Thursday, April 07, 2005

We Won On Opening Day

and I am happy as of late, but it wasn't always so.

I don’t remember how that game’s last out came down, but I do recall the morning-after Enquirer photograph of a shellshocked Sean Casey. Instead of the way I was used to seeing him— foot on the bag, right arm stretching for the outfield, or twisted sideways, his bat blurring towards the ball— this time he was standing in the Reds dugout, gazing miserably up at Orel Hershiser after a loss to the Mets choked off a surprisingly spectacular 1999. Hershiser’s right hand rests in benediction fashion on top of Casey’s head, whose glove wilts at his side, folded in half, finished with. He seems very much in need of a hug.

“It’s not so much that we lost,” he later said. “It’s just that the season’s over.”

Intertwined with the box score analysis were several allusions that Casey was quite… well… emotional that night as the press showed up in the locker room with their follow-up questions and microphones and massive humming floodlights. “Emotional”: that is one of those step-around words guys use while discussing other guys who happen to be struggling with their composure, for where our Nike warriors are concerned it is simply Not Done to say, “The man stood before Channel 12 and Sports Illustrated and ESPN and God and everybody—and cried.”

Given Casey’s perennial hooray-let’s-play-attitude, it’s safe to assume that the next morning or so, as the sun indeed rose again and the city awakened to Kodak’s announcement of his heartache, he collected himself and his glove and eventually returned to baseball as usual, to this business of swatting at a spheroid flung ninety miles an hour at his midsection.

I cannot hit .364 with runners in scoring position, and so the media did not take much notice of the fact that I cried too, cried very hard, on the night I opened an email from a man who had told my parents that he would be like to make me his wife, but who now, on second thought, would rather go about his happily ever after without me in tow.

It was three AM, and movie-raining in the dark. I got in the car and drove jagged, aimless circles around Cincinnati’s west side, downshifting and using turn signals and wondering if anyone would ever be in love with me again.

At a red light I came to a full and complete stop and rested my forehead on the steering wheel:

It’s not so much that he dumped me—it’s just that the relationship’s over.

Afterwards there was the numb forward motion of my day job and the evening slog of thrashing through my graduate school thesis. I set a trash can next to my desk to catch used Kleenex and rejected drafts. I typed, pondered now what, and unwrapped Milky Ways, all seated in a soothing chair built by the radio broadcast of ballgames.

Near Labor Day I drove to a mall in Kentucky, seeking to stuff the new void in my life with if not self-serenity, then at least a new pushup bra. A cluster of red and white balloons in a nearby storefront caught my attention, slamming my foot to the break. Sean Casey was in the midst of a personal appearance.
I stared through the windshield, silent. The weeks marked by the dull click of laptop keys and the sharp thwack of Casey’s bat, sewn into the lining of my subconscious by the static of the play-by-play, suddenly surfaced in the form of that photograph from 1999, the aching image of an All-Star swallowing the fact that sometimes the Earth tilts precisely opposite of the direction we’d like it to.

I got out of the car.

Sean Casey is one of those extraordinary people who, led by his eyes, listens with his entire body—arms, spine, hands, everything. He was seated at a table, and I dropped next to him in a catcher’s crouch so I could speak without competing with the din of excited children pinballing off the walls.
This was perhaps a bad time to realize that I, Writer, had absolutely no idea what to say.

He smiled. I smiled. Behind me the line of Little Leaguers expanded exponentially. The situation now held the potential of becoming fatally mortifying. At last I realized there existed a simple way to boil it all down—the photograph, the drive in the rain, the batting slump he snapped, the deadlines I beat. “Do you mind if-- can you and I have a hug, please?”

In terms of forfeiture of personal dignity this was perhaps a fraction of a step above flinging my arms around the guy corralling the shopping carts in the Kroger’s parking lot, but Casey did not look nearly as afraid as you might expect. Instead he looked at me for a moment longer and said, “Sure.”
Back in the car, I got a little… emotional.

still alive at:

Previous Tastings