"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.
Yet, we did make it this far. We, as far as we know, were given the most-advanced ganglionic mass in existence. Through ducking in to the cover of cave and brush alike, our ancestors avoided the peril of the waiting world. By doing so, they were given over time the most complex and vital piece of evolution, the human brain. Yet, what did we inherit? Our ancient civilizations war over land and resource, and today's do the same. There is no peace between us, not a wholesome one. The species containing the greatest technology of logic and reason cannot keep from spilling the blood of others. We go forth from lightness only to create darkness. We allow the differences between us to form mighty canyons of polarity through the collective force of the water of our fear. We are scared of this world, of those others that inhabit it, of ourselves. They who cheer the other team must be my enemy. They must be against me.
The match has been going for twenty minutes and his breathing has finally regularized to the pace of the game. The grass is cut short and watered well. The pitch is fast, but so too are the players all around him. The first noise, three minutes prior, was unsettling but nothing unusual for a European soccer veteran. Explosions are let off by fans infrequently, but it has certainly happened before. Patrice Evra stands with the ball at his feet, surveying the field for his next pass. The second sound sets the stage in his mind and of the other twenty-one players on the field.
A brief look of horror passes across Patrice's typically cool face. He is in shock. The crowd gathered there, not knowing the magnitude of what is occurring around them, cheers. Evra's body takes over, his mind now wandering and useless in the context of the sport. The training he has received his entire life cannot be suppressed. He drops a heartless back pass to Laurent Koscielny. Both teams salute the world around them with a brief moment of pace-less play. Patrice holds his hand out, for an instant, hoping everything will cease to be.
In this modern age, the pain involved with living a human life is most commonly displayed via the sporting arena. Every game, multiple times a day, we watch as fellow people walk off their stage as the losers in a contest they prepared so diligently to perform in. It is the great risk of Sport. The loss and the pain is one side of a coin that is flipped every time the contest is undertaken. The other side of that coin is the reason we are so eager to play. However, and it will always feel more times than not, the side that shows as the coin slowly comes to a stop while rattling around the field of chance is "loss". Devastation, meaninglessness, inadequacy, and failure all wrap themselves around those who came up short, and often it manifests itself in front of thousands, if not millions.
Imagining that failure in the context of the modern, middle-class, American life is difficult. Rarely are we shown our limits in such a real fashion. Rarely is the very sweat and blood one has given put upon a scale, only to be found too slim. Rarely do we sweat and bleed. We are further from those ancestral yearnings than perhaps ever before, but Sport can bring us back again. It can give us that feeling of ultimate risk, to not use just the mind to conquer, but the body, also. But with more wagered, more is to be lost. There are those bloodied and battered on the field that have gained nothing but the falling feeling in the pit of their stomach. All can be lost when all is to be won.
The first basemen had enjoyed a full and long career and found himself in the World Series. The previous pitch was errant and scored the tying run in the 10th. The giant sigh he took between that pitch and the next helped to calm his nerves as the crowd erupts around him. The ball, finally put in play, takes two looping hops towards the man. The third hop settles down and rides low and fast on the dirt. Inexplicably, there is a forth hop.
At the point of this fourth hop, Bill Buckner has been worth more than twenty-two wins. He played his first game in 1969 for the Dodgers and is currently one ground ball away from escaping an inning which will help Boston win its first World Series since the Babe or the goat. The summer of his debut is one of the most storied summers of American history. Lou Piniella won Rookie of the Year, Nolan Ryan made his debut. Humanity landed boots on the moon. We, as a people, conquer the first barrier of space. He has taken countless ground balls his entire life. Bill Buckner is a thirty-seven year old man and a ground ball is coming right at him. There are two outs.
The fourth hop surprises him, his glove raised just above the plane of the ball in anticipation of a longer third hop. There must have been something in the dirt at the exact spot the ball bounced off of the grass. A pebble that may as well have been a boulder. A man who made his debut the same summer a man walked on the Moon watches a ground ball feebly bleed between his legs to allow the winning run to score and the Mets to win Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. There is no expression on Bill's face. There is the dejected walk of a man who has let down millions, but most vitally and importantly, he has let himself down. He has let all the short-comings of his humanity burst through the cracks of our inherent imperfection. Just as in 1969, the Mets would win the World Series.
I stand on the field after the second practice of an August day in Minnesota. The whole team is gathered and Kevin, a team captain my junior year playing in his final year of college, stands by our coach, tears in his eyes. The year previous, as a junior, Kevin tears every ligament of his knee slipping on a muddy patch of grass while taking a hit during our running-back drills. The week prior he had finally been named the starting back. It was early October.
The reason Kevin stands before us all now, this August day where we have all just sweat and bled for eight hours, is that yesterday he tweaked his back, missed practice. Today, at his doctor's visit, the medical staff tells him the next time he takes any form of a hit in the game may be the last time he walks. His spine is all tangled up. Kevin, who I saw spend every day of his rehab in the gym, who spent a year assaulting his own body with no reward just to play another year of football, who is about to take his MCAT, will never play football again. Kevin is crying.
But it isn't the first time I have seen it. It just wasn't Kevin. I saw Nick cry the last game he ever played, I saw Chris, too. I saw Cole take a ground ball to the face at the age of thirteen and never find himself trusting of baseball ever again. Mike was the most sought after recruit in the state, and the best baseball player I ever saw. His elbow gives out his second year of college. I watched us kill ourselves for sport. I can feel the old hurts and see some of them on my body still. Some days I am wildly unsure and afraid of what all the pain and failure was supposed to bring us.
Sport speaks to two halves of human existence that are experienced constantly but in varying ratio: success and failure. The dealing with these two states is handled differently by every one of us and that paints our action almost exclusively. Perhaps that is one of the major draws of Sport, that it is entirely action. But we are imperfect. We must be cut down by life and shown exactly what we are in the cosmic scheme: nothing. Sport, whether playing or watching, will bring us to the very depths of our soul, will drive us down so low in moments that we feel incapable of resurfacing. The ball is on the goal line, Lockette runs a slant, the ball is thrown.
It is the top of the sixth and he looks up at the video board behind him. He lets out a sigh, but not in relief. It is in sorrow, from a place he had wanted to give life to so badly, but now cannot. Not this year, at least. He throws the next pitch and it's a ground out to short. Lloyd exits the dugout to give Felix the ovation the sellout crowd will be wanting to give him. Felix, Lloyd, all of us are crying. The ball taken from the King's hand feels heavy because it bears a weight beyond itself. It bears the weight of a decade without the playoffs, of one-hundred and sixty-one games and five innings of playoff baseball, and the unbearable lightness of the remaining few, meaningless innings. That small, heavy ball speaks to us all about what is within and what is beyond our control. Of our place in the universe. It speaks on smallness.