I started this post on 5/28/2009. Judging from my notes, I had intended to make this a very long entry. It's unfinished and mostly unedited. I just have to let it go now, despite its rough edges. Perez later published a short prose piece titled "Para rumbiar" in Poetry.
In 2007, Fernando Perez, who plays for the Rays, contributed to MLB's "minors blogs." His entries, sporadic like most of the featured blogs, covered his time as a prospect in spring training, his first major injury and his season playing for the Biscuits, the Rays AA team. He studied creative writing at Columbia University as an undergraduate and has a style that is reflective, poetic and wry. Take this sublime first sentence: "Sometime in February, the few and the proud ballplaying snowbirds just quit on winter altogether and head south to play ball for free" (4/3). You can conjure, perhaps too easily, metaphors of home in writing about baseball, but that doesn't make the relevance of home, metaphoric or not, any less true to the game. Everything in a game hinges on home plate--players start there, and getting back there or keeping others away motivates the game. For fans, summer schedules wrap around "home" and "away" games. And nothing is worse than the dreaded "out at home." But a ball hit "out of the park" is like Noah's dove--it's failure to return signals that home is near. It's the detail that stuck in my three and a half nephew's mind when I tried to explain the game. He knows that getting "all the way home is a good thing," it's his favorite place to be .
Perez came into the Rays system at a time when the organization was making fundamental changes. The Rays are a young team and struggled in their early years to find their footing in the AL East. Joe Maddon, the current manager, came on board in 2005 with a commitment to change "the culture in the ballhouse," as it is called. With his black-rimmed spectacles, he would fit right in a comparative literature program but for the baseball threads. Perez's first impressions of Maddon only confirm this for me:
I did my best to observe, stock advice for a rookie in any venture. There was a lot to see and a lot to hear in Joe Maddon's camp. On the first day, almost as a mission statement, he explained that his job as a manager is to create the environment in which the player has the best possible chance to succeed in difficult circumstances. It's sort of heady and got headier when he cited Camus. (4/3)
Maddon cites often the following quote from "The Myth of Sisythus," "Integrity has no need of rules," one of several aphorisms that graze the walls of the clubhouse. "Act like a professional. Have some integrity about what you’re doing and we don’t have to have any rules around here. If everybody could work properly, then this thing works really nice,” is how Maddon explains it. Maddon's turn to Camus is appropriate. In many ways, ball players are performers, they participate in acts that are ultimately transient, and their careers are also marked by unpredictability and instability. Nowhere is this more true than in the career of the journeyman--a figure that lurks in Perez's posts and to which he appears increasingly attracted.
I notice when I'm catching up with old friends that baseball is a place where we can hide out from real life and never really grow up. Amongst the stress of needing to remain progressive and evolve with the competition, a little bit of hustle and sweat is something like a halo out here.
In this way I see baseball as an 'anti-modernity.' It feels as though the men who play and stay in the game indulge in a counter culture, the lifestyle in which all you have to do each day is play. It's rustic. These are reasons why I'm here.
It's no wonder that baseball is the sport that's written about the most. There's something about it that strikes a chord with people who have the patience to understand it. (10/4)
Baseball as anti-modernity-- a way to delay or distract real life--but it also has for the fan the quality of meditation, a reprieve from the long workday. It's amazing to see how many business people show up at games, still dressed in stiff suits and ties (usually untied by the end of a game). It feels at times like a rejection of the real world--it's as ephemeral as an opera performance--and though the fundamentals don't change drastically, no game is alike. And this is arguably very different from the factory or desk job, the carbon copy quality of respectable, office life. It gives folks a place to be passionate. The train ride home often feels like passing through limbo, back to our real lives. And there is a melancholy to these trips home because it is in this moment that your thoughts turn to the life you really do live. It is the reverse of the train that takes you to the game, full of anticipation and hope. Maybe baseball players are giving us a fantasy--
Perez's best moments in this journal come after a spring break injury, acquired while trying to steal second, keeps him off the Ray's roster and sends him to the minor leagues. He calls Triple A a "waiting room," where most players spend their professional careers. This is where they'll weather injuries and hone skills that they may never perform on the stage of The Show.
We aren't off fighting a war or building houses in New Orleans, we're playing ball. It's the best job in the world and I run like a madman as my way of holding on tight so it doesn't push me out and make me have to live real life.
The Minor Leagues can really accentuate the self-indulgence of it all, when at the primeval stages of your career you appear to be a dreamer who's out for kicks, all about yourself. We wouldn't give it up for anything. It's difficult to communicate, but between us, why we're here is just understood.
We're playing, not yet earning any money to give away, and providing entertainment not for our families and friends but for a few thousand strangers in some corner of the country, to whom we now also belong (7/1).
So why do it? Here is where Perez's meditations on baseball accord with my thoughts on poetry.
Ever since I started to pay close attention to baseball, I've found myself obsessing about the trope of "home" and the poetics of "closing." I may be reading too much into the game but I do think that it's a bit like reading poetry. The criticisms leveled at both enterprises are similar: obscure, tedious, ... Both require patience and an understanding of technique, and once you get the hard footwork out of the way, you can sit back and enjoy the range of meanings and possibilities that both offer. It may seem futile at times and it may often seem very indulgent but the energy of disciplined, creative practice finds its place in the world and, indeed, makes it.