[Author's note: Save for a handful of college English courses that incorporated movies into their curriculum, and a thesis advisor with a film studies background (hi Greg!), I have no experience studying or critiquing films. This is the internet, though, so I'm going to do it anyway.]
Kyle Seager and Chooch ritual before every game. Who can name more animals? - Seager y Ruiz ritual antes del juego. Quien nombra más? pic.twitter.com/0rYn3l6Jjn— Manny Acta (@MannyActa14) September 27, 2017
Before even pressing play, let us begin with the opening shot. The dugout is crowded, and the team is resplendent in their Sunday cream alternates. In the upper left corner we see a subtle shout-out to Lookout Landing, with a Richie Sexson didn't-wannabe alone at the end of the bench. Kyle Seager's face is the only one visible, and that, coupled with sinisterly knit eyebrows, lends a sense of foreboding to the video; Kyle is a competitor, and he will not be taken down without a fight.
The clip begins to run and, in a moment of cinematic genius, we see that it is not Sexson but Robinson Canó (maybe) sitting at the end of the bench. Unlike Richie, Canó's head and upper body are upright, focused. He is in the zone, riveted by activity on the field. It's a brilliant shot, with layers of weariness and hope; this season and its expectations have worn him down, so he sits, but his head remains up, concentrating on what lies ahead, which foreshadows the impending rise of a new Mariners dynasty.
The camera swiftly pans past Not Sexson, and we see Seager hoist the sleeves of his jersey up to his shoulders, much like he does while fiddling with things on the field. He is on the offensive, ready to go. Meanwhile, Carlos Ruiz is the elder adversary; his face is obscured until 10 seconds into the video, and he stands confidently on the steps of the dugout, silently exerting his dominance. The two clasp hands and, with the smack of one meaty paw against the other, the battle is on.
Though Jean Segura attempts to distract Chooch from the start, he is the first to holler. His first name is obscured, but Seager follows with a pouty-lipped, "León!"
"Pantera!" says Chooch.
"Anaconda," answers Seager.
"Oso," Chooch replies firmly, the lower half of his face finally coming into view. Seager is in profile now, and it seems as though the power may have shifted back to Chooch once more.
"Halcón," Seager says, dropping his chin on the final syllable; a brief, but unwitting, acquiescence to Chooch's power.
The video cuts out for a moment, in the midst of Chooch's response ("cebra," or "zebra," perhaps?), but we know it was an acceptable animal because Seager immediately follows up with a swiftly triumphant, "Cheetah!"
It is in this moment that we gain valuable insight into this game, and the dynamics of this duo. Despite Seager uttering "Cheetah" with the same Spanish accent, that name is actually the English word for the fastest animal on land; the true Spanish translation should be "leopardo cazador." Chooch pauses for a moment, his face carefully blank.
That...that wasn't in Spanish, he thinks to himself, There weren't really specific rules, but it seemed like we'd silently agreed to play in my language today. Do I stop the game to clarify the rules? Do I find a baseball to throw at his butt to punish him for breaking this unwritten rule?
But Chooch is above that nonsense. He's been on this Earth longer than all the whippersnappers he plays with, and he knows that no good can come from a violent retaliation. Chooch is also benevolent, and understanding; Spanish can be a difficult language, particularly under pressure, and they're simply playing for the joy of the game, to strengthen their friendship and heighten their competitive edge.
He compromises, kindly, with a cognate.
"Piraña!" (Another cognate, though Kyle fails to pronounce the tilde, so it may just be "piranha")
Suddenly Chooch pauses. For nearly four seconds, roughly the equivalent of six minutes of silence in an average feature film, our two main subjects are utterly quiet. Finally, Chooch straightens slightly and utters uncertainly, "Anaconda."
This represents another shift in the video, because Kyle had already listed the large snake. Would he end the game there? Declare his victory and lord his youthful memory over the elder man?
Seager's tone softens, his vowels become harder and more American.
"I already said that one s- TORO!" Kyle bellows. It is a subtle moment of kindness, of mutual affection and respect. And most importantly...
The game is back on.
Chooch scarcely bats an eye at Kyle's incorrect cognate (rinoceronte is correct and just as fun), before following up with "Chupacabra," which is both a Mexican restaurant in Seattle and a Yeti-like creature in Puerto Rican lore, but not an animal. The scales have evened out once more.
"Oso de polar!"
Chooch pauses once more but this time, instead of silence, a voice bellows in the background, mimicking Chooch and Seager's tone and cadence, "Kyle Seager!" The voice begins to say something more, "Guillermo" perhaps, and Kyle turns his head slightly and smirks and nods into the camera a la Jim Halpert.
"Tiburon!" says Chooch, and Seager, distracted by whomever is off camera, appears taken aback, drawing his chin into his neck sharply. "What?" This deft moment perfectly demonstrates Seager's youth, and Chooch's subsequent response, "Tiburon," uttered in a slow, clear way, reveals the wisdom and patience he retains.
"Oso negro," answers Kyle, clearly still thrown. His focus is put to the test as well, since the same voice from earlier continues to yell his name, interspersed with "Chicharrón!", the helpful clarification "Chicharrón de Pollo!", and finger pointing.
"Oso blanco," Chooch responds calmly.
"Oso de rojo," Kyle says with an embarrassed smile. He knows this is incorrect. But, though red bears do not exist, good sportsmanship has been established between these two, and not even the yells of other Spanish words can disrupt this game.
Well actually no, they can, and they do. Chooch's response is obscured, and then a voice can be heard yelling, "caballo negro."
"Caballo negro," echoes Kyle, his determined expression softening into a grin. Chooch echoes that smile, because it is utterly contagious, and his shoulders and forearm shake slightly with a chuckle. His answer cannot be heard clearly once more (he's remarkably soft-spoken under normal circumstances), and another face intrudes into the shot, gesturing towards Kyle, yelling "Torrito, torrito!"
"Torrito!" exclaims Kyle.
Another voice in the background calls out another word, mostly indecipherable, and Chooch parrots it back. What began as a battle between two is no longer.
"Tortuga!" Kyle answers. The man (Canó?) who fed Kyle "torrito" comes into view once more, pointing towards Chooch, seemingly prepared to give him an answer to even out his earlier favoritism of Kyle. A split second we wait, anxious to hear the next "animal," but then the video cuts off, and there is only silence.
This is, and always will be, a team game.