Wednesday, September 2

Just Like Roosevelt

It’s time for Jose Melendez’s KEYS TO THE GAME.

1. Jonathan Papelbon picked up a six out save last night.

Think about that. Jonathan Papelbon picked up a six out save last night. Dick Radatz got six out saves, but Jonathan Papelbon? Not so much. If it didn’t stretch the limits of his endurance, it was only a 28-pitch outing, it at least pushed the limits of tradition. In fact, the precedents for such a brazen rejection of traditional boundaries are limited. Jose has done a little research and come up with the following comparables:
• 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt seeks, and wins an unprecedented third term as President.
• 1996 Jasmin St. Claire, rather than stopping at having sex with a virginal 250 men in a day, goes all the way to 300.
• 2001 Takeru Kobayashi does not stop after breaking the world hot dog eating record of 25 in 12 minutes, but continues to eat until he has doubled the 12-minute record.

What all of these feats have in common is that they required competitors to push themselves a little harder than normal, to take some risks in order to master the task at hand. Jose has no doubt then when Ms. St. Claire pursued the sex record, many of you were screaming “Get her out of there Tito, let Daniel Bard finish this one off” but sometimes that’s not how it works. Sometimes a champion just has to… extend… him or herself to do what needs to be done, and last night Jonathan Papelbon did just that.

The exception, of course, is the 2003 ALCS, when Grady Little asked Pedro to do more than was possible, infuriating sox fans and online sports bettors alike. That was like asking FDR to run for a fifth term post mortem, insisting that Jasmin St. Clair go for 500 or insisting that Kobayashi should replicate his feat with foot long dogs.

There’s good crazy (note: the kind that leads to slashing prices) and bad crazy (the kind that leads to slashing wrists) and it’s not always clear until after the fact what kind of crazy one is looking at.

2. Jose is much angrier in America then he is in Africa. Jose won’t say that he is happier at home, per se, just less angry. In Uganda, if there is electricity in the wires, water in the pipes and no parasites in the intestines, it’s going to be a good day. But almost as soon as Jose got off the plane in Boston a few weeks ago, his ability to take solace in the flow of electrons dissipated. Here, you see, we have baseball. And baseball, it turns out, makes Jose an angry man.

Leigh Montville, as Jose recalls, once wrote that every day he looked at the front page of the paper to makes sure we weren’t at war and then went to the sports. Jose has a similar philosophy. Every day, Jose looks at the front page, discovers that we are at war, twice, gets angry, and then goes to the sports section, where if the Red Sox have lost, he gets really angry. If they’ve won, his mood is moderated, maybe he’s even happy, but if they’re lost… look out. Angry, angry, angry.

Sometimes Jose will even get angry about being angry, but that’s a negative feedback loop, bad things leading to bad things, which lead to more bad things. It’s kind of like a Nick Green at bat.

This is where Jose should preach about how in living in a poor country made him see things differently and not only appreciate the little things, but reject foolish passions like sports and celebrity. But here’s the thing: It didn’t. If anything it made him appreciate the need for escapism, the need to, from time to time, substitute the emotions of others for one’s own. Do you think that the villagers in Uganda are any less in need of escapism then we are? In Uganda, people pay what little money they have to sit on hard wooden benches in a sticky, airless room and watch a soccer match. Do you think even Red Sox fans would do that for a ballgame? Well, yes, they do it at Fenway 81 times a year, but do you think they’d do it to watch the game on TV? Well, not the pink hats anyway.

The point is that people, all people, want escapism. We want to live vicariously at least some of the time. All of the accoutrement of the modern sports fan, the fantasy sports the online betting, they are but catalysts, enzymes of the mind designed to accelerated and intensify the vicarious thrill. But to live vicariously is to live dangerously, to cede control of a tiny portion of one’s personal sovereignty to something over which one has no control. Jose may not have much control over the electricity in Uganda, but at least Jose can juice up while the power is on; Jose can prepare for darker days ahead. But as a Red Sox fan, Jose has no choice but to live with the consequences of the actions of others. And this powerlessness, is infuriating; it is intoxicating.

It is what makes Jose love being a Red Sox fan, and it is what makes him angry. But it is a good kind of anger, a pleasantly impotent rage, a substitute for staring at the madness of this world, at Darfur, Burma or Afghanistan and going daft from the righteous anger raised by man’s inhumanity to man. It does not deaden Jose’s concern, but it does deaden his pain, and enables him to think rationally about the needs and the horrors of the world. Jose gets angry at the Red Sox so he can think clearly about the war, so that anger, an irrational emotion, spends its time directed towards an irrational game while the logical focuses on all the trouble in the world.

3. Congratulations to Jon Lester, who last night set the Red Sox record for strikeouts by a lefty in a single season. While setting any record for a baseball franchise that has existed for more than 100 years is impressive, this one is special. Setting a left handed pitching record on a team that has had, among its stars, a pitcher actually named “Lefty” is extraordinary. Really, they don’t call someone “Lefty” because he’s only okay with his left hand.

Think about it this way. Jacoby Ellsbury setting the Red Sox single season steal record was impressive, but it would have been so much more impressive if Tommy Harper had been nicknamed “Two Legs” Harper. (Note: As Jose recalls, Ellis Burks’ nickname should have been “Three Legs” Burks.) Or what if David Ortiz had taken the single season home run record from a man named “Gigantic Freaking Biceps” Foxx. Hell imagine if Julio Yugo had set an errors record by beating out Edgar “Girlie Arm” Renteria. Yes, Jose knows that the previous record did not belong to Lefty Grove, but the argument still holds. If you set a record at anything and beat out a guy who is named for the critical body part in the record setting act, you’ve done something pretty special.

I’m Jose Melendez, and those are my KEYS TO THE GAME.