"On smallness" is a three-part series composed of installments "origins", "defeat", and "champion". The series attempts to understand the place of Sport within modernity and, in moments, the Seattle Mariners.
There was a time in the timelessness of the past when a spark was ignited. The details are made murky by the vacuum of space. A soundless explosion of matter into nothing. The matter would collide and collide again and from those million-billion impacts the nurseries which would birth the lights of the night sky would form. The sky became heavier as the gravity of the matter intertwined. From that prehistoric riot of light and dark, the planet humanity has known its entire existence was formed. From the churning waters of that early world RNA is transcribed and translated, a rudimentary lens evolves, a hapless and inquisitive creature crawls forth from the water. On three separate occasions flight evolves, the mammalian ocular lens never fully adjusts for dry land. Humanity is handed the short end of the physiological evolutionary stick. There are creatures made taller and greater and faster and more powerful by Time's ever-pressing onward. In a world of beasts beyond the wildest of imaginations, human beings arise from the cannon fodder hiding in the mega-fauna. We, in all likelihood, were never meant to make it this far.
George Herman is displeased. The last two pitches were clearly outside. Regardless of that truth, the fact is he sits in an 0-2 hole. It is a narrative that, without him knowing or caring, will extend well-beyond his life. The strikezone will never be called straight. Yet, despite his malcontent and the rowdy and raucous Cubs fans calling for his demise, the Babe steps back in to the box. He does something then that will echo through the skeletal bones of the sport he has become a master of. He points at a flagpole over the fence. But he points further than that. He points up towards the heavens, where those nurseries that birthed the stars and our planet still rest and do their work. There, he gestures, is where this next pitch goes.
The windup. The pitch. The swing. The ball, long-gone from sight, lands somewhere over that yonder fence. George Herman is trotting the basepaths, but not in the way one slowly takes the middle miles of the marathon. No, the Babe is trotting the basepaths like Achilles in to battle, Attila and Genghis as well. He trots with the same, no even greater, feeling of wonder and pride of the early explorers and conquerors of the world. Those folks never called their shot, though. They never felt the crack of lumber against leather and the long-sailing moonshot. Alexander could have walked the entire world and not found that feeling. What has happened is beyond all them who have long passed. It is beyond us here and now left to tell the tale. George Herman has become a god. George Herman is made of star-stuff.
At some unknown point in the early moments of our past seventy-thousand years, human beings found time to create something we now refer to as "Sport". It was, by assumption, a means of community and communication, but also something else. Sport gave a direct route back to those evolutionary ways. In the same way that the big-horns upon the mountainside clashed horns to claim territory, so did human beings. Rules were made but not always followed. There was wrestling in Greece and chariot races in Rome. Teams of Iroquois used sticks to mock warfare across the New England wild. Some societies threw boomerangs, others spears. Eventually, ours threw baseballs.
Our minds cast meaning upon the sport. It became, for some peoples, a way of worshiping powers beyond themselves. What it inevitably provided as a secondary effect was godlike feelings for those taking part. And this was the line that was laid that still is carefully walked. Sport often turned to bloodshed, turning back towards those carnal and early days when our ancestors crawled forth from the sea. It seems barbaric and unsavory. Imagine witnessing the massacres of the Colosseum. Now watch a game of football. The sword and spear has been replaced by the perfection of the human athlete. This is the new weapon. Sport contains both the euphoric and the sinister within all of us.
The Called Shot is a moment readily identified by people of all makes and meanings. Every child, grabbing a bat in some park or parking lot of the world, standing ready for the pitch, points out towards the heavens in their moment of confidence. It is a motion back to the origins of the game. It is a tip of the hat towards those who begot these moments we now live in. It is a means of worshiping at Babe's altar.
But it is more than that. There is a reason that the fence is somewhere "out-there". It is beyond us, further than seems possible to reach. What we strive for is there, it is tangible, but it is difficult. To hit a homerun is to exceed the limits of the game; one must go beyond the very edge of the field of play. Most often we all fall short of that distant point. We are ever-reaching towards it, only to taste what we wish to feast upon. "Someday," we tell ourselves, "someday." There is failing and there is succeeding all played out in a shorter time frame than the many years it typically takes for evaluation. And such is the draw of Humanity to Sport; of us gathered here towards Baseball.
Sport speaks to a side of us we, in this modern age, rarely touch. Most of us are blessed enough that survival is not a daily concern. The training we do is not for war against the elements but for war against the waistline. The draw of sport is carnal and communal. It is a subconscious yearning for those times when all we were was the afterthought of a world full of monsters and beasts. The time when "sport" was simply "survival". There were no 40 times, there was the sprint to safety, won or lost. Verticals were measured in the next rock crossing the river. Winning and losing was simply passing on genetic material to the next generation. "Hopefully," one would consider at their dying, "I made the next ones better."
The Sun has rolled over the left-field wall of Safeco Field. The seventh-inning stretch now complete, the last-call beer back in your hand, and Felix Hernandez just struck out the side. Robinson Cano takes the plate after a Ketel Marte single and a Kyle Seager walk in a tie ball game with no outs. Edinson Volquez is starting to looked gassed as the smell of ocean salt wafts softly through nearly-electric air.
It is the American League Championship Series and the three tickets, plus yours, purchased well in advance have provided more than their worth. The seats, long abandoned for standing, sit along the third-base side, provide the perfect view to see Robbie tap the plate as he steps to bat. The conference with the pitching coach now over, Volquez takes his set. Perez sets up low and away, and it's taken in the dirt. Robbie taps his toes with the end of his bat, adjusts his gloves, pops his gum.
You take a nervous gulp of the amber liquid in the cup.
The second pitch fools him, a fastball middle-out and thigh-high. You can see Robbie's disaproving look as he turns back towards the dugout. The forty-plus thousand crowd of fellow sufferers groans in unison, a song that hasn't been sung for fifteen years. The leverage hasn't been this high since before you became yourself. The human who last felt this during a Mariners game is almost completely separate from the one now anxiously drinking a too-expensive beer. Volquez sets, the off-speed is hung middle-in. Robbie swings. He does not miss.
You don't really remember the rest. You just remember the dwindling heat of the day, the hot tears upon your cheek, and the roar that turned a man holding a stick in to a thunder-god holding a piece of lightning.
All in witness know transcendence.
What do we inherit from our ancestors? Sure, the nose, the eyes, the laugh, maybe the gait with which you walk, but there must be more beyond that. We inherit both the light and dark in different amounts, the sins of the past and the good deeds done. All is placed upon our shoulders from the moment we enter this space. For most of us, we also inherit a sports team. Be it due to the particular town one calls "home" or a community far from home that has been designated by family, the team is only rarely "choosen" by the individual. The team, and even the sport we choose to follow, is a piece of heritage.
Through that team we are given a lens to see Sport, and thus ourselves, more clearly. We learn more about our own faults and what makes us weak. We are emboldened by what makes us feel stronger. Every day we are allowed the choice to feel community in shared suffering or celebration. We are allowed to embrace what makes us animals, and to discuss what makes us human all in the context of a game. What Sport speaks to in us is something we discover every day, but has been there all along. Sport, Baseball, you name it, informs us on a community, on a group of people, on ourselves. We are informed on our past, our present, and our future as a species. We are enlightened on our greatness. On smallness.