A new inning represents renewed opportunity, for the struggling players of San Diego. So far their hope is in the belief that, by suffering greatly, they will earn greater reward. But this is a feudal supposition, typical of the self-depriving monks for whom this team is named. It is not the law of the world. The batter steps into the box, outlined with chalk, and turns to his foe, wondering what he is to be afraid of. The outfield man Lagares stands atop the grass, the ocean of blades trimmed equally short. Any more growth would be futile. This represents man’s subjugation of nature.
Melvin Upton swings at the ball with his bat, but again he misses. This is his third, and final, strike. What, one wonders, does he feel in this moment? The curious observer might ask, is futility the ultimate end of all human endeavor? In such a sport as this, where the successful yet fail two-thirds of the time, how does one persist? Were I a baseball player, I might not survive the insistent burden of metaphor.
But if we ask Melvin Upton these questions, it is unlikely that he would answer.
Why, after all, is this the pastime of the American people. A people obsessed with speed, progress, haste, the claustrophobic closeness of the urban expressway. One would not expect such an open-ended national pursuit, in such an open space. Ninety-five percent of a baseball field is occupied by nothingness. That Andrew Cashner hits a ball, now, high in the air but directly above one of three outfielders patrolling three hundred feet of space: it seems a denial of the American Dream, that in this infinity of grass, your ball should find its way to the one frail man who patrols it.
And this, the American pastime, represents not just the conquest of nature, and the rage of man against nothingness. Baseball is a game of failure. You may swing at the ball, and miss it, one thousand times in a year. The bat gripped between your hands perhaps may miss the ball more times than you arrive unscathed at first base. Yet the American people, a people celebrated for their optimism in the face of inexorable forces of nature and time and the almost certain disappointments of ordinary life, gather by the thousands to celebrate this game of outs. Does this portend a new American dream? An America content to get one hit. To play, as the managers call it, “small ball.”
I wonder if the slow ways in which a baseball team triumphs, mirror the slow ways in which a mortal life is advanced.
Another young man strikes out, and walks back to his team, bat in hand, contemplating the inevitability of his failure and the unreliable nature of fortune.