"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.
*Author's note: The above video was made by the author taking one second of video every day of 2015. Three hundred and sixty-five seconds to represent a year of human life. The author hopes you enjoy and will forgive him figuring out to film in landscape by June.
The night can be so dark. We are lost in it, wondering for what cause we have devoted all this human energy. In tens of thousands of years what have we accomplished? We are not at peace, we are not in harmony. We are sailors at sea, struggling against mighty waves and our hands cannot grasp the ropes to tie down the sails. Surely, the mast will break and we will be stranded. But the storm subsides and we manage to get the bucking galley back to center. As a species, we adapt extraordinarily well. We find a means of living at both ends of the Earth and everywhere in between. In deserts and rain forests and even upon the ocean. We thrive. The night is dark, but the dawn is rising. There, in the distance, there is Pheidippides, running towards us. He has a message for all to hear. What happened during the darkness.
It is the bottom of the eleventh inning. There are runners on first and third with no outs. The stadium, typically raucous and loud for the past few months, has gone deathly quiet. All for this split second. He stands in the box, one strike against him, bat waving through the air like the mobile above a pacified child. It is hypnotizing. We are all babes biting our collective thumb. The white noise of the crowd slurs together into the dull beat of a war drum miles off. All that moves is two men. A pitcher and a batter. Them gathered there collectively hold their breath.
The count is no balls and one strike. Yet, the count is bigger than that. The count is one city looking for salvation against the world. It is decades of meddling and dirt-kicking and blood spitting against bloated champions and old idols needing to fall. Wanting to. See, there is a moment in the life of every underdog where, amongst the battering, a decision must be made. Will you live your life like this? Will you be the boxer or the bag? We are Hannibal at the gate. And, this time, we are coming in.
The bat comes still with the delivery from the pitcher. The snake has stopped the rhythmic dancing in preparation for the strike. All is coiled, all is ready. The pitch comes tight inside, hard to get the knuckles through. Yet he does. His hands are fast like lightning, his bat pops like thunder. The rest we all remember because it has become a part of the very electricity that pulses through our collective fandom. Edgar Martinez hits the ball.
It flies, on a rope, deposited down into the left field corner, as near the chalk as a foreman could set their line.
Here comes Joey.
Here's Junior to third base.
They're gonna wave him in.
The throw to the plate will be late.
The Mariners are going to play for the American League Championship.
We are all here, together, on this planet, despite the million means of separating ourselves we have devised. There was a time when we were closer though, when we were just those simple, primitive people living near rivers and lakes and oceans as a means of sustaining not only ourselves, but one another. In the creating of comfort, we found ourselves still uncomfortable. By settling we allowed something to settle out of ourselves. It was that collective need to conquer, to accomplish, to succeed. We, even those thousands of years ago, found a need to get closer to our roots. See, evolution was a form of sport. Getting to this point, in this modern moment when you read these words, involved a degree of skill and luck and community. That really is all Sport, right there. The game was to survive and provide for the next generation and every one of our ancestors won the game.
Yet we do not feel that game anymore. Maybe we became too accomplished at it. We needed a new one. The fences had to get pushed back. So we built bridges, ships, planes, but were never satisfied. We found means of communicating at a split-second across the entire world. We landed on the Moon, and now we look beyond it. By pushing the fence further, we keep looking for a definition of ourselves more distant from ourselves. We miss something from the bird's-eye view, though.
What makes us? What drives us? It cannot be seen from space. It is seen within the launch room.
I am sitting on Erma Pritcher's couch in southeast Walla Walla. The Seattle Mariners are trying to catch lightning in a bottle and the 82 year-old woman next to me feels it, too. It is all we talk about in the rare moments we see each other due to my long hours working harvest. I generally leave her home by 6 AM and don't make it back until the 6th inning. But there she sits, in her chair, waiting for the ghost of her husband to come home while the Mariners sing their old, familiar song.
It's a longshot and I can tell you now, looking back, that it is a forlorn one. They will not make it all the way. The season falls short but the memory runs long. It is the first time we had been fed crumbs off the table for years. But Logan Morrison is up to bat and Kyle Seager is on first base. We have to beat the Angels.
My hands, dried and cracked from the caustic chemicals they are constantly exposed to, black from steel and grape alike, grip the leather sofa just a foot or so from Erma. My body aches but her soul does even more-so. We speak without speaking. During commercial breaks there are one-word sentences. The playoff race is hot and heavy during these harvest nights. I work all day in great clamor and haste to spend my evenings quietly allowing the clamor to churn inwards. Baseball builds its symphonies so tenderly. The gusto is often anticipated, but yet, still surprises. We must beat the Angels. The rest of the house is dark, we are in the only room with light or sound. Walla Walla is a quiet place.
I raise one hand in the air, towards the sky, towards whatever force has allowed the vision before me. I cannot be loud. Erma and I are worshiping in peace. I do not know what it feels like to be a god but I do know this is as close as Logan Morrison can get.
Erma smiles, "These sure are getting more exciting."
I never got the chance to introduce myself. I entered the Lookout Landing collective consciousness recapping the second game of the 2015 season. It was a 2-0 loss to the Angels off a David Freese home run. It all sorta just exploded from there. In terms of my real life, it was right about when the music starts in the video at the top of this post. But I never got a chance to introduce myself because Scott hired me while he was drowning in work. The past year was the hardest year of my life, and you can see every day of it in the 365 seconds of video up there.
I am David Skiba and I have struggled. I put a bike pedal through my leg when I was five years old, was told I would die of whooping cough the following spring, tore both ankles in high school, both knees in college and my wrist. I have been in multiple fights and not by choice. I busted open my eye on a jet-ski. I was told I was too short to play Division One. A little over a year ago, I pulled a man out of a car wreck in the middle of nowhere, California and handed him off to paramedics. He was bloodied and dying. His name was Ronnie. I have failed numerous romantic endeavors and this past year I watched myself lose a relationship I thought may end in marriage. I saw my family struggle through multiple adversities while I was too far away to help. I fought and scratched for a job coming out of graduate school, and eventually moved back to Seattle to alleviate the stress of some and the pain of myself.
I am David Skiba and I did not die. I am not special in my struggle. I am tempered by time and anger and sadness and rage and all that made me stronger. I am tempered by love and compassion and belief and a common call to put in a hard day's work. I am a white kid from a white neighborhood in the suburbs of Seattle. All my faults are behind and before me. I am a blessed and privileged man. I have fought my own battles, though. I have been tested. But so have you. We can do this together. You and I and all of us. We cannot be beaten.
I am David Skiba and I am a champion. And so are you.
Sport finely focuses those great telescopes we have put in space. It brings us back down to what is happening below our collective skin. In the heart rages a great battle between grief and joy. We can deeply experience these emotions alone. But, perhaps more strikingly and with greater magnification, we can experience them with our fellow passengers to the grave. We can be there with Robbie in mid-September, or Felix in ascendance. We can be in community and in attendance to see the raging inside us played out in a game of skill and physical performance. Even more so, we may play the game. We may test both our mind and body against another human and come out the victor. This is what it means to fly without wings: to be victorious.
We all come to the table of Sport with our own pasts, our old wounds that need mending and tending. Yet, when we come to that table, our spirit soars beyond the body. It emboldens it. We transcend the modern comforts to a more primitive time. We are in communion with those before us who played the sport named "Survive". It is at their altar we pay homage with the new Sport. The gap between us and them lessens, it becomes simply a moment, a millisecond in the yawning of the Universe. Sport echoes and repeats throughout our history. It echoes the great achievements not only of the immortal heroes, of Ruth and Griffey and Jackie and Cobb. It echoes the forlorn tale of Gehrig, the heartbreak of Buckner. It echoes another thing though. The reverberations tell our own tale. Yours and mine.
What Sport may do is find a harmony between the coursing blood inside you and the one beside you. It has pulled you together through the great vastness of evolutionary time. It pulls you back and pushes you forward. It allows us to achieve greatness. To reflect on smallness.