Thursday, April 19, 2007

Diary of a once sane man, nearly broken by 14 years of pain

Mentally exhausted after a long, tedious day, I emerged from a meeting and began strolling toward my car. It was almost 9:00 PM and the April air was crisp, yet comfortable. Staring aimlessly into the distance as I walked, I contemplated how far man might travel into space in the future the merits of sacrificing a runner to second with no outs late in a close game. I entered my vehicle and began the short drive back to my home. Knowing the Pirates were playing in Milwaukee, I tuned the radio to 104.7 and relaxed, as the soothing sounds of baseball engulfed my car. As if the broadcast was being put together for my ears only, I was immediately given an update to the game situation. 3-1 Brewers, top of the 4th inning, Adam LaRoche at the plate, one man on (Freddy Sanchez with a single), and nobody out. Jason Bay had homered for the Pirates lone run, and was waiting anxiously on-deck. Things began falling into place. LaRoche walked. Claudio Vargas, apparently timid after serving up a tater to Bay earlier, gave him nothing to hit and the bases were loaded with no outs. My enthusiasm began to rise, and the heartbeat that had been nearly undetectable 25 minutes earlier was now steady. Xavier Nady was coming to the plate, and he had produced clutch hits with runners on base in each of the previous two games. My thoughts filled with possibilities. We should tie the game this inning. A couple of things go our way, we could bust out a big inning. One or two clutch hits, we could have firm control of this game.

Nady strikes out. If he puts the ball in play, we almost definitely get a run. Painful images of Jeromy Burnitz, the Diamondbacks, and a hot June afternoon flash through my head. I can not decipher exactly what these visions signify, only that my head throbs as I see them. I shake myself out of it and tune back into the game. We are still in a good situation, as Ronny Paulino is stepping in with one out. He has struggled early in 2007, but has been productive with runners on in his young career. Paulino strikes out. I can not keep my eyes open, as an even more painful visualization of Freddy Sanchez and those same Diamondbacks moves clearly into my mind. What the hell was that?? According to Sanchez’s career stats, he has struck out 108 times in the Major Leagues (EDIT: This was written before he struck out four times this afternoon. Maybe I jinxed him). But I don’t recall seeing it happen once with my own eyes, especially looking as bad as he did in this vision. Several seconds pass before this flash of pain subsides.
Jose Bautista is our final chance now, as the Pirates are no longer in control of this inning. Minutes earlier, a big inning seemed likely. Now, scoring even one run seems remote. I also feel nauseous now, and my mind is cloudy. I am nearly home, yet I have no idea where I am. I don’t even realize that I am still in control of my car. Somehow I follow the road, despite the fact that my forehead rests on the steering wheel in dismay.

As expected, a resounding cheer explodes from the car’s speakers. The Milwaukee faithful commend their pitcher for striking out three consecutive Pirates. I pull into my garage and turn the key. The car falls completely silent and I do not move for several seconds. My mind is completely blank. My head no longer hurts, and my stomach has settled. I feel strangely calm. Maybe it is the fatigue. Maybe it is the fact that the Pirates still have 5½ innings to even the score. More likely, I am numb. I am numb from seeing this same situation repeated over and over for the past 14 years. Hope remains for a positive outcome each day, and failure causes tremendous pain. But that failure is expected. I have known nothing else since I was eight years old.

The rest of the game is a blur, as if I am watching it without wearing my contact lenses. I know the Brewers are letting Chris Duffy run around at will. I know that Jason Bay mildly threatens to hit for the cycle. I know that we lose 7-3. Most of all, I know that this game will be burned into my subconscious forever. It will flash before my eyes the next time this same situation arrives.

1 comment:

EmDubs said...

Wow, I can't tell you how many times I have gone through the exact same series of emotions thanks to our Buccos. The numbness you describe overcame me during Spring Training of '06 when I looked at the roster and said "Are you kidding me? Not this year, Buccos. I'm not gonna walk around saying 'if X, Y, and Z all fall into place, they have a shot!'". Good teams win without every aspect of their game functioning at its peak; defense carries the offense when its weak and vice versa. I used to hold out hope for this team, but now I just watch for the love of the game.