I was doing OK there, I really was, but the twin blows of the Super Bowl (who saw that coming?) and the flurry of bizarre NBA trades (Shaq to the Suns? What is this, a video game?) I've been thrown for an analytical loop lately. Clearly I know nothing about anything. Up is black. Down is white. And so on. We need baseball to come back, so I can start talking like a blowhard again and feeling entirely justified in doing so.
The longer there are no actual games to watch the more the nagging inklings in the back of my mind about competitive imbalance and the very-much-still-raging use of performance-enhancing drugs start to become notions, and you know a notion is only a couple of contemplative Sundays away from a feeling, and a feeling so quickly can become an idea, which in turn grows into a belief... and the next thing you know you're one of those pasty sportswriters on "Around the Horn" who actually hates sports now but keeps plugging along because they're too old and set in their ways to find a new career path.
And that is what this all about, really. Crises in my life always seem to happen in the winter months when I'm least prepared to deal with them, lacking as I do then the daily therapy of games to watch. I've been working as an editor and freelance writer for a few years now. After briefly working as a paralegal after college I quit to concentrate on writing, secure in the belief that I was a much better and faster writer than anybody I had met in two years and change on Berkeley's campus newspaper, which I figured was a pretty meaningful sample. As it turns out finding writing work was indeed possible. Keeping it? Eh. Welcome to the world of new media, folks, where every job you can imagine is out there... but within two months the business model will collapse and the first people to go will be the creative types. I started getting paid to do a political column in November. At that point I had one editor. By January I had two guys who had to approve everything I wrote, then it was three, then they had no choice but to let me go because they didn't have enough money to pay all those editors and me. Personally, I felt pretty strongly like all the columns I wrote barely needed editing (CERTAINLY not for grammar and punctuation), but there you have it.
So the way I'm tying this to baseball is, in the game we love, the absolute bottom line is whether you're any good at it or not. The Rockies recently signed Scott Podsednik to a minor-league deal. Podsednik become a cult hero in Milwaukee before being traded to the White Sox and getting a hugely disproportionate share of the credit for their 2005 season. He's one of those dirtballs, a guy who plays with his jock on fire and uses extra eyeblack for all his teammates who go without. He can steal some bases, he can bunt for hits, he can wind up cartoonishly for his outfield throws like Eric Byrnes and still dribble the ball five feet in front of the cutoff man. Scott Podsednik is, sadly, not very talented. He will not make the Rockies better.
If you torture animals, or abuse drugs (I mean recreational street ones, not performance-enhancers -- for some weird reason cokeheads are OK in MLB but not juicers), or regularly sponsor trips for your entourage to the strip club where everybody including the strippers is carrying two or three illegally concealed weapons... that's OK. Can you hit? Can you pitch? How many tools do you have? If whatever your hangup is doesn't keep you from doing the things that win ballgames, you're probably going to get to play somewhere. You can get four, five, or more second chances in pro sports, because the talent pool lies on a bell curve and the outliers to the far right of the graph just aren't plentiful enough to go throwing dudes away for one little incident on the interstate.
But you can be the best deadline writer in the universe (or failing that, the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains) and you are completely subject to the whims of fate. I almost feel like I should go back to working retail and office jobs so I can go back to getting fired just for being surly and incompetent. I miss that... honestly, "You're not fitting in here" is way better than "We love you and everything you do, but we don't have enough money to pay you."
I am not expecting any outpouring of sympathy here. I merely think... well, the Toaster has a weird and varied group of guys of different ages and different backgrounds. Some of us are family men, some swingin' bachelors, with different jobs (or, er, no jobs, sniff), different regional and college allegiances (although a lot of us did go to Cal for some reason, not at the same time... well, if it's good enough for fake recruit Kevin Hart), and so on. But from time to time one or another of us will get off the pitching rotations and trade rumors and banjo-hitting centerfielder-bashing and touch on our scary real lives a bit, and it always comes back to baseball... baseball is more real, makes more sense, and is a greater motivation to persevere to see the next season. Well, for me anyway. And as lousy a year as I've had thus far -- 75% of my band broke up with their girlfriends in January (interestingly, I was less affected by my own 25% share than the fallout from the other two dudes), the brakes on my car went out, my dippy landlady suddenly decided to cash like six months' worth of rent checks all at once and completely wiped me out, et cetera, et cetera -- I can't help but look up and see that it's February, which means pitchers and catchers reporting, and depth charts, and spring previews, and trumped-up roster battles, and what's more since I got fired soon I won't have any troublesome work to keep me from focusing on what's really important.
I'll be OK. I'm probably going to go back to school to become a history teacher, which was sort of my long-term plan anyway... I just wanted to enjoy a couple more years of not having to wear pants for my job. And I'm absolutely not going to stop writing about the Rockies. Lucrative it ain't, but this is the most satisfying and successful writing gig I've ever had. Whatever else I'm going to have to do to keep myself and my cat under a warm roof, they can't take that away from me.
But baseball as always has provided an outlet for my rage: At some point this spring, maybe even in a regular season game, the Rockies are going to run out a lineup with Willy Taveras hitting first and Scotty Podsednik hitting second. The complete and absolute feeling of justified superior rage that that lineup card will instill in me will have made all of this worthwhile. These things I believe.