Sometimes, expertise can make an object speak about upheavals and historical moments. My glove has a more trivial value, as one of those objects that activates memory and habit to help us navigate back to an earlier place in an uncanny way. Old though it is, it still basically does its sporting job. At this point, I might prefer it to be a bit bigger and stiffer, but after 23 years, I can’t really complain about that.
The glove has traveled with me nearly everywhere I’ve lived. While living in Lille, I went to see a Japanese film called Nobody Knows, where I was the lone viewer at a matinée showing. I felt like Kierkegaard’s ‘solitary reader’ watching the film, especially in the part where the oldest brother finds himself playing baseball—this moment of social cohesion in the midst of disarray was the key point in the film for me.
Now that I am playing on a team again, twenty years after my Little League team, I recognize, like an old acquaintance, the whole concoction of nerves, hormones and casual homophobia that reigned the dugout when I was playing in a rural part of California. There is such a feeling of tension, and I can understand the sedentary man’s impulse to prefer watching to playing, because again, now, I want to perform well and win so badly that it’s almost painful. In those swift events that actually make a baseball game, where deliberation plays such an insignificant role, I know my own pressure and doubt, which doesn’t come from the coach. I have to remind myself that the sense of dread is misleading, that the dreaded event (failure to perform) has already happened from time to time, without spelling doom.
The emphasis is on fun, surely, in a team where we’ve all chosen to play as a hobby, though I suspect I’m not the only one who feels a slight degree of unease about the team experience. I imagine an ambient, unarticulated question about whether we’re grouped together as potentially gay men, to which the team produces a frequent and giddy rebuttal that we are together as a group of categorically non-gay men. This is the primary material for banter, and also takes me back to age fifteen, when one of my teammates sauntered up to our group to report, deadpan, “Nick and Travis are in the bushes butt-f***ing.” These jokes seem to answer a hesitation that hasn’t been voiced.
Perhaps the strangest thing about being involved with baseball again is the way the thought of certain plays and certain situations can instantly make my heart race with tension. It’s the thought of the entire opposing team trying to stop me alone from making some move, and the possibility that I can beat them. The image of stealing home is the most haunting and electrifying example, which feeds me adrenalin no matter what I am doing when I envision it—riding my bike, cooking, sitting still. That particular scenario has boundless potency and requires reserves of chutzpah that inspire me with admiration and terror at the same time. Even the Bible would have to acknowledge its draw, if the disciples had formed a team on some dusty Roman diamond: “stolen waters are sweet.”
In our last game, the other team had a Japanese pitcher whose particular attitude reminded me what I would like to take from baseball—or is it what I would like to contribute? He gave full effort and showed a great love of the game and gratitude to all the players involved, without needing to speak much English. One of our Dominican players stopped me to just admire that pitcher’s motion in warmups before the game: “look, he’s got style,” and I readily agreed. Given this generosity, it felt slightly like theft when we took the win.
There are different ways and degrees of settling down. I have usually been wary of them, perhaps out of ignorance.
You might think that moving at least once a year for fifteen years shows alienation, a pathological flight.