RtO: Manifest In Time

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Each week, author and poet Y.S. Fing looks at the state of baseball, the movements of the game, the ebb and flow and soul of America’s pastime in Roaming the Outfield. This week: “Manifest in Time.”

Hemingway defined courage as ‘grace under pressure.’ In many ways courage is what Americans look for in their disposable heroes. We like astronauts because there is nothing like getting shot out of the reach of gravity in a hot-wired water closet to test one’s courage. And then all you really have to do is land. You’re a hero.

Hemingway was intrigued by the matador, tormenting a maddened and suffering animal. At any moment, the beast could spring and gore and upend the matador. Then to finish the weakened animal with the coup de grace. The final stab. That’s one way of exhibiting ‘grace under pressure.’

If only life were so black and white. If we could leave the earth’s atmosphere or dance around with a beast and tame it and kill it, then we could be heroes, too. But life is not so clearly defined. Our days are not spectacles of honor, sacrifice and blood. The vast unwashed masses of us just have work to attend to. We have to convince the children to behave properly in a world without God. We have to write a paper and make a different presentation on the same day. We have to get back to the office after a three-day weekend to renew our love affair with ditto paper.

Old Man & the Sea

Baseball plays a key part in Hemingway’s classic “Old Man and the Sea.”

That’s where baseball offers a drama Hemingway also recognized, and he incorporated in the Old Man and the Sea, where he waxed philosophic about Joe DiMaggio. Santiago, the Old Man, looks to Joe DiMaggio as an everyday guy, the son of a fisherman. He knows that DiMaggio is no different from him. They each have to face the conditions of their lives. But DiMaggio is the hero, and Santiago can only hope his son will be like Joe.

DiMaggio’s heroism comes out in the everyday drama of the baseball game. It’s on a stage just as a play would be. And the players make plays. No wonder there’s so much drama. Every day brings another game, another show, another chance. There’s no time to look back, there’s another game today.

And when a team of players is young and coming up fast and not used to success, when they first taste success, they are intoxicated. They have broken through a barrier. They have made it to a division title and the playoffs. They have a bitter disappointment when they lose in the first round of the playoffs, in a galling final game collapse. The next year, they can’t be so free and easy.

Rather than just begin again, another season of struggling to attain mediocrity, they may be hyped up by the press because of their flashy new best-young-thing, or their long-suffering home-grown star. They may have a cocky coach who says he wants to go out in a blaze of glory. And so the light is shining on them brighter than it ever was. And they know that they actually have to do what is being so sacreligiously spoken of in February and March.

Psychologically, it becomes impossible to go through the routines with the insouciance of the wide-eyed virgin to a pennant race. It’s not all new and now success is expected. In fact, the press, the coach and everybody agrees, before one game has been played, this team is the favorite to win the World Series.

The players know that talk is hubris. They know one guy is actually still healing a surgically-corrected shoulder. Another is too emotional to throw to the cut-off man. A few have already sustained injuries that require adjustments to the line-up, to the bench. Precious few of the pitchers have shown sustained control. And the errors on the left side of the infield are disturbing.

That is the drama for this team, and of course I speak of the 2013 Washington Nationals. They carry expectations. And those expectations are the pressure under which they will have to show grace. And there are other team similarly suffering and fighting and clawing as well. It’s the nature of the game, as it always has been. Such is baseball.

Joe Dimaggio

Yankees star Joe Dimaggio gave inspiration to Ernest Hemingway’s Santiago.

One way to do that is to face adversity early in the season. When a team struggles early, if they can hold it together until mid-late summer, they become fire-tempered. They know the championship isn’t served on a golden platter. They become steeled by facing their failure to meet expectations. Adversity is where one acknowledges that one (or the team) is not performing under pressure, but has not yet lost grace.

Adverse circumstances create the friction that generates the energy to unify the team. Adverse circumstances eradicate expectations. Adverse circumstances cause one to focus on the task at hand. By season’s end it’s each player taking less unto themselves and sharing more with the team. But for my team, that is not where I want to be in April.

Give us some adversity. Let’s withstand the pressure for a while. Let’s throw a few into the dugout. Let’s swing at that curve ball at the shoestrings. We’re going to stand in the fire and take the heat and then see you on the other side. It’s not arrogance, and it’s not even confidence, neither of which take action into account in their definition. It is courage; it is knowing that you face difficult odds, dangerous moments, and a long hard journey to the end, and still continuing. It is feeling the pressure and handling it with grace. Hemingway (oh, and Derek Jeter) has something to teach us, at least in this regard.

As ever, grace will be manifest in time.


Y.S. Fing is an author and poet working out of Washington, DC. He roots for the Nationals when he isn’t composing beauty.