25 April 2008


I was thinking it, silently. My wife predicted it, openly. A sad statement of fact. He's going to strike out on a slider away. I dreaded it, hated it, hated my own faithless despair before it even happened. Vinny called it, after the fact. The replay was painful. It showed a helpless man in a crucial moment. The bat didn't come close to hitting the pitch. Sometimes you see a swinging strikeout where it seems like the ball just bored through the bat, where in real time it seems impossible that the batter missed it, because he was just a little late on a very fast pitch, beaten by heat. An honorable defeat. But this was a miss, a true helpless, blind flail. It was a leaden failure. The Dodgers were down 5-3, with the bases loaded, with just one out, with their most talented hitter at the plate, with a golden opportunity to score, to tie, to even take the lead, win the game, seize momentum in the NL West. But not really. Sometimes we think we see opportunities where they never truly existed.

I don't think it's a coincidence that Matt Kemp is 1 for 17 with the bases loaded. When the moment comes, he doesn't know one pitch from the other. He doesn't recognize a slider from a fastball. It is a weakness that will undo his career. The best days of his career are behind him. Those innocent days in the summer of 06 when he hit a home run every other day are long past, like a distant legend. Back then the manager found excuses to play Kemp. Now the manager finds excuses not to play him. The talent is still there. Sometimes the results are there. He was really very good last year, right? Kemp has adjusted, found some success. He's not done fighting. He still teases with his enormous talent that seems to promise a Hall of Fame career. But the weakness goes too deep. He didn't really prove anything last year. Not enough games, and too many strikeouts. In the crucial moments we can see the future. Failure.

I don't like this. I don't know it's true, either. I suspect it, and I fear it. I want to say I'm wrong, this is wrong. Matt Kemp is still my favorite player. Knowing his weakness, knowing he will probably never overcome it, I will still cheer my loudest when his name is announced. And I will keep hoping I am wrong about Matt Kemp. Pathetically wrong.

I am left, at the end of my contemplation of a terrible moment from a trivial game, with the unsettled feeling that weakness will always be found and exposed. In baseball, and regular life. I may have a few moments of triumph, probably small, but still glorious in their own way, but then the world adjusts and I'm helpless. Maybe I give up, or maybe I flail a few times, thinking the weakness doesn't matter. Maybe despair is the worst weakness of all.

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