For most, it is a response to a stimuli, a tensing of muscles, a state of heightened awareness in reaction to a perceived threat. But for others it is no mere programmed response, but rather a state of being, a pervasive and unrelenting wariness of that treacherous other shoe that will, inevitably it seems, drop.
For we unfortunate souls in the second category relief is the primary driver of action, we crave nothing more than the sweet elixir of a bullet dodged, a crisis averted, or at least postponed. It’s a funny sensation, anxiety is, in that it affects people so differently. Some it drives forward, pushing them relentlessly to work, to strive, to accomplish. Keeping that mythical shoe from striking the floor through cleverness, through effort, through the determination produces wondrous accomplishments. And for others? For others it is immobilizing. Fear of failure, fear of humiliation paralyzes. Wavering and wariness become one’s primary values, as the very failure to act guarantees the act of failure. And even what successes, what great achievements may come are seen as nothing more than a harbinger of an ever more spectacular cataclysm. With each accomplishment, the height from which that shoe will drop gets a little higher, the thud with which it will land gets a little louder.
Jose is in that first category. Anxiety drives him to excel. Perhaps it does not drive him to excel in much worthwhile, but at least it pushes him to do things like write 150,000 words a year about a child’s game played by millionaires. A trivial accomplishment, a trite silly calling, but a calling nevertheless, and one Jose has embraced as if he were Joan of Arc.
Alex Rodriguez, however, is in the second category. Anxiety, rather than pushing his brilliance, robs him of all satisfaction from it. The more stunning his April, the more pathetic his inevitable October swoon. The more beautiful his wife, the more heartbreaking his eventual divorce. The more romantic the dinner, the more devastating his impotence.
Oh yes, he has been extraordinary this month, as good as anyone Jose has ever seen, but look into his eyes, look into that vacant stare, and you know what you’ll see. Fear. Lonely, isolating fear. Fear that at the first failure, despite everything he’s done, the love that now flows in the Bronx will once again descend into hate. Fear that as the stakes go up, the performance goes down. Fear that no matter what he does, he can never meet expectations.
But that fear, that anxiety is needless; it is foolish. He is Alex Rodriguez, the greatest player of his generation, perhaps the greatest of any generation. Nothing can stop him. Nothing but his fear, that is. Roosevelt had it right. “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Fear is deterministic. Anxiety is destiny. And sometime in this series, or at least in this season, when the shoe is at its maximum height, anxiety will be Alex Rodriguez’ destiny.
The other shoe drops. Strike three.
2. Bob Ryan doesn’t like the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry. He said so himself. He doesn’t like it because a rivalry is only good when it’s from “the inside out, not when it’s from the outside in.” His thesis is that the fact that the fans hate the other team, whereas the players have no hate in their hearts and approach each other with wary respect makes it a fine competition, but not a true rivalry. Right. That makes sense. But allow Jose to ask a follow up question?
Was the Iron Sheik vs. “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan not a rivalry because they only pretended to hate each other? Did the fact that the two got arrested driving to a show together make it any less impactful when the Sheik yelled “America, Haacchhh—Ptuutt” while sending a loogy at the very heart of our country? Did it make the blue collar guy from Glens Falls, New York any less of a hero, when he hit the Iranian Olympic medalist with a 2X4 (note to Department of Defense: Iranians are vulnerable to wood) before giving a thumbs up to the crowd and yelling “Hoooooooooooooooooooooooo.” (Note: Since it got Imus fired, why didn’t Hacksaw Duggan get in trouble for using the term “ho” pretty much all of the time? It’s not like the Iron Sheik was an actual prostitute. It’s defamatory.)
No, of course, not. It doesn’t matter if the loathing starts on the bench or in the stands as long as it starts somewhere. One of the sad and pathetic realities of human nature is that hate is infectious. And this contagiousness drives unspeakable events in human nature. However, on the upside, it also drives some pretty terrific sports rivalries. Do you think Don Zimmer hated Pedro before he charged the mound? Probably not, but much like Hacksaw Duggan he became an actor playing a roll in a Manichean drama. Do you think Jason Vartiek truly loathes A-Rod? Probably not, but it didn’t keep him from punching him in the face because the situation called for it.
For all the whining of sports personalities, eager to diminish the phenomenon that has consumed baseball, Red Sox-Yankees is not only a rivalry, but THE rivalry because, we the fans demand that it be. We hate the opposition and expect our players to do the same. And even if there is no loathing in their hearts, they scowl, they holler, they brush batters off the plate, and every once in a while they throw a punch, because they know we expect it of them, we demand it of them.
And if you play a role for long enough, if you act a part for years, it begins to seep into you, and those faked emotions, those acted characteristics begin, just a little bit, to feel real. Ask Kelsey Grammar, ask Susan Lucci, ask Aldrich Ames, ask any woman who’s faked orgasms repeatedly for 18 years if they can still tell what is true and what is show. They can’t. Fooling others rapidly becomes fooling oneself. And thank God, because if A-Rod and Varitek get arrested driving to tonight’s game together with a dime bag in the glover compartment, Jose is going to be bullsh*t.
3. In honor of the late, great Red Auerbach, the Red Sox will be wearing green uniforms this evening. Jose thinks this is a nice tribute to one of the great legends of sports. And certainly it is far preferable to other Celtics themed tributes that were under consideration such as:
- Curt Euro warms up to “It’s Not Easy Being Green.”
- Rick Pitino night: Every fan leaves with a loss and $20 million.
- John W. Henry converts to Judaism.
- Turning control of organization over to Danny Ainge who promptly trades Manny for Darren Daulton, the only Major Leaguer past or present with knees as bad as Raef LaFrentz’s.
- Empty seat night at Fenway Park.
- Retiring Marty Barrett’s number.
- Starting 18 game losing streak.
- Eating contest between Rich Garces and Thomas “Big Ham” Hamilton.
I’m Jose Melendez, and those are my KEYS TO THE GAME.