and she understands what happens to flowers after she picks them. But the permanence wasn’t there, yet.

Learning about death, actually understanding it and what it means, is the first true tragedy. We’ve bought a couple of books to talk about it, neither quite right, but they’ll have to do. I don’t know exactly how to say it: I don’t believe in heaven or hell, and that’s a choice I’m usually comfortable with, but it’s hard to impose that existentialism on a four-year-old. Felix will miss Gato, but he won’t really understand, just feel a blurry emptiness that dissipates with time. Sylvie will get it. She’s a smart girl. I just wish she didn’t have to understand it yet. I wish I didn’t have to, either.



The Hospital


Dear Sylvie,

Last night I had a dream. We were at the hospital: you, me, your mother and brother. I don’t know why we were there. For a friend, maybe: someone giving birth, a happy thing. No one seemed to be upset. But it was something, because you began to show signs of an allergic reaction, hives on your legs and feet, and your mother had to stay, nurse Felix and take care of whoever it was. She sent me with you, to go ahead, go to the front desk and get checked in. She would catch up. So we did.

You didn’t say much, uncharacteristically; you just held my hand as we started walking through lobbies and hallways, in and out of buildings, searching for signs. It was a very large hospital, and unfamiliar, and I realized that I couldn’t find anyone to ask for directions. We just walked along in sunlit, silent corridors, craning necks around corners.

This is what I always think of when I dream of hospitals, I guess. We don’t go to them often; the occasional checkup or shot for you or your brother, an odd ear infection. Your first allergic reaction. In real life they’re mostly waiting rooms, good memories, stickers and antibacterial handwashes. Once as we waited I walked you around the lobbies, chatting at the old women slumped in chairs, naming all the fish in the seawater tanks. But in my dreams, this is where my mind goes: to hospitals without people, of buildings so empty they no longer seem manmade. They have a silence that could even make you silent, as you walked with me.

We never found the front desk. I didn’t look down at you, but as we walked you were getting sicker, coughing more. I should have felt panic, but it was not that kind of dream. As the dreamer, I was not trying to make myself scared, just lost. I am terrible at dreaming because I am terrible at visualization; I do not look at anything, only think about things. Besides, it was all wrong. I am the one who will get sick, I am the one who will someday be at this hospital, dying out of sight. Thus the dream did not end, because I could not imagine it.

The Story of Spider-Man, As Narrated to Me by a Seven Year Old Boy

Chapter One.

Spider-Man jumped from building to building.
He fought a bad guy.
He won and the battle was over.

Chapter Two.

Spider-Man fought another bad guy.

Chapter Three.

Spider-Man thought he heard something, so he used his

Chapter Four.

spider senses. But he didn’t hear anything.


One Day There’s Baseball

img_1691One day there’s baseball
So much of it. So many stories
So many things you have to care about
Numbers and names
That represent
Other numbers and names
Each day an elimination game
Each game a portent
Each action a lesson learned
The sun beating down on plastic chairs
Boiling ten-dollar beers
And men shouting for everything
And the baby starts to cry
Rubbing the dome of her head
Against week-old whiskers

One day there’s baseball
And the next day it’s dark
And your daughter has learned
What Almond Joys are
The purple glitter shaken
From the used Halloween costume
Settling into skin and lungs
Cartoon soundtracks
So loud you may as well be writing them
And the world is too cold outside
And the world falls apart
And the lines on the pavement
(Icy enough to force you to walk
Carefully, slowly, like an old man)
Count off quarter-seconds of winter

Baseball, Writing and Despair

Adam Kilgore Emma Span Michael Lewis
Adam Sobsey Eno Sarris Michael Schur
Alex Speier Eric Koreen Mike Lupica
Allen Abel Erik Malinowski Mina Kimes
Andrew Zuber Ernest Hemingway Mitchel Lichtman
Andy McCullough Gary Parrish Nathan Bishop
Anna McDonald Gary Smith Patrick Dubuque
Arden Zwelling Geoff Young Peter Gammons
August Fagerstrom Gordon Wittenmeyer PFT Commenter
Barry Svrluga Grant Brisbee Randall Mell
Ben Lindbergh Greg Howard Ray Ratto
Benjamin Hochman Holly Anderson Red Smith
Beth Bethel Jamey Newberg Rembert Browne
Bethlehem Shoals Jared Dubin Rian Watt
Bill Barnwell Jason Clinkscales Richard Deitsch
Bill James Jason Concepcion Richard Griffin
Bill Lyon Jason King Ring Lardner
Bill Madden Jason Parks Rob Arthur
Bill Petti Jason Whitlock Robert O’Connell
Bill Simmons Jay Jaffe Roger Angell
Brett Taylor Jay Yencich Roger Kahn
Brian Phillips Jeb Lund Russell Carleton
Bruce Arthur Jeff Passan Ryan Young
Carson Cistulli Jeff Pearlman S.L. Price
Cee Angi Jeff Sullivan Sahadev Sharma
Charles Pierce Joe Posnanski Sam Miller
Chris Ballard Joe Sheehan Sam Smith
Chris Brown John Choiniere Sean Mcindoe
Christina Kahrl John Lott Shea Serrano
Dan Moore Jon Bois Simon Kuper
Dan Szymborski Jonah Keri SL Price
Dave Cameron Jonathan Bernhardt Spencer Hall
Dave Stubbs Julie DiCaro Stacey May Fowles
David Foster Wallace Kate Fagan Steve Rushin
David Halberstam Kate Morrison Steven Rosenbloom
David Roth Katie Baker Tabatha Southey
David Wallace Katie Sharp Thomas Boswell
Dayn Perry Ken Arneson Tom Tango
Dillon Friday Kiley McDaniel Tom Verducci
Dirk Hayhurst Lee Jenkins Toni McIntyre
Drew Creasman Luis Medina Trill Ballins
Drew Magary Matt Ellis Will Leitch
Ellen Etchingham Meg Rowley Wright Thompson
Emily Gregorcic Michael Baumann Zach Lowe
  Michael Farber  

Recently I read an article that was written so well that it made me sad. After thinking about it, I put out an anonymous poll with one question: what are up to three sportswriters that, when you read their work from time to time, fill you with a sense of awe bordering on despair? That make you feel like hanging it up, if only for thirty seconds?

It wasn’t a scientific survey, nor a particularly representative sample. But the results say something, I think. The 150 ballots returned 136 different names. And though reporting gets most of the fame (and most of the money), it’s interesting to see so many different types of writers and so many different types of writing. There’s longform, human interest, analysis, statistical analysis, comedy, poetry, and scouting; professional journalists, freelancers, amateurs, dead comic strip authors, and novelists.

The idea wasn’t to make people dwell on the fact that they feel inadequate sometimes, but the opposite: we all get so busy staring at other people’s greatness that we don’t notice people staring at our own. There is so much writing in the world, so much amazing writing, that there’s no way anyone could write it all, even though it’s our instinct to feel like we should.

There remain troubles. The untimely demise of Grantland heavy-handedly reminds us that quality and money are often nearly inversely proportional. And there are inequities and imbalances that prevent us from having a true meritocracy. There are names absent from the list that deserve to be there, deserve to be envied. They just need to be found.

But as a powerless observer I can afford to be an apolitical optimist, and what I see is that there is more room than it often feels like. That we can all combine our individual, necessarily limited perspectives together, on something as arbitrary and pointless as the game of baseball, is an amazing thing. I’ve liked baseball ever since I was a kid, but it’s the community that follows it – and creates from it – that I truly love.

Keep it up, everyone.

The Cold Takes First Annual Intentionally Wrong Predictions


The baseball season has crested the horizon like a Sunlight Dome in a Bradbury short story, and with it comes its close family relation, prediction season. I’ve already made my real predictions for FanGraphs, meaning I spent fifteen minutes thinking of ways to not bet on the field in every single possible race without looking dumb enough for them to kick me out. (Clayton Kershaw, back-to-back MVP!)

Following the real predictions are often the bold predictions, the ones that no one expects to come true but are feasible enough to warrant consideration and surprising enough to amuse. I like those. Because no one actually cares how well anyone predicts anything; no one keeps score, except ourselves if we haven’t forgotten by the end. (Everyone does.) But every once in a while, someone pulls a Mike Blowers and calls for something extraordinarily goofy and rare, and that thing actually does happen. And when it does, we don’t bow down to Mike Blowers as a sun god or anything, but we are all momentarily amused and pleased, as if to pretend that sheer coincidence does, in fact, have a face, and that it’s capable of smiling. It’s nice.

So this got me thinking: how many intentionally bad predictions would you have to make before it became likely that one of them, by chance alone, was right? What about, say, twenty-six?

We’ll find out, in six months. Well, I will. If I haven’t forgotten by the end.

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