Day 10 - The Walk Off
- The Box Score
- The LL Recap
- The Player Quote
But today, Franklin Gutierrez saved more than a meaningless 'W' for a Cy Young candidate. He certainly didn't save the postseason hopes for a franchise currently dragging their own bloated corpse through the trash littering the street in their wake.
No, today Franklin Gutierrez saved himself--and as the ball traveled over the fence, as he closed his eyes and almost assuredly felt that little tingle in the back of his jaw and his throat, I can only imagine what he felt, for the first time, with his heart instead of the body which has until today only betrayed him.
I just wanted to know if I was able to play again. I just decided to keep going.
There comes a time in most peoples lives when they just stop believing.
I'm not talking about grand ontological narratives here, I mean in just...well, anything. Go to a Mariners game in September and you'll see what I'm talking about. If they can just pull a win off here you'll hear. Tomorrow we get Felix, and if the Angels lose we'll only be five games out of the second Wild Card spot and then who knows what no stop, you know exactly what everyone knows, what are you thinking, have you EVER WATCHED THIS TEAM PLAY BASEBALL? I think it usually happens in your mid-twenties. The hard-nosed pragmatism. Detached realism. Not to everyone, mind you, but it happens.
And it's not only in baseball. It's like that oft quoted line in that Louis CK special, where he's talking about dating in your 40s. Except the problem is that Louis' critics usually go for the low hanging fruit--he's a rich middle-aged white dude, profiting off pretend nihilism and then he humps a stool and aren't we better than this, because I find *this* thing funnier than that *other* thing all you losers derive entertainment from.
But what is missed in all that is that counter the popular imaginary, you don't just suddenly wake up in your 40's with two kids and a job and a car and suddenly hate your difficult life. If it was that, the Cool Police would be right to criticize him. No, this is a creeping realization that starts from your first sleight, that moment perhaps when you were still only a child, after you suddenly realized that there isn't a map for all this. That the reason the night sky is dark is not so you can see the glow of each star spread out before your eager gaze, but because there is nothing up there in between them.
Good Lord you're probably saying. This is a baseball blog, not a place for you to air out your existential woes! Well, yes, true, but if that was seriously a concern this blog wouldn't exist in the first place. Without equating personal particulars, let's just stick with watching this stupid baseball team: you believed, once. You did. Depends on how old you are--maybe it was back when you had something to believe in, maybe it was around 2007-2008, maybe it was with the second pick in the draft and the kid who punches trees from Texas. Maybe it was 2014, maybe it was as recently as last season.
But even while you believed the doubt was there, sinking, biting its teeth into your flesh without puncturing a wound. It was there, and if you're anything like me it's there now, too. While you're excited about Nori Aoki and Leonys Martin and the Jesus Montero redemption story--hell, maybe you're even predicting how many games they'll win--you know deep down to not get too excited about anything. Because you know. You know--why the fuck would anything nice ever happen?
Franklin Gutierrez signed a minor league deal with the Mariners on January 26th 2015. He sat out all of 2014 while suffering from the shopping list of ailments that ankylosing spondylitis imposes upon the body, not to mention IBS. He hurt himself countless times over the past few seasons, diving for fly balls in the outfield, his body probably just confused as to which hurting part it needed to address the most attention to. I just spent the last few paragraphs whining about feeling sorry for yourself while Charlie Browning up at the night sky, but that mostly reflects the realization of the terrible freedom that comes with existential emptiness. Imagine what it would feel like to realize there actually is a plan, and the plan is that the universe is actively conspiring against you:
(GIF courtesy Jeff Sullivan)
I mean, why the fuck would anything nice ever happen?
Franklin Gutierrez was called up to the major leagues on June 24th, and the Mariners were bad, and we were all feeling sorry for ourselves about having yet another bad season of bad baseball with the bad bad, and bad. When asked how he was feeling, all he could say was "I just decided to keep going."
We all know what happened in the ensuing months, and Nathan described it all just perfectly a few days ago, writing,
Our expectations were minimal, and the Mariners made it very clear that Guti would be playing only as his fragile body allowed. He hit a home run on July 7th off Kyle Ryan, and in my mind that was enough. Guti had made it back, he had won.
Of course, it would be more than that one home run. Franklin Gutierrez would go on to play in only 59 games, but he racked up 2.3 fWAR in the process, hitting 15 dingers good for a wRC+ of 167. He more than doubled his 2013 walk rate as a result of being platooned correctly, and despite still being as fragile as a piece of notebook paper folded into a model of the Statue of Liberty, he netted a positive defensive rating while patrolling the grass of left field. We know this.
This final little box on our mini-Mariners Advent Calendar is not about the return of Franklin Gutierrez. Inside is not 15 home runs or a .620 slugging percentage, and we aren't going to find hope for Next Year or expectations--god, no after all this why on earth would that word even cross your mind? No, behind this last little door is the discovery of something even greater, something even more lasting than the career of a baseball player who very well could have another abysmal year and make this entire redemption narrative seem pointless--because what's a story without an ending worthy of its second act, anyway?
No, inside we are going to find those same people at a September Mariners game, silently shaking their heads at the optimists in the crowd with superior knowledge of impending doom, being faced not with blind naïveté but rather, an encounter with something else. It's not hope. It's not belief, and to be honest I don't really know what it is. But it's whatever it is in Franklin Gutierrez' eyes in the split second after he touches first base here:
I wrote about it already back when it happened, but the thing I keep coming back to here is not that he won this stupid pointless game. It's not that he hit this farther than any ball he hit all season. It's not even that he "redeemed" himself, making it back to the Major Leagues as one of the best players on the team, despite not even being allowed to sit at the big-boy table back in March.
It's that once his arms go up on the air and his mouth opens and his head starts bobbling you see that he isn't actually in control of his body. Something else is animating it, subverting the all that other shit which sits in his frame, daily, pulling him back down to earth like a soaking wet blanket. Franklin Gutierrez watched that ball soar over the fence, and he must have thought wow, something nice actually happened.
We've been watching this baseball team play abysmal baseball for over a decade, and many of us have just outright given up. I know others amongst us have stuck by their side, but you honestly cannot blame people for losing interest. It's hard to watch meaninglessness unfold in front of you, day in and day out, for years at a time. If you still have faith that this team is going to start bunching up wins on their way to November, I sure wish I knew where that well was so I could drink from it.
Because putting all this in the binaries of faith vs hopelessness is a double bind. This isn't about optimism or pessimism. It's about getting up after being hit in the head with a baseball, or returning to the scene of your most visceral defeat and simply saying "I decided to keep going." And that, in the end, is so much more important than being optimistic, or having faith that it's all going to work out in the end, as if you deserve it or something. I mean, we do, but you know what I'm getting at here.
I don't think Franklin Gutierrez believed he was going to hit that home run. He just hit it, he hit it because he signed a minor league deal in January and showed up to work every day in the interim. Then he just kept going.
That doesn't mean anything nice will ever happen, but sometimes, it does.