This piece includes the following: the word nutshot, repeated; the acknowledgement of death; allusion to a misdirected limb; and a conversation about farts. If you are sensitive to any of these things, be warned.
There is a component of pain in most sports that is intentional. In cycling or any endurance sport, the ability to withstand pain is explicitly the point. In football, boxing, or any contact sport, the ability to inflict pain is at least implicitly and often explicitly the point.
In theory, baseball is supposed to be closer to bowling, or golf. Any pain is accidental. In execution, baseball is closer to football. It’s pretty much all pain, all the time. Success is about winning the war of attrition; careers are daily ended or upturned because of injury; we hold our breath on every play, or should. Somebody threw what was basically a friggin' rock at Jason Heyward’s face this year. Somebody threw what was basically a rock at Yasiel Puig’s face this year. It’s just rocks on rocks on rocks, all going at faces. You’d bet on Andrew Luck playing at an elite level for another decade before you’d bet on Jose Fernandez.
Can't talk about baseball without talking about pain. So this is the year in pain. Their pain, our pain.
Two things that the super slow-motion/high-speed cameras do. They show us, in ways we probably didn’t appreciate before, what the explosion between opposing baseball forces looks like on an almost molecular level. They turn baseball into something like that Korn video where the bullet goes through the watermelon, but with less da boom na da mmm dum na ema Da boom na da mmm dum na ema Da boom na da mmm dum na ema Da boom na da mmm dum na ema. We now know, for instance, that a baseball does this to a bat:
We also know, intuitively, that we are no baseball bat. We are so frail. We literally lose to paper. Baseballs cause terrible pain, then, and when that pain is caused we have slow motion/high-speed cameras to properly convey it:
Trivia question: How much would I have to pay you to let Doug Fister throw a fastball at your chest? And, follow-up trivia question: How much would I have to pay you for you to actually let it hit you in the chest, without flinching or dodging or ducking? Answer at the bottom.
The Pain That Makes You Sick
Realistically, you know that thousands (more?) of people are going to break legs today. Arms will be broken, backs will be broken, heads will be broken, jaws will be broken, and legs all over the world will twist in horrible directions, and look at you still going about your business like this life isn’t the utter monster it is. But just put one of those broken legs in front of you, make it bend in a funny direction, and now how tough are you?
This GIF features, but does not actually show, an ankle being broken.
If you want to see the uncensored version of the same play, click here.
The Slapstick Pain
If you’ve seen the Fly episode of Breaking Bad, you saw this:
It was, Alan Sepinwall wrote, “as broad a moment as this show has had,” but it was also an instigating event in what turned into “something much darker, and deeper, and tenser.” That’s not by chance. Slapstick is incredibly dark. The three stooges were a complete horror story, start to finish. The Simpsons hid behind slapstick to tell one of the darkest, most disturbing stories in modern television. And Rickie Weeks stepped on his own bat for some reason, turned momentarily into a QWOP, fell on his face and…
hasn’t played since.
It’s really funny to watch, especially the moment when he looks down and sees the bat. Then you realize that this is his livelihood and it’s not funny at all. But then you remember that none of this really matters, and it’s not as though he has brain damage or anything, and he’s still getting paid, and of course he'll be able to walk and do everything awesomely in no time, and so it’s funny again. But then you realize that Rickie Weeks, like all athletes, has the shortest window to do the one thing that makes him special. And you’re not sure whether it’s saddest that these days are being stolen from him, or that his window is so short in the first place, or that your window is so short in the first place, and here you’re wasting it all laughing at baseball players’ misfortune.
The Disruptive Pain
But mostly you push your own mortality into the back of your mind, and it’s easier that way. You find a way to make yourself comfortable, get used to the rhythm of your days, bury your fears in the reassurance that tomorrow will be predictable: sun, breakfast, stress, lunch, exhaustion, dinner, a drink, and forgetting. You drive to and from work, surrounded by lethal, ton-sized machines moving at unthinkable speeds just feet (inches!) away from you. You’re not only not petrified by this fact; you ignore the threat so thoroughly that you text non-urgent messages to your not-very-close friends while driving your own lethal, ton-sized machine just feet/inches from everybody else. You’ll live forever, and you’ll always be young. And then, one day,
some jerk hits you, or, worse still, you’re the jerk and you hit them. Nothing is guaranteed, you realize, and for weeks you’re scared, probably more scared that you need to be.
The Nutshot Pain
I know a two-year-old girl—not naming names here—who recently discovered farting. We didn’t tell her about farting, or make any sort of deal about it, and even though all farts are funny we didn’t laugh at any farts in front of her or tell her that she should laugh at farts. But, all on her own, she figured out that farts are funny. Here’s how Gene Weingarten explained the funniness of farts:
I think it not reckless to surmise that the very first “joke” was likely a shared merriment at accidental flatulence — probably during the late Cenozoic era, when our human forebears began to intellectually distance themselves from more primitive hominids such as australopithecines and Neanderthals, establishing a de facto classist society where the notion of cultural sophistication, as a normative model, first arose. Ergo, unintentional deviations from this new concept of “dignity” exposed our pretensions, giving rise to mirth.
The girl I know is two, so she barely knows anything. She thinks my name is [her name], and she thinks all stickers are Band-Aids, and she thinks tractors are bigger than dump trucks. She’s nuts. I personally have a hard time thinking she is responding to the notion of cultural sophistication. So why farts? And, similarly, why nutshots?
Really, why nutshots? Why do we laugh at nutshots, and why do we cringe so badly at them? Partly we’re uncomfortable because we know they hurt, but pulling a hamstring hurts and we don’t cringe at it; getting hit in the jaw with a baseball hurts but we don’t laugh at it. Do women laugh at nutshots? Do toddlers laugh at nutshots? What the heck with the nutshots?
And then there’s the pain of resignation. We spend our whole lives fighting for what amounts to a microsecond of more living, to live 1/1.33333333e-8 of the universe’s existence instead of just 1/1.25e-8 of the universe’s existence. It’s so inconsequential, really: another few starts, while you’re barely a shell of your former self, Ramon Ortiz? It’s that important? But of course it’s that important. It’s not 1/1.33333333e-8 of the universe’s existence. It’s 1/1 of his existence. It’s infinity. As long as we're alive, we're immortal.
The most painful moment of the 2013 season:
So long, Ramon Ortiz. Though you are gone, we will all follow shortly, and be together again. Kawasaki's got your glove.
Trivia answers: 1) $920,000 2) There is no amount
Thank you for reading
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