Chapter 1: Life is Shit
“It’s either here just drinkin’ beer or at home remembering her.” Pop a Top Alan Jackson
My wife is prattling on about something. Asking me if I know where Fair Oaks Hospital is or something along those lines. It irritates me. I give short curt answers to her questions.
“Do you know how to get to the hospital,” She asks.
Bluntly I answer, “No.”
“I found it this morning.”
“I don’t really care.” And then it happens. Ron Santo, the color commentator for the Cubs radio broadcast, says something. I miss it.
“I can tell you how to get there if you want.”
“I don’t want. Can we please discuss this later?” Sometimes I think words like later, and can we don’t exist for a woman.
“It is right up there. If you just turn here, and then take a right, and then…I don’t remember exactly, but it is that way,” She hurries the sentence out of her mouth and points.
“I will drive you to the damn hospital if you don’t shut up.” This does it. It solves one problem and creates another. I also think it is important to mention two things here. First my wife hadn’t seen me for a few hours and her way of connecting it to talk, and she has no volume control. Second I fully understand the implications of what I said sounding like a threat of violence, but it wasn’t. It was a completely empty threat as I had no intention of driving to a hospital when I was on my way to pick up beer for the company I was planning to have over that night (only my nephew showed up). But at last my wife is quiet and I can listen to Ron Santo offering his pointless grunts and sounds of agony to the Cubs broadcast, but now my wife is furious. She sits there staring at me. Her arms crossed and eyes glazed over with rage. This is in no way the comfortably silence I was hoping to enjoy with just me and the baseball broadcast.
It is at this moment that it happens. I have an epiphany. I should be writing this shit down. This is a story. A baseball obsessed man, so obsessed that he is a Nationals fan listening to a Cubs vs. Reds game when he could give to shits about either team, and his wife, the tolerant, gentle, loving woman that puts up with him. It is a relationship that works because it is flawed. That because despite our flaws and our imperfections we love each other.
The moment of her anger passes (after an hour of intense apologizing) and I tell her how when we were in Chicago, “Ron Santo was calling a Cubs vs. Cardinals game, and Albert Pujols came to the plate…”
My wife fully understands the implications of this. Because she lives with me she is more than aware that Albert Pujols is the best hitter in baseball, and probably some sort of ancient Egyptian god.
I continue, “…and he is facing some guy that Cubs just called up…” Ron Santo at this point in the game is certain that the Cubs will keep the score the way it is and the nameless reliever will be able to get Pujols out, but instead, “…Pujols hits a two run homer and Ron Santo’s reaction is ‘AHHHH BS,’ it added nothing to the broadcast, but it is hilarious and wonderful. It is the true release of emotion of being a baseball fan. Ron Santo is like a fan in the booth, and it is fun.”
As if on cue Drew Stubbs reaches base via error in the Cubs vs. Reds game and on my radio I hear Ron Santo, “Ah no,” a few seconds of silence, “now he is going to steal second.” The next batter pops up weakly on the first pitch. Those two moments express who Ron Santo is as a broadcaster. He is a fan in the booth. Doing his job and having fun. Living and dying on every pitch in a Cubs game.
I however am a Nationals fan. It is a lot like being a Cubs fan, but with less hope. If the Cubs are loveable losers then the Nationals are the losers that even dorks and nerds beat up. It is pretty much an ordeal to be a Nats fan. It is an exercise in torture. It is mostly bleak darkness with few bright spots followed by more darkness. I think the Strasburg injury sums it up well.
In early June after being the most hyped draft pick and prospect the baseball world had possibly ever seen Stephen Strasburg made his debut. He struck out 14 Pirates in route to a Nationals’ victory. Then a few months later he grabbed his elbow after throwing a pitch to Phillies’ rookie Dominic Brown. It turned out after a couple MRI’s that his season was over, and he would have the most dreaded surgery in baseball, Tommy Johns.
Every bad moment in 2010 seemed to happen against the Phillies. Opening day when the former team president invited thousands of them to invade Nationals Park, and then the most heartbreaking of injuries to the rookie phenom Stephen Strasburg.
When Roy Halladay took the mound in game one of the NLDS against the Red’s it looked like that series, the NLCS, and the World Series were already decided. Roy Halladay was as on as any pitcher could be as he threw a no-hitter in his first ever playoff appearance. I think it is important to note that I don’t dislike Roy Halladay. He is one of my favorite baseball players. At times I struggle with the fact that he is a Phillie. I have the uniform he wears, but he isn’t a bad person. He is by all accounts a great human being and a fantastic ball player. I enjoy watching him pitch, and on this night he was so fantastic that all I could do is call up my friend and keep muttering the words, “It’s not fair.” Over and over again I said that. I said I would be surprised if the Phillies lost another game on their way to their second World Series championship in two years.
Of course it was completely fair. Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and Madison Bumgarner made it fair. The Giants pitching was lights out, and the pitcher of Buster Posey running out to the mound to great Brian Wilson as Ryan Howard stares back in disbelief after being struck out looking to end the NLCS will always be iconic in my mind.
The Giants went on to win the World Series, and gave hope to fans of all baseball teams. They were led by a rookie catcher, and amazing pitching staff, an oddball closer, and a ragtag bunch of aging veterans. It was a team full of stories and fun, and one that made me happy to be a baseball fan.
In 2005 when the Nationals arrived in D.C. they got off to a hot start. They were in the division lead for most of the season, and then fell apart in the second half of the season ending up with a .500 record. Since that moment it has all been down hill. So far down hill that this past season’s record of 69-93 is seen as a success.
I was thinking about life today. Sometimes words fail. This should be well documented as the value of words it would take to buy a picture is quite expensive. Sound can have the same effect. Imagine a classic guitar sound, but just slightly off. Maybe a string is missing or miss tuned. Maybe the song is meant to be played in a different key, but whatever it is it is just slightly askew. That is how depression works. The world is just slightly off. Things that should bring happiness just have that sour tinge to them. Like rusty cymbals.
Life is depression. It is long drawn out emptiness with few oases of happiness. Many people these days face this realization with cynicism. I however do not. I realize that life is shit, but I enjoy it none the less. It is only through the act of living that life can be enjoyed.
A Nationals baseball season is much the same. It is shit. It is long periods of losing with brief interludes of a win or two. This past season the most games the Nationals won in a row were four and that wasn’t until the last month of the season. It was just a lot of stretches of losing, but yet there I was. Watching game after game and hoping against hope that the Nationals would win. Most of the time I was not rewarded, but it was only through the act of watching that I was able to enjoy it.
Life and Nationals baseball is Sisyphus pushing the boulder up the hill. Only through the act itself and enjoyment of the act is he able to rebel against the absurdity of his situation. Life is the absurd. Rooting for the Nationals is absurd. In this modern world where I am one phone call away from having all 30 baseball teams at my fingertips, and could choose any one of them, it is simply absurd to stick with a losing team that looks to have little hope.
There in lies the secret. Hope isn’t something that has to be tangible or have reason. It is highly unlikely that the Nationals will manage to improve much this off-season through either free agency or trades, but I can hope, and no one can stop me. They can’t stop me because I understand the absurdity of the situation. I understand the Nationals aren’t likely to improve, that they aren’t likely to win many more games next season than they did this season, but none of that will stop me from grabbing a beer, sitting down, and enjoying myself a Nationals game when March 31st of 2011 rolls around.