The first man is a giant, both in form and stature. A decade of excellence on baseball's biggest stage had him ticketed for number retirement, a plaque, a place alongside Ruth, Mantle, Gherig, DiMaggio, Ford, Jackson, Ruth, Berra, and on and on. His body has the shape and line of a comic book hero, with broad shoulders, a barrel chest, an easy, carefree joviality that makes his grace seem imbued from birth. He is not a man. He's a hazy, dreamy, work of baseball art. To leave that baseball Valhalla he was paid more than I and probably everyone I have ever cared about will make in our lives, combined. His wealth; talent, grace, money. It's what defines him.
The second man is as slight as the first man is large, and his place in the game is barely recorded, and ready to end at any moment. His story is the one told often, but rarely listened to. Commonness has a way of closing the ears. He's just a guy from Southridge, chasing a dream out of high school. In the 10 years since being drafted he's played on 15 teams, from Princeton,
NJ WV to Charlotte, NC to Montgomery, AL to Salk Lake City, UT and on. When his career is over it's likely the entirety of his greatest moments would not merit one mention in the story of the first man. He is here because the table has 25 chairs, and an empty seat unsightly.
The first man's home run is the greater accomplishment. Its beauty is instantaneously visible to the eye. The bat is dropped onto the ball with such effortless precision, the parabola of the hit so shallow; no need for pomp today, only ruthless, savage efficiency. This is the first man's job, his calling, his gift, and his story. Today, just another verse.
The second man's single is a meager, weak thing. The ball catches the bat near the trademark, the pitcher's savage slider boring in on it like a hungry termite; somehow the second man catches it at a proper angle, and the ball lofts gently over the shortstop, falling in front of a desperate outfield. Like anything he'll ever do in baseball it's combination of determination, effort, circumstance, and the blind luck that rules the game more than we care to think about.
The game is truly great. In it we find the two men as comrades, facing not only an opponent in another team but in the passing of another season. The other team has every reason to fight, desperate for victory. They need no prod, no carrot, no incentive. For the two men the fire has to come from somewhere different, and more personal.
These two have little in common save for the absurd, ridiculous, painfully wonderful game of baseball. There is almost no chance without it the two ever meet. In a year's time they may have moved on separate paths; only one man remembering the other, and most certainly not vice versa.
There's a third man. He's nothing but a spectator. Helpless he watches, day after day, summer after summer. He has no agency here, no vested personal interest in any of these humans he spends so much time watching. The socioeconomics of the game mean that any chance to know any of these men in any tangible way is almost nil. Still, powerless, he watches on.
It's habit, it's routine, it's his life. But there is, deep down, more to it than that. You see it's this dumb, fickle game. It's truly, authentically, a beautiful thing. As eons trickle by humanity's great civilization and societies fade into history. As they do we find ourselves left with only a rudimentary understanding of what they were, what they loved, and what they made. The ages pass on maybe one or two worthwhile things to the next, an endless relay race running to who knows where.
When we fade and our legacy is printed in the annals this game will linger on among those pages. It will stand alongside all the things we have contributed to our species. It's one of our Great Things. It's why two men of impossibly varied talent, background and ability come together for a night to beat off a hungry wolf at the door, even though death is only days away. It's why we watch. It's what makes us worth a damn.