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April 1, 2017

Ray Fosse, a man who almost certainly suffered brain damage and has a moustache, said just the other day that baseball is the only sport that exists simultaneously in the past, the present and the future.

 

I like the sound of that.  Somewhere back in the mists of time, this site was my outlet for writing about sports in a comically irreverent way.  No one really read what I wrote, but that was okay. Like a thirty-two year old Minor League lefty second baseman with speed but no power toiling away Tuscaloosa, the written word is written for the love of the writing, and not so much for the five thousands fan there for Taylor Swift night.

 

Today, at least, it’s my outlet again. A little cup of tea for my brain amidst the grading and the lesson planning and the procrastinating from doing the first two.

 

Baseball starts again in two days, and there’s no greater trope than the renewal that baseball brings. That’s good. I’m need of renewal.

 

The heady days of youth have given way to the sore knees days of late-stage physical peak. The responsibilities are just a little greater, and the stakes are just a little higher. It becomes less and less possible to justify time and energy spent consuming stories of men playing childrens game. It’s just not what we do anymore.


Certainly my ability to track the ups-and-downs of a baseball team every day for six months are gone. If i’m lucky, I’ll be able to tell you division leaders in August. I definitely won’t know about the wild card race, or which rookies have burst onto the scene, or any of the other minutae that make up a baseball season.


My good friend Max likes to say that every baseball season is an odessey. He’s right, but in more ways than he knows. Every baseball season is an epic journey, and like The Odyssey, it’s written in foreign symbols that take dedication to learn. Hr/FB%, K%, BABIP, wrC+, S/CS, LD%, GB%. Each year is a ritual submission to the power of data to complicate simplicity, but when you do submit and let the numbers wash over you, the game changes, and like Neo in the matrix, you can see clearer than ever before.

 

That’s the renewal I seek, year after year. A moment of seeing clearly.

 

My particular denomination in the Oakland Athletics. We are not going to be good.

 

+++

 

You could have a worse life than Rajai Davis. A childhood in Connecticut spent crafting his body into prime physical shape. A few years at the local university showing that he had preternatural talent for his aspiring profession. Drafted into a major league organization, where the journey really begins. Six years of generating sweat and doubt before he breaks through to the promised land and tries to make his mark.

 

Built like a ballet impresario, his work is speed and grace under pressure, and he does it admirably. Unfortunately, his oaken peers play the game of power and domination, and so his skill set is misunderstood.

 

He breaks through in Oakland where he plays every day and wins the crowd with hustle and determination. His weaknesses are clear but by now he has confidence and he believes that he belongs. The doubt now belongs to others, because he knows who he is and what he can do.

 

After eight years of grinding and growing and proving himself again and again he finds himself in the most unlikely place: standing in the batters box in the deciding game of the World Series, with an opportunity to tie this game with one swing of his bat.

 

And like the boy who dreams of doing the improbably thing, he hits the home-run in the bottom of the 9th to tie to world series and bring hope to his heroes.

 

So it could be worse.

 

Which is important to remember, because he didn’t end up winning that world series, and the team he was on decided he wasn’t good enough to keep around, and so now 8 years later he’s back in Oakland, where he just might be the biggest star on the diamond.

 

Rajai is the spiritual replacement for one Coco Crisp, the man who knew how to channel the spirit of the crowd into a great afro and timely hits and a weird neck piercing. Rajai can run, and maybe he can lead the league in steals again, which would be great,  because this is the year we’re naming the field RIckey Henderson field, and wouldn’t that be appropriate?

 

It’s a homecoming for Rajai because we knew him when he was young (in baseball terms) and he’s come back to us now that he’s old (in baseball terms).

 

Rajai is a good conduit for understanding the 2017 Oakland Athletics. We’re going to generate a lot of sweat and doubt.

 

+++

 

There are other old friends returning. Adam Rosales, he of the frequent flier miles between Arlington and Oakland, has come back for another season of bucktoothed slap-hitting middle-infield patrolling

 

Santiago Castilla thought he’d hit the big-time with the Giants across the Bay, only to become the vessel of their perennial incompetence (except for those years they win the World Series). We welcome him back with open arms.

 

Our longest serving member, whether by days or torturous bone-hours is Stephen Vogt. VOgt for Victory, as they say, but in reality i’m happy to Vogt for 65 games and a trade for assets.

 

Jed Lowrie is still on the team, though I’m pretty sure he has a club foot.

 

+++

 

Our hope comes in form of our youth, but like youth movements in every sport every year, results may vary. The hope is that the names of 2017 — Sean Manea, Jharrel Cotton, Matt Champan, Chad Pinder, Franklin Baretto — are ones that soon correspond to a whimsically comic bobble head and an air of reverence amongst the under 15 set, the way that Giambi and Tejada and Ellis and Hudson and Zito and Mulder do for me, the Greatest Players EverⒸ.

 

Young players are ragged. Inconsistent and choppy, studly in one moment and then lost in the next. It’s okay; in Oakland we’re used to youth, and its spurts and yaws. We adore it, actually. In Oakland we don’t get players pleading their careers to us and raising their kids in the community and then settling down to sell used cars. We get players too young to know who they are, or players so broken by the game that they’ve forgotten. We nurse them back to health with chants and cowbells and an optimism that knows only the bounds of our imaginations. Then, after  fawning over them and giving them nicknames and buying shirseys, we cry silently.

 

They grow up and move beyond us. We’ll always love you, we whisper into the balsa-wood spoon of our malt, as the seagulls patrol above ready to pick at and scraps of food or dreams of an eternal bond.

 

There’s no way that these kids know that now. They’re excited to be with the club, awed with the size of the stadium and the size of the foul territory, and fueled with a passion to prove that they belong. “We know you belong,” we tell them with our cheers.  “You belong with us, always,” we say excitedly as they share their early mistakes and failures with us. “You’re not perfect, but neither are we!” we say with every cap we buy and box score we check.

 

“You are us,” we say as we turn on the radio every night from now through September. And we hope that after they’ve moved on they’ll remember what we said, and as they play they’ll say back to us “Thank you.”

Viewed through that lens, perhaps 2017 is the start of something beautiful. It certainly is a chance for renewal.

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