Frankly, I do hope baseball figures prominently in whatever this is.
The game is a wonderful gateway into all subjects fascinating, frustrating, and profound. And this upcoming 2020 season is such an important one for the Dodgers; after last year’s embarrassing defeat and 2017’s soul-crushing conclusion made painful once more by the recent cheating allegations, the time to rewrite the narrative of this current spectacular run is now.
I find it curious though, Hoke, that you conceive of my Dodger fandom as a thing unbroken since childhood. Actually, baseball figured very little in my life during the period of our early friendship. My first intense relationship with the Dodgers—that which began as Gibby and Orel led the boys in blue to their last World Series—ended when my father died. I played little league indifferently for a couple more seasons, sure, but when he died so did my love for the game. It had always been a pastime for us, and without him—or playoff baseball thanks to the strike that year—the game became meaningless. I filled that void with comic books, ComedySportz, punk rock, and a girlfriend, and never did I feel the pang of loss. I’d go so far as to say that I never gave a thought to baseball during any part of my grieving or subsequent coping. It wasn’t until a few weeks after graduating high school—new girlfriend, new priorities, new direction in life—that I returned to Chavez Ravine for a Kirk Gibson bobblehead giveaway. That afternoon was as sweet and as fun as early childhood. None of the sourness of my father’s illness was there, none of the gloom of my fatherless adolescence; all of that was contained to the six-year hiatus. And just like that, my relationship with the Dodgers resumed, the same passion almost immediately reignited.
I’m unsure of the exact connection, but I think something like this happens every time we see each other after a prolonged absence: we just pick back up where we left off, as if life has barely transpired in the interim. I care so much about what has happened to each of you since last we met, and yet, once either of you is there in front of me, I just want to be there, to resume in the present. This letter writing, of course, will go some way toward ruining that. Thanks, Wuck.
But you are correct, Hoke, in thinking that baseball has consumed me ever since. These past few weeks, for instance, Seamus, my beloved black cat of nearly seventeen years, had been dying from stomach cancer. I could go on for paragraphs as to why—rationally speaking—this should or should not be a big deal, but I will tell you that I was routinely miserable, only ever briefly distracted or happy until he finally died last Tuesday. I loved him so profoundly, and there is something unspeakably cruel about a thing you’ve known since its birth—a thing you love almost as much as your own baby—becoming older than you and then dying. I bring this up because the only way I could get him off my mind in the moments before falling asleep these past weeks was to imagine the upcoming Dodgers roster. “Will we get Betts? Will the new pitching coach be able to coax a few more miles per hour from Kershaw’s fastball? Should we bat Bellinger second or fourth?” Second, I think, but that’s neither here nor there.
A few weeks ago, I passed along to Wuck this recent quote from Jerry Seinfeld: “To me there are two things in this world; there’s life and there’s baseball, and one helps you get through the other.” Yet another reason why you should be more into Seinfeld, Hoke. Funnily enough, the best distraction I ever had from the Dodgers—the last time they weren’t any good, at least—was writing my novel.
And while I am so very excited for the upcoming season—and while we find ourselves debating the merits of nostalgia—I admit that I can’t help but return to 2017, to that outrageous World Series, not only because of your last letter, Hoke, but because of the constant reminders of the cheating scandal on my Twitter feeds, sports-talk radio stations, and in conversations with baseball acquaintances. Even the annual Spring Training narrative of hope—pervasive and democratic—finds itself drowned out, every morning a new voice expressing its disgust, a new factoid come to light. Today’s twist: an unsuspecting Kershaw admitting to using easily decoded signs without runners on base.
And so, over and over, I’m returned to the mood of that November two seasons ago, mourning again the lost opportunity to rejoice with friends and family, forced to remember that we fell just short of the months-long euphoria that follows a championship: no commemorative hats or jerseys, pennants or pins, special editions of Sports Illustrated, official championship Blu-rays, or Christmas ornaments. Gone forever—once again—is that unceasing source of pride and joy.
Man, fuck those fucking cheaters.
But the revelation of the cheating scandal has also functioned to reframe my bad memories, to corrupt somehow my sorrow. And that process has proven equally traumatic. I was able to cope with simply being beaten. I resigned myself to it, to the Astros’ hitters’ dominance, to Kershaw’s inability to perform in the playoffs, to all of it. But to learn now that what I coped with, that what I begrudgingly accepted, was an outrageous, fucking lie—it really bothers me. I am angry, and I remain angry.
And so, at least for now, I can’t even wax nostalgic about the good memories from that series—Kershaw’s masterful Game One, Joc’s dinger in Game Four, Rich Hill strutting around the mound during the biggest start of his life to allow us all time and space to rain expletives down upon racist piece-of-shit Yuli Gurriel—without immediately feeling the sting of this scandal, without lamenting, not what could have been, but much worse, what should have been, what was rightly ours.
I feel like the protagonist in some sci-fi movie whose memory has been altered. It’s fucked up. And for someone who loves to reminisce, it burns extra hot.
I won’t dip my toe into the white privilege stuff yet, but this Astros scandal is rank with it. Who on earth gets to keep the thing he stole after he gets caught?