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Life comes at you fast (OR: there are 25 regular-season games left)

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Your annual baseball memento mori

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Seattle Mariners
so far away and then suddenly so close: time, and also the 2017 Mariners’ outfield
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

“It’s hard to remember that this day will never come again, that the time is now and the place is here and there are no second chances at a single moment.” - Jeanette Winterson, The Passion

I had somehow forgotten that “Life comes at you fast” started as an ad campaign for Nationwide, way back in 2004, well before their infamous “dead kid” ad that aired during the 2015 Super Bowl. Nationwide: selling you insurance based on existential dread for over a decade! Like all memes, “life comes as you fast” has become a husk of a phrase now, an empty signifier tacked up over two pictures that illustrate in brutal juxtaposition how time will make fools of us all. (Fun fact: in twenty years all reading primers will be exclusively meme texts. Go doge go.) But standing here, poised on the edge of September, a lake that will only get colder and deeper, I want to revisit the deep truth of “life comes at you fast.”

It doesn’t feel like that, which is what the joke is predicated on; which of us can recognize how much life is flashing by, in drizzles and flickers, in dull days with dull people, and in incandescent moments that clutch your heart with the joy of being alive. Those moments are the easiest to zero in on, being that they are moments of ecstasy—ek-stasis, from the Ancient Greek, standing outside oneself. But living wire-to-wire for those moments means we miss much of what happens in between. It means we look up at the calendar and realize it’s September and the baseball season is 85% over.

15%. A number that sends me dashing for my charger when I see it on my phone. That’s what we have left to enjoy. Life comes at you fast.

The quotidian nature of baseball leads to easy comparisons between the sport and life, ones which are unfortunately irresistible when one is a baseball writer whose job it is to create and oversee content about a team every day. If I close my eyes and ignore the fact that my shirt is sticking to my back in the heat, it’s December again, and I’m counting down the days until the Winter Meetings just to get a sniff of baseball, writing about Edgar Martinez’s Hall of Fame candidacy late into the dark and quiet night. It’s March and a televised Spring Training game is an event to plan a day around. It’s May and the team is scuffling but the season stretches ahead so far in the distance I can’t even imagine it ending. And now that time is almost here.

What I notice about these memories is how they’re not tied to specific events, but rather general stretches of time, and I find that’s how my own memory works. I don’t remember specific meals I ate in Rome, but I think about the time I spent studying there with fondness as a series of sun-dappled piazzas and pond stone-cool churches and squinting at statues, reminding myself to look not touch, no matter how lickable that Bernini looks.

I’ve talked before about how the 2017 Mariners seem to be lacking in signature wins compared to their 2016 counterparts, who gave us games so memorable they deserve the initial capitals treatment: The Comeback, Leonys Walks It Off (Parts I and II AND III), The Swelmet Game where Dae-Ho cranked two dingers. The 2017 squad, on the other hand, has been mired in injury and mediocrity, crawling up over .500 just to fall back down again. Using the initial capitals rule, only one series has stood out, and not for the right reasons: Deadgar Weekend (©John Trupin). The 2017 Mariners have simply never been able to get out of their own way, bumping their heads on the ceiling every time it looks like they might be poised to ascend.

But maybe that’s not the best way to look at a thing like a baseball team. Maybe we have to stop looking big moment to big moment and focus instead on the moment that’s here, that moment that, as Winterson says, will never come again. Maybe instead of having life come at us, we can come at life, and seize each of these final 25 games with joy and vigor and absolute understanding that the time is now and the place is here, and while this season hasn’t been what we want it to be, there won’t be a second chance at it. Winter is cold and dark and long, and right now we have Safeco sunsets and outfield hugs and the joy and pain of following this team for 25 more games, and then, with all likelihood, that is it, because that is the cruel timekeeping of baseball season: it’s too long, for so long, and then suddenly it’s brutally short.

I’ve been spending time with my grandfather lately, who is rapidly approaching the end of his time here. His short-term memory is shot, but he can close his eyes and be in the cockpit of a sailboat, navigating through the waterways of his memory. Aside from his wife of 70 years, sailing is the one thing he misses. “I’ve been a sailor my whole life,” he told me, “and somehow that wasn’t long enough.”

Come November, I know I’ll be saying something similar.