So, a day late on this one again, mostly because I couldn’t think of anything to write that wasn’t pandemic-related, and I have been determined not to make this All About The Pandemic, because frankly I already do more than enough thinking along those lines anyway, and I’m sure you’ve got all the pandemic content you could ever want or need as well.
But then (as of course often happens) as I was lying down to sleep, an idea occurred to me, because I was thinking about baseball*. Now, why was I thinking about baseball, in this odd season where major league ball is not being played, and gives no particular sign of being played? Partly, this doesn’t mean that there’s no baseball being played at all – the Korean league is playing in front of empty stadiums, and I have adopted the SK Wyverns as my team to follow from a (great) distance. Korean league baseball is a delight, with bat flips and teams named the Heroes and parts of the stadiums labelled ‘EXCITING ZONE’, but of course the Wyverns are terrible and it’s still all very far away.
So that wasn’t why.
I have also just finished reading a really excellent baseball book, Joe Posnanski’s The Soul of Baseball, which you should really give a read if you have even a tiny piece of affection for the sport. I would argue that a lot of people will probably enjoy it even if they’re not into baseball, but I can’t imagine a baseball fan not liking it.
But that wasn’t why, either.
The real reason is that one of the ways I have been passing some of my extra time in seclusion has been to get out my old tabletop baseball game (Avalon Hill’s Statis-Pro Baseball)** and playing out a little league with teams from 1985. Now why 1985? Because that’s not the year I bought the game, and in fact I ordered these cards special.
Well, if you’re a Blue Jays fan (or, I suppose a baseball historian) you may know that in 1985, the Jays had finally turned into a good team, good enough to win their division and get to the American League Championship Series, and even lead it 3 games to 1. The ALCS being a best-of-seven, they needed to win just one more game to go to the World Series. Instead of doing that, they would lose three straight, and the Kansas City Royals advanced to the championship, won it, and (with apologies to Joe Posnanski) I have loathed them ever since.
So, 1985 is a bit of a tantalizing ‘oh, what if’ in the minds of the right vintage of Jays fan, the sort of thing that games like Statis-Pro are somewhat uniquely suited to exploring. But, despite the heartbreak of how 1985 (and, really, all the efforts of those 1980s Blue Jays teams) ended up, I have a lot of affection for it because that’s more or less when I started becoming a fan of the team.
By which I mean, having an active interest in the team itself and hoping they would win rather than just watching a baseball game because it was something my father put on in the living room. I had favourite players (Jesse Barfield and the late Tony Fernández), and although I had tons to learn about how baseball really worked, I would watch the games and hope to see my heroes do well and (since they were pretty good that year) see them do some pretty amazing things.
Bit of a shock how it ended up, which is really the point I am (eventually) getting to. 1985 was also the year when (coming to this realization perhaps a bit late in life, but I have generally been behind the curve in various kinds of learning) the difference between sports and a story in a book, or a movie, came home. Because of course, had it been a book (or at least, the kind of books I would have been reading at the time), ‘the good guys’ wouldn’t really lose three straight games to their rivals, and they wouldn’t really not go to the World Series. Maybe they’d lose two, and then win the last vital game in dramatic fashion, but they’d never really fail utterly the way the Blue Jays did in 1985 (or the way they did an arguably even more heartbreaking thing in 1987).
One of the main reasons I enjoy watching sports is that you do get wonderful, exciting, amazing stories played out in front of you that challenge the limits of the imagination and would strain suspension of disbelief if someone did make them up that way. You genuinely cannot predict what might happen, no matter how well you know the conventions of drama and character and plot, because none of them apply.
But, of course, that’s also one of the strengths of the stories we write. We can tell the tale we want to tell, or want others to experience. Unless it suits our purpose, we don’t need to have our heroes, or our readers, experience their own 1985. That’s a big part of why I think fiction is always my first love, both for entertainment purposes, and as something I will always come back to creating***. Being able to tell, and to read, or watch stories where things end up as they should is such a powerful and important thing, and perhaps especially so during times where the ends appear uncertain.
.Keep creating, and keep reading.
Thanks for being here.
*-I did not leap out of bed and go write it, right then, thereby getting it published ‘on time’ because although deadlines are definitely a thing for me, I am just sane enough to recognize that the world does not exactly turn on the writing of this blog. Also, it was just past midnight anyway.
**-For the unfamiliar (thus, virtually everyone), Statis-Pro and games like it were simulations of baseball from the time before computers became ubiquitous. Each player has a card that rates their effectiveness at hitting, fielding, running the bases, and pitching, and with these and a bunch of arcane charts you can play out all these imaginary games. You can use the teams as they existed, or switch the players around and create new ones. If you have cards from different seasons, you can have pretend matchups that break the laws of time. It was exactly the sort of thing that would naturally appeal to a quiet kid with a good imagination who was also a baseball fan. I played a lot of Statis-Pro.
***-I was going to write a whole thing on this, but again, I don’t want to dwell too much on the pandemic situation. So: as I mentioned on my friend Jay Odjick’s podcast, I started out my seclusion period thinking about how much writing I would get done. For a variety of reasons, that hasn’t happened, and in fact, I have written exactly zero words during this time. I have, at times, felt very badly about this, especially while seeing writers I know be very productive. Most times, though, I feel able to recognize that there are good, legitimate reasons why I’m not able to write right now, and I know in my soul that I’ll get back to it.