I talk about Shakespeare too much here, on this baseball blog, but the fact is—for those of us who have English as our native tongues—he is still, after all this time, our preeminent poet, the first to have set down our human struggles in ways that felt both relatable and beautiful, personal and grandiose all at the same time. His works talk of love and jealousy and power and honor and identity and divine, madcap joy, but more than anything else—to this humble observer—they measure time, and the vain attempts of humans to find their way within it. Macbeth tries to outwit time, to ill effect; Iago manipulates time to engineer Othello’s downfall, only to cause both their ends; Julius Caesar regards time as a political instrument, a cudgel to use against his fellow man until Brutus and Cassius bring him down. The fault is not in our stars, Cassius tells Brutus, but in ourselves. The fault is in Romeo and Juliet’s stars, however, or so the prologue to the play tells us. That’s a theme in Shakespeare’s sonnets, as well: the uneasy relationship between love and time. What we love, we love forever, outside of time; that doesn’t make the ravages of time on the things we love any easier.
As I’m typing this, Felix Hernandez, our King, he who we love, is on a plane headed to Seattle to have his shoulder examined. It might be nothing; it might be something, and something bad. It might be, this time. What’s terrifying about time—what Shakespeare knew—is that we have no control over it. Try as we might, we cannot squeeze another hour into the happiest day; we cannot hasten the saddest hour. We can do things that give us the illusion of control—end a relationship that’s not working out, direct the vet to put down an ailing pet—but even that is just racing to the end of a maze that’s already been laid out by cosmic forces beyond our ken. Things fall apart. The best-laid plans of mice and men. Star-crossed. English literature is full of allusions and comparisons and axioms. They all come to naught. Time will make fools of us all.
The thing that’s frustrating about Felix is all we wanted, all any of us ever wanted, was for his dominance to line up with the team actually being good, for his loyalty to the city to be paid back in a playoff appearance. Actually, we don’t even need dominance—passable third starter, at this point, would be fine. Bury him in a rotation with an emerging ace and a few manageable pitchers and some speedy outfield defense and big bats and it would be fine. It was supposed to be fine. Instead, the exciting new pitcher the Mariners acquired is on the DL until who knows when, the exciting new shortstop has only just now returned to the lineup, and the exciting new outfielder—one of the best players, full stop, in MLB in April—is on the DL for an undetermined time. Meanwhile, our King is on a plane to Seattle with a dead arm and the Mariners are seemingly dead in the water, not even a month into the season. Nothing is lining up as it was supposed to. It feels like Felix and the Mariners might actually be star-crossed.
Romeo and Juliet is not a very good play. Any Shakespeare scholar will tell you that. It lacks the examination of the interior landscape of Hamlet, the moral ambiguity of Macbeth, the gut-wrenching humanity of Othello. But Romeo and Juliet continues to be one of Shakespeare’s most-read and most-performed plays, and that’s before you count the popular ballet based on it. Part of this is its accessibility and malleability; R&J is excellent introductory-level Shakespeare, good for theatre troupes and high school classrooms and the Baz Luhrmanns of the world. But on a deeper level, Romeo and Juliet’s theme of being out of time in love is something almost everyone can identify with, and certainly every Mariners fan, we who are fortune’s fool. We love what we love, even when it doesn’t make sense; we love too quickly, too poorly, too young. We love bad baseball teams and the good humans on them. We love despite ourselves, and despite time. We love you, King Felix.