Alongside a two-lane highway by the quarry just outside of the small town of Cool, California, Ronnie is dying in a ditch.
An hour earlier, I had been driving with Katherine, taking a lazy Saturday away from studying or making wine to go see the foothills of the Sierra Nevada's. It was a simple enough thing to do on an April day. Yet, on the way home, as I turned a corner around a slight left on a two-lane highway in the middle of nowhere, the 1960's Chevy truck barreling down the road towards me turns my direction, over the center line. The next things all happen in an instant drawn over the span of my entire memory, a moment that feels like the eternity of my existence.
The truck suddenly turns sharply back into its own lane, too sharp. As the cabin begins to flip and the wheels leave the ground entirely, I see the lone driver of the car, yet to register what the following moments of his life will entail, holding the wheel as the roof of the car crunches the asphalt and the car begins to slide towards the ditch along the side of the highway. As the truck stops its skid, along its roof, towards the hill, sparks dance across the mid-afternoon sky. The sky is overcast but the air is humid. I don't remember how it sounded. The truck finally stops when it slams against the embankment, in turn, my truck, too, halts as I throw on my emergency lights and block the road.
There's something strangely familiar about being near death. Perhaps it's a personal feeling, maybe because this was the second time I've been the first to a devastating car wreck, but these times feel incredibly natural. It is almost as if within all of us, at birth, we are given an ability to come to terms with the final stages of our life. Almost as if the tools we are equipped with are not for the living, but for the starting and the end. As if the things we are left to learn are the parts in between the two final points.
It is inadvisable to judge a baseball team based off of a single swing. It is equally inadvisable to judge a team based of a single game, a single series, a single month, and so forth. Yet, we are human beings watching other humans make extraordinary tasks look relatively mundane. Imagine Marco Polo trying to catch up to a 97 MPH fastball, Lionheart chasing a ball towards the fence, Caesar turning two. These are folks we grow up hearing wide tales about that could never imagine playing the sport of baseball. It's impossibly hard, and made harder when Chris Sale is hurling a 92 MPH slider that starts on the outside corner of the plate and ends brushing away your back knee.
And so it was, for the Mariners. For eight innings Chris Sale allowed a single hit, struck out six, and through a combination of great skill and some luck, made one of the best baseball offenses in the world turn-tail towards the bench twenty-four times. It was a bleak affair. The game failed to register a single peak on the Richter Scale. It was the sort of game that, irrationally or not, looked like the death of the 2016 Seattle Mariners. Daniel Robertson batted lead-off. Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz looked something between utterly lost and mildly disinterested. The game would surely see the M's fall below .500 to a team that hadn't scored more than one run in a game since July 7th. After this loss, I was mentally prepared to call the season lost. To smash the button marked "SELL". It was the end.
As I'm running towards the flipped truck, gasoline spilled across the street, the wheels still spinning from the man's foot pinned on the accelerator, pill bottles strewn about, I come towards an unforgettable scene. There's really no proper way to put into words what it looks like seeing someone suspended upside down, their head only an inch or so from raw pavement. It was stomach turning. A paradigm shift in how I viewed reality. Simply seeing a person in a different orientation. Upon reflection, stripped of context, the thought is quite beautiful. In the moment though, there is blood streaming down the back of a man's head and decisions to be made.
By this time, another car has stopped in the road coming from the other direction, a man runs from the car to help me and see the situation. I will say this one thing, briefly as an aside, situations like these bear no script. Some folks are paralyzed in shock or fear or both, others intimated that their uneducated help may actually hinder still do nothing, but others act by wildly flailing. It is rare to find those who are truly calm amidst the storm. I was lucky enough that this soul was this sort.
I never learned his name, the man who helped me around that scene that day, we exchanged few words, the first when I told him he did not have to help me attempt to save that man in the truck. With the motor running, the driver's foot stuck to the accelerator, gasoline spilled, and sparks around us, it seemed like a rather perfect concoction to die alongside the man behind the wheel. He agrees to help as we crawl under the suspended bed of the truck, punch through the back window and turn the keys in the ignition off, saving us some danger.
It is now that I start talking to the man, after asking his name, he replies, and I will never forget the tremor in his voice, "Ronnie." Ronnie is well towards the twilight of his life, a rail of an old man, and then adds, "Please help me. I don't want to die." I barely register the words as I keep talking to him while the man helping me unbuckles Ronnie's seat belt after I ask Ronnie if he can feel his toes and fingers. We are working quickly, doing something we've never practiced but must perform.
Wade LeBlanc was never supposed to be here. He's on the wrong side of thirty, the wrong side of 90 MPH, and far from the right side of tenable. He comes from what a former regime upon this website dubbed the Bargain Bin, the place you hope your contending team never has to go. Yet, a June full of injury brought us Wade LeBlanc and he has done nothing but provide.
There are always one or two every year. A veteran who is offered a lifeline by a team in desperate need who not only answers the call, but makes you wonder why you didn't give them a ring sooner. Maybe it's inside all of them, all of us, but there's a little bit of devil magic in Wade LeBlanc. There's a certain type of moxie that a person is provided when they are backed into a corner, when they have one last chance to sink or swim. Some answer that call. Wade LeBlanc, against all predictors back in March, once again answered the phone and got the job done, tossing seven full innings, scattering nine hits, striking out six, walking one and exiting the game having allowed only three runs on two mistake pitches hit over the fence. He was down 3-0, in line for another loss, something he's not quite unfamiliar with, when Dave Robertson entered the game for the White Sox to close out a Chris Sale win.
At this point, enough time has passed that the road has begun to back up. Folks have exited their cars, not to help, but to watch me and this nameless helper pull Ronnie from the wreck. The time has come to get him out, yet his car door is pinned against the earth. I turn towards the gathered crowd, imploring their help for my idea in opening the door. Two of the ten or more assembled around step forward. I'm twenty-two and watching people twice my age fail to answer the call, disheartened, and running out of time, the helper, two others, and I strain against the step to try and lift the car enough to pry the door open. It doesn't work.
Swiftly, I've done this before, I tell Ronnie to close his eyes as I'll have to break the window to pull him out. I break the glass. The man helping assists me as I pull a bloodied, old man into the afternoon light from his ruined truck. An ambulance is on its way. The man and I carry Ronnie towards the berm, away from the car to let him sit. We hold him upright as his blood slowly drips and covers our arms. Katherine rushes towards us, nobody else, and brings us all the water bottles she can find from the folks around us. Ronnie is covered in dust and blood and I'm giving him water to drink as I make small talk with him. It's all I could think of to do to make sure he stayed with us.
The bottom of the ninth was simple, really. Franklin Gutierrez lead the inning off with a sharp single into center, followed by a fielder's choice ground ball to second off the bat of Robinson Cano. One out.
Nelson Cruz walks. Runners on first and second. Dae-Ho Lee strikes out. Two out.
Kyle Seager dumps a single into center, Cano scores from second. Runners are again on first and second, the score now 3-1.
It doesn't really strike you in the moment when you are speaking with someone for what is likely the last time in their life. Next to me, in a ditch by a road outside of Cool, California, is a man passing in and out of consciousness, on his way towards death. We speak between his drinks of water, the man helping me chiming in on occasion, nobody in the crowd feels a need to bother us. It is quite serene in a sort of manic way. As I hold Ronnie for the last time before handing him over to the medics exiting the ambulance, I register it in the moment simply as time to do the next task. I ask the officer who pulls up if he'd like help directing traffic, he says he would.
I shake the man's hand who helped me, never getting his name. Sometime later I leave the roadside, drive home, and have a quiet evening with Katherine sort of talking but mostly, I'm sure, thinking.
Adam Lind, pinch hitting for the slumping catcher, Chris Iannetta, sees a first pitch cutter dive out of the strike zone but swings anyway. One strike.
The next pitch Dioner Navarro wants up and away. Dave Robertson obliges, but the pitch catches too much of the plate.
Adam Lind takes a tomahawk swing that clunks through the suddenly electric air like the Mystery Machine on it's final fumes rolling towards a dark cemetery. Wood meets leather with force and the ball leaves the yard in the very corner where center field meets right.
Ronnie, at a time unbeknownst to me, passes away.
Adam Lind rescues the Mariners from their death.