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The Big Game is Every Night
By Christopher Sloce
Spring is dying or dead. I can't tell. It came between a bitter winter I spent working in a homeless shelter in a former courthouse and a summer I'm sure will be the hottest on record.
And I know the same thing will kill fall, too. Sooner or later all you'll have is a hot season and a cold season. Summer days that suffocate you and winter nights that are cold and grey and drive you to beg for snow.
The calamity is on everybody's tongue but isn't spoken. When I grew up, nobody could stop talking about the Rapture. Every political action was regurgitated from the beak of the beast to be dissected every Sunday. My Big Brother wasn't the nanny state; it was the book of the lamb. Sooner or later I learned about the preterist read of Revelation and quit expecting the rapture every time it stormed.
People don’t talk about this calamity because consensus is something is wrong and that there is no way to fix it. There will be no trumpets and calling up into the sky. The place you live will just get too hot. California will slide into the ocean. Louisiana will be underwater. The calamity has no soft eye for its believers, it has no pity, it has no morals. It's nature. It will do what it does with no regards to your feelings. It first murdered my favorite seasons. It doesn't care that I loved fall and spring. It doesn't care about them other than to serve its purposes. I hate our situation for a number of reasons, but I will always have hated it first for the way it took the mild seasons.
So what do you do to enjoy it, knowing you’re living in a slow cooker? Everything you can. I'm walking more and reading on my porch when the weather is at its most comfortable. But the best weapon I have is an app: MLB At Bat, which allows me to follow a multitude of teams through radio feed, for two dollars a month.
I started the season following four teams: the Nationals, the Giants, the White Sox, and Twins. But something ended up attracting my attention: the emergence of Shohei Ohtani. I ditched every team but the Nationals and became an Angels fan. How the Angels do is important to me as my bank account. Maybe more: I can stand to look at the recaps of Angels games every day. And when I do, I look for two words. Two names, really, Shohei Ohtani.
Shohei Ohtani manages to bridges the cloistered intensity of my pitchers with the gospel-slinging slugger. This is to be expected. He’s the first legitimate two-way player in some time: the pitcher who can hit well. The Japanese Babe Ruth isn't a statement of status, it's a reference to the fact that since Ruth, nobody has been both a great starting pitcher and a great hitter. People have flirted with it. In Ohtani’s current moment, he's both.
Shohei Ohtani signalled something so good to me I had no idea Mike Trout, the Angels stately and almost incandescent center fielder, was the best player in the Major League, and, by that extension, the world. I'm not a wonk. I don’t know the rules of baseball, the culture. Between games I imagine pitchers cloistered away in abbeys practicing curves, fastballs, and splitters. I see sluggers evangelizing and converting crowds. My baseball fandom is a religious one, not an intellectual one. I am at the service of pitchers and hitters for ecstasy. Baseball may have kicked off sabermetrics, but WAR can only break down the measurements of miracle, not explain how they happened. Stats do not account for God. I am chasing something like religious feeling, the greatest aesthetic pleasure of all.
In the last inning of a Blue Jays-Angels game, Ohtani hit a pivotal single and broke his bat. It had been a rough series with a lot of bullpen issues. Ohtani's play wasn't the most impressive highlight of the game. That was a game saving rocket that Kole Calhoun launched to home to keep it from going into overtime. But I can't imagine a simple single from anyone else feels as pregnant of a moment as any Shohei Ohtani appearance.
After I got home from lunch the next day, Facebook Live was showing the last of the Blue Jays-Angels series. The first at-bat was nothing for Ohtani. But I made the mistake of looking away during the second. Suddenly, he was on first base. He had been walked and I had no idea. Later that inning, during his run to third after Andrelton Simmons was walked and Luis Valbuena grounded to right field, he was out at third base. I decided after that to take a nap, only to learn he hit a double to contribute to the total drubbing of the Blue Jays. I had slept through another minor miracle, knowing that if the climate apocalypse will be as deadly as it feels, we'll have to take our miracles where we can get them, because where we can get them will come in short supply.
But through a 2,430 game season and a playoff series, the hope comes back, and every night is the big game, one where all the possibilities are there on the table, and you hope every night can spawn a miracle for everybody blessed enough with enough time to watch or listen the game.
So I go to baseball, hoping it can give me a miracle for every Ohtani plate appearance throughout the summer, one that will one day feel eternal.