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June 27, 2012

Prospects Will Break Your Heart

A Flight of Fancy

by Jason Parks

The music for the mood is “Piledriver Waltz,” a haunting song by Alex Turner, delivered with a post-Beatles Lennon feel, although lacking the same acidic bite and optimism cleverly packaged as despair. I’m listening to it as I navigate the airport and daydream about things that make other things seem better. The words are tickling my ears as I finally reach my seat on Spirit Airlines, and I feel romantic as I apply the poetry to my own life.

“I etched the face of a stopwatch on the back of a raindrop
And did a swap for the sand in an hourglass
I heard an unhappy ending
It sorta sounds like you're leaving
I heard the piledriver waltz
It woke me up this morning”

It doesn’t take long for the daydreams I was playing on repeat to turn off and the reality of suck to play at 11. I quickly picked up my Pentel ENERGEL 07 pen—with smooth black ink and minimal smear promise—and started to jot down notes on the back of my flight confirmation printout, the only paper source near my person. “If you are seeking an uncomfortable adventure in a substandard environment, Spirit Airlines is the right airline for you,” was the first note on the page. My hand was quivering with honesty. I went bargain shopping at the last minute, and Sac ‘N’ Save Airlines Spirit Airlines was the right price at the right time, and I made the wrong choice.

The plane didn’t feature a first-class cabin, not that I would be in this particular section to begin with; rather, I just want to be surrounded by people who are more comfortable than I am. I like to see clear divisions in the class system, and when I’m battling for leg room with a mouth-breathing sea creature and a child who is freebasing pure cane sugar, I want to know that someone is drinking in the tranquility of the moment while a warm cloth wipes away the proletarian debris from their hands. With no first-class cabin, we all become the same; clones in the same carriage, with limited means to separate ourselves from the herd. Life is better when warm towels and leather seats are available rewards for our hard work or good fortune.

I’m not a nervous passenger, but I drink on planes like I just saw a monster walking on the wing. When the beverage service light dings, my snakeskin BOSCA wallet with hand-stitched red exterior trim shoots from my back left-pocket and lands on my lap, opened to the appropriate credit card, which allows me to earn frequent flyer miles on better airlines with every purchase. I quickly order two drinks, finish one before I deny the receipt, and I’m ready to handle the next leg of the flight. The person to my immediate left is attractive, but I’m in the seventh inning stretch of my marital collapse, so her beauty is wasted on my eyes. I stare at her anyway. She counters my approach by putting on her headphones and going to sleep for the next three hours. Well played.

To my immediate right is a large advert located on the divider between the seating rows and the steward’s chambers. The sign reads: “Our cabins are pressurized to seal in Vegas secrets.” I’m confused on multiple levels. I quickly start to work on the second adult beverage, sneak a quick glance [blatant stare] at my new airplane roommate, and I sink deep into thought about the meaning of the sign. Do people go to Vegas to participate in devolutionary behavior only to counter this behavior with advanced post-event manipulation in order to conceal said behavior from those that would be either hurt or disappointed in the first place? “Come to Vegas and act like a lunatic for 48 hours, give us all of your money, engage in a sexual act with a stranger, rush home back to the ol’ 9-to-5 and the mortgage, broke, depressed, and hung over, and then lie to your significant other about the event. Vegas: Brought to you by the makers of Zoloft.” Yes, I know it’s not always this extreme, but at the time of the viewing, it was this extreme. I asked the steward if the cabin was actually pressurized to seal in Vegas secrets. He laughed like his job was dependent on laughter, and said that this particular plane was in fact pressurized to seal in secrets. I suggested he was an enabler and part of the problem and I ordered another round. He was praying for a plane crash.

At the bottom of the same advert, in smaller type, it read: "Find out which secrets are OK to share. Go to [redacted].com." We live in a world where people will click on that link to actually find out which secrets are OK to share after their trip to Vegas. Just keep that in mind. I spend the next hour thinking of the secrets that would be OK to share should I happen to make a trip to Vegas, and the list proves to be incomplete. For the sake of argument, let’s say that I got blackout drunk on the strip, spent $1000 on prostitutes, and got arrested for engaging in their particular service in public view. How could I keep that a secret? I’d probably tell that story on the Up and In podcast. You can’t keep that a secret. I guess I just don’t understand the marketing angle, as it promotes debauchery and deceit, two acts that usually make people feel bad about themselves and therefore subject to introspection and subsequent behavioral adjustment. Lure people away from their common lives with bright lights and big promises only to slap them in the face with their own weaknesses as they pack their bags. I change my mind. This is actually brilliant. I asked the steward if flying to Vegas and going to bed at 9pm while reading a good book would be a secret that was OK to share. With a pleasant tone and a friendly gesture, he handed me another drink, telling me that I’m over-thinking the advertisement and to just enjoy the flight, but what he really meant to say was, “I hate people like you and I hope your liver doesn’t survive the flight.”

The reason for my flight from New York City to Dallas is to attend and participate in a Baseball Prospectus event at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. I was scheduled to be involved in the question and answer portion (along with Kevin Goldstein, Joe Hamrahi, Don Welke, Jamey Newberg, and Jon Daniels), the dinner/drinks meet and greet in the hall of fame area of the stadium immediately following the question and answer portion, and finally, to enjoy the game in the outfield stands with some of those that purchased tickets. It was a sold out event, and I was returning to my roots, so I was looking forward to the festivities.

My head was swimming for personal reasons, but I was focused on the good, and getting to sit on a panel with my colleagues in the field and my scouting mentor was more than just good. It was special. I’ve waxed poetic on this site about Don Welke in the past, and I’ll probably do so again multiple times before I hang up the spikes. You see, baseball is in my blood, just like it is in yours, but I wasn’t aware of the significance until a few years ago [six]. I was just a daydreamer without a dream, attending an instructional league workout without a particular focus other than to observe a few players that I could later write about on a Rangers-specific blog I contributed to once a week. Scouting was just a word, and not a word I saw in my future, and writing was just a means to drop unfocused ideas, and not a pathway to a career. My exposure to people like Don Welke—who is both very old school and new school, bringing an ever-evolving approach that remains rooted in the same fundamentals he brought to the table in the 1960s—opened my eyes and ears to another world. Simply put, I wouldn’t be in this particular life if not for a few casual encounters that turned my basic collection of flammable material into a sustainable fire. Don Welke stood by my side and lit the match.

Just as I start to get sentimental, my attractive neighbor snaps to consciousness and mumbles something about how many empty bottles of liquor I have on my tray table. We start to converse. She has a really nice face, with pouty lips, good bone structure, and humble eyes that look tired and victim to the pains of the past and present. She has long brown hair, which isn’t really my thing, but the tone plays well with her eyes, which I look deeply into, as if I could read her history through the retina. I ask her if she knew which secrets were OK to share after a Vegas trip, but she wasn’t interested in my humor or my obsession with the Vegas advert, which she said was clever and effective. We are told to prepare for the landing, I mention my imminent divorce, and she once again pretends to sleep.

The plane grinds to a halt and I steady my system. I’m full of excitement and liquid courage, and in a few days I will get to talk baseball with eager baseball fans, watch baseball with my baseball friends, and listen to one of the fire-starters of my career explain to a room filled with ears why some words just carry more weight than others. You can’t accurately document those moments, capturing the feel and the flow with any depth, so that’s why I won’t attempt to. I couldn’t do it any justice, and because of the special significance to me, I’d rather keep some of those thoughts locked in my own head, stored on a special shelf where I stock my daydreams. Sometimes I just can’t find the words.

Jason Parks is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jason's other articles. You can contact Jason by clicking here

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