Yesterday, I finished reading a collection of essays by Jon Ronson entitled "Lost at Sea." Ronson is a British journalist of the modern style, one who writes about events in the first person, injecting his surfeit of wit and charm. The mysteries in this book, as he labels them, tend toward the bizarre, including tales about psychics, talking robots, celebrity trials, and the city of North Pole, Alaska. But despite the heavy eccentricity, the stories wear down into a barrage of desperate, lonely lives thrashing against life's current. The characters, no matter where they start, end up dead, or in jail, or in poverty. Their attempts to make sense of their sadness, or to buy or cheat their way out of it, inevitably fails.
It's not a happy book. And given my own modest position, it wasn't perhaps the best time to read it. For the past couple of weeks I've been in that worst of writing slumps: not blocked, but dry. I've gone about my life, putting insulation in the attic, fixing leaks, listening to baseball on the radio. My two-month old is crying as if she's trying to level up at it. I'm empty.
And right now, when it comes to the Mariners, it's hard not to be. The team has stumbled out of Labor Day weekend with the fourth-worst run differential in baseball. Nick Franklin looks like the fourth-best second baseman in the lineup every night. Franklin Gutierrez looks pretty good at times, which is somehow even more depressing. The management status is so baffling, so counterintuitive that it's difficult to find credible commentary for it. It almost makes me feel like a conspiracy theorist: I wonder if Zduriencik was on his way to getting a Johjima from the higher ups, getting handed a check and a gag order after another disastrous season. It's a stupid theory, but they all seem stupid right now.
The hardest part of the Zduriencik situation is that it robs us of our narrative, the feeling that we're going somewhere. Narrative interferes with making good decisions, and it's justly vilified, but September isn't the month for making decisions. It's a time for looking forward, for putting together the pieces. But we don't even know what those pieces are, much less who's going to be doing the assembly. Which part of Ackley is real? Franklin? Smoak?
Ronson's book is a collection of individual stories about painfully alienated individuals, people who have lost or never had the ability to connect with the people around them. It's the problem of the modern age, when many of us feel ourselves painfully isolated. Baseball is supposed to be one of society's cures. It gives us shared experience, a way to understand and relate to each other. But in order for that to work, it has to make some semblance of sense; it has to not feel arbitrary. The Mariners feel arbitrary right now.
A game took place tonight, is taking place as I write this. The game is tied. Of course, the real important stuff is already over; the win or loss Is fairly meaningless beyond draft pick protection. The story of the day was young Taijuan Walker, a rookie who pitched like a rookie. For three innings, Taijuan mowed through the lineup the first time with only a walk, but in the fourth he began to leave his pitches up, and the Royals strung some hits together and scored four runs. Wedge left him in, however, and he got through not only that inning (thanks mostly to a Dyson caught stealing where he completely overslid the base) but the fifth, throwing 79 pitches. It wasn't the kind of outing you hope for, but it's the kind you expect, and the positives outweighed the negatives despite the four runs.
The M's rode Ervin Santana early, forcing him out before the end of the fourth, and scoring four runs of their own despite some sloppy baserunning. But then the Royals inflicted seven relievers on the American viewing public and the game spent most of the time knotted at 4-4.
Such did it appear that we'd spend all of eternity, until the top of the ninth with two outs and Justin Smoak on second, when our once and future DH deposited an Aaron Crow 97-mph fastball into center field. Danny Farquhar required exactly seventeen seconds to notch the save, and the day was won. Baseball was over.
The Mariners won, technically nullifying five morose paragraphs. But as much as it hurts to say, the win doesn't really change anything. I wrote back in spring about how to approach fandom in a lost season, that we have to embrace absurdity. But it's such a hard thing to do, because the thing we forget about absurdity is that it's not the same as randomness. Sometimes it's the opposite, the same damn thing over and over.
If you care about winning for now, this is going to be a rough month. If you care about winning next year, this is still going to be a rough month. Our team makes no sense and we have to figure it out together. We have to make our own narrative.
All we have now is Nick Franklin's batting helmet. May it save us all.