It’s late. Outside my window, across the valley, porch lights twinkle; behind me, my wife watches a documentary about German expatriates in the Galapagos. There is, yet again, no baseball. I have spent half an hour reading poetry I wrote in college. I should be writing about the Hall of Fame. I do not want to write about the Hall of Fame. I want to write about Stan Javier.
Sometimes we are deep and sometimes we are not deep, and sometimes we just want to feel deep, that warm comfortable blanket of wisdom in seeing something and understanding it, having words for it. This is one of those times and I am sorry. I am sorry that I have chosen this, if in fact I have.
Stan Javier made the finest catch I have ever seen in person at a professional baseball game. He served as the fourth outfielder for the Seattle Mariners in 2000, his penultimate season, and my friends and I watched him from far away behind third base, awash in sunshine and carelessness. From our vantage he was as anonymous as he always was, a little stick figure in a white shirt.
Then Phil Nevin hit a ball to the wall in right field, and Javier’s legs elevated him just high enough, not to catch it, but to deflect it into the air. The impact of the wall knocked him to the ground, but the ball followed him, and he made the catch lying down in the dirt.
There is no film of this catch. There is no description in the box score. A couple of recaps mention it, mostly to the degree I have; after 17 years, it could have looked like anything. When I recall it from memory, I don’t even remember what it looked like; I remember only how I felt in that exact instant, the sheer glee at it having happened, of something new being possible. Nothing more.
In a way, I’m grateful for the modern documentation of baseball, the infinite detail of its modern statistics, the endless supply of its video footage. My own memory is so poor, especially outside of numbers. I have no idea when I first went to a baseball game; I remember going to only one game as a boy, and my recollection reaches only the parking lot, where my father slammed the trunk down on my finger and got it stuck.
Even my own playing career in Little League has completely evaporated, save for the time that I reached first base on a walk, clasped my hands over my chest and cried out “be still, my beating heart!” causing the parents in the stands to chortle. All that remains of it, like most of the baseball I have loved, are some baseball cards purchased from the photographer.
My parents have many photographs of me but few films, a VHS tape of a high school history project, my leading role in a church musical called “David and the Giants.” Digital cameras have allowed me to be more liberal with filming my own children, more spontaneous, in case their memory is like mine. I’ve also tried to write, to calcify my own life in some sort of concrete handprint. Both are hard to do, because they require stepping out of the moment, seeing it for how it’ll look rather than how it feels.
But sometimes, I wonder if history is best left in watercolor. Those poems I wrote in college, the ones that revitalized my sense of expression and led me to this byline today … well, let’s just say that they haven’t held up. Snapshots of my youth confess fashion decisions best left forgotten. Sometimes the generosity of our own history is better than the strict truth, when it doesn’t hurt anyone. Perhaps this is true of Stan Javier.
The following video is not the catch mentioned earlier. It is a catch, arguably a far more important one than some June triumph in the Vedder cup. It’s a no-hitter-saving catch, almost exactly a decade prior.
Fernando Valenzuela himself is old; it’s his final season in L.A., and his trademark skyward glance is hardly a nod at this point. The pitch he throws isn’t terrible, just tired, off the plate but not low enough. Other Craig Wilson manages to extend and turn on it even as Fernando finishes his motion by putting his hands on his knees. Both know it is well-hit.
The camera cuts to Stan Javier, a blur on the screen, only partially due to technological constraints. He takes a strong angle and sprints … only to slow down three steps before the catch, his route maximized. It’s a nice catch, even perhaps an excellent catch, but if it’s a no-hitter-saving catch, then they all are.
Perhaps the answer for this is a kind of retrospective Statcast, something to quantify the achievement, put it in perspective. A lesser center fielder might have given up on it, or perhaps made an amazing dive to cement his place in history. The natural combination of Javier’s talents and drive have left him with something less than that. He instead owns a semi-ironic 20-second YouTube video, to go with one that someone recorded in spring training one year—46 seconds of him standing on third base waiting.
But imagine that moment: not the hit, not the catch, but the moment Javier slows down. Imagine how that must have felt to the 38,583 people at Dodger Stadium, to Fernando himself. Maybe these moments (and as a writer, it pains me to say this) aren’t meant to be revisited; maybe the future can never do the present justice. Maybe those terrible poems belong trapped in the foolish pride I once held for them, and that Stan Javier should, for those who remember him, remain exactly as superhuman as the memory makes him.