I didn’t see it. As I write this, I still haven’t seen it.
I’d watched the first seven innings while working, detaching myself from both worlds just enough to live between them. Then the timer went off on my phone and the spell was broken. Throw on jeans, walk down the street, the bus is late, my kid is the last one off. Once we get back there’s no room for baseball: backpacks and laptop chargers and stories and math worksheets and tapioca pudding cups.
So the game existed as a tiny rectangle at the periphery of my vision, a collection of flickering red and green dots, as my son read the literary classic The Magic School Bus: Expedition Down Under. Which isn’t even written by the original author, just some bloodless ghostwriter in the basement of the Scholastic Publishing Corporation. I traced along the words with my finger as he haltingly spoke about numbat habitat endangerment, until the blue dot appeared. “In Play, run(s),” it read. And I knew it was over, even before it said how many.
The boy is afraid of the dark. I get it, even though it creates a logistical nightmare, because he is afraid of going to the other end of the house even when the lights are on. I like to pretend that this is the result of intricate logic: That just because a room is light now doesn’t mean something couldn’t have come in and hidden when it wasn’t. But the real answer is probably much simpler: the scariest monsters in horror movies are the ones you don’t see, and for my delightful and very unobservant child, that could be anything, anywhere. No light is enough light.
I was also afraid of the dark when I was a boy. My father hung a little green night light in the corner of my bedroom, which cast a sickly hue over everything, and especially the poster on the far wall. This print, and I have never since been able to track down any evidence on the internet of its existence, was a collection of hand-drawn portraits of the various kings of Denmark, clad in armor and wielding morning stars and halberds and the like. I found that in that ichorous glow, on the edge of sleep, I could stare at those little bearded warriors, unfocus my eyes, and make them come alive, trembling almost imperceptibly. I had no reason to do this. It upset me. I always did it.
This, I have come to understand, is what fandom is. It is my son being afraid of the dark when it is not dark. It is the power to create something in the air just powerful enough to ensure your misery. When that blue dot appeared, it was Eric II the Memorable (1134-1137).
I have seen it now. It is all wrong.
The blue dot is replaced by a white one. It is an ultraviolet keratitis: a word for what happens when a badly-placed fastball burns itself into the retinas even after the actual baseball is halfway to its final resting place in the upper deck. It goes away with time.
But none of it is right, none of it is as uncanny as I imagined it. Alvarez’s swing is too sudden, unnaturally so, out of sync with the rest. Also, it is too loud. The crowd is alive, and understandably so, but the broadcasters are shouting, drowning out the moment. It should be silent, except for the snap like the breaking of Robbie Ray’s neck as he spins around. It should be the second after a car crash, before the brain starts back up again, the hiss of air going out of the world. The desperation to hurl oneself back in time, reject both the present tense and the future, retreat to the moment before. The slow feeling of the tongue around the jagged edge of a broken tooth.
The argument that baseball is better on the radio is generally founded on romance: It allows baseball to fuse with other things, sundrenched summer nights, the smell of mowed lawns and unhurried drives. These ideas tend to disappear in October, when not only do we need to see it all, we need it in high-definition, slow-motion detail. It’s also exactly why postseason baseball is better without pictures: what we see can never hold a candle to what we can imagine.
You have already seen the home run. Everyone has. It’s everywhere. Many writers were concerned when media companies began the push toward pivoting to video. They were also concerned when newspapers started publishing box scores, and televisions started running highlights. A thousand words may be just as good as a picture, but they take a lot more work to produce, and to consume. We are antiquated. But the written word does have one trick that the camera can never pull. It can display every detail of every twentieth of a second, available to play or rewind or freeze. But what it can’t do is leave things out.
In the book Several short sentences about writing, the author Verlyn Klinkenborg cuts to the chase: “At first, it will help to make short sentences, short enough to feel the variations in length. Leave space between them for the things that words can’t really say.” It’s often said that a broadcaster demonstrates a level of confidence in willing to be silent, to let the moment carry on its own. But it can go further. “Know what each sentence says.” Strip away everything else. Wipe away the broadcaster, the recap, even the visuals, until there’s nothing left except one white-blue dot, and what that dot means.
The white dot does not go away, even when you close your eyes: 93. Painted on your eyelids, you can almost change it, put the movement back on the pitch, push it tailing out of the zone and away from that horrible swing. The important thing, with gunshots and fandom, is to press down on the wound.
Fandom is horror. It is the accumulation and sharing of hope, and that hope is just borrowing against yourself at interest, and it is always due. It all has its own logic, much like smoking or heart disease. The horror is that even when you know this, you can’t stop making the shadows move. You need it too much.
Thank you for reading
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