19 May 2008

I want to play

He got me. I struck out. I guess I could say now that I was fooled by the pitch, but at the time, when that 0-2 pitch was coming, my mind was just filled with desperate haze, and all I knew was that it was time to swing. See, you can't fool a man who's about to swing out of some primitive instinct. That pitch might as well have been the mythical gyroball, because I guess I never had a shot of hitting it.

I want to go back up. I want another chance. I love the moment when the crowd is all staring at me, when it's like waves of pressure coming in at me. They want me to hit the ball somewhere special. But it's also the thrill of not knowing. They don't know what they'll see. I don't know what I'll do. I'm competing against that guy on the mound. I'm better than him. I'm better than you. That what I'm trying to say with every swing. I'm alive. I'm striving. And then when I'm not up anymore, I'm invisible. The crowd stops watching me after I strike out. They forget about me! I need to get back to that place. I need to get up off the bench, and walk up to the plate, into the pressure again.

The bench is the worst. All I can do is watch and imagine it's me up there. Imagine what I could do, while those other guys are alive. Those lucky bums, swinging, striving. With fierce smiles when they reach first base. That should be me! I know I could do it. It will be different next time.

The eternal bench is the dread that I can't even acknowledge. It's the terror behind the blank expression you see on my face when I'm not in the game. The eternal bench is the one you never leave. No more swings. No more exhilaration at the hits and despair at the strikeouts. All that I will feel is white noise forever. I will do anything to keep that away. I must play.

They told me I can't play anymore. Look at your stats, they say. Look at all these strikeouts. No! That's just me striving. Let me get back up just one more time, and I'll show you something different. They shake their heads sadly. You're done, old man. I can't believe they called me old man. I feel like I'm being measured for my coffin.

Maybe Jeff Kent has reached the moment of the eternal bench. Maybe not. He's far away from the point when they come for him, and tell him he's done. Is he the sort who is at peace with not playing? He would say that, wouldn't he? He almost didn't come back this year. But he did come back. And I wonder. How badly does he want to play, to swing? Will he resist if they come for his job? But would they come for his job? Maybe in a few months. No one is safe, not really.

What about Nomar? His body is telling him it's time. His body is dragging him to the bench. This time it's his calf. Next time it will be something else. Is he wondering if this could really be all there is of his once wonderful career? How could it end this way? Oh, he can probably drag it out for years. Join the Rangers next year, maybe. Then the Padres. Then the Giants. Or maybe he just decides it's time. Sometimes they do. How do they walk away?

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