In earlier days, baseball players were not referred to as players at all. They were called “ballists.” I know! That’s what she said, amirite?
It’s a term I rather like, because “player” at this level reminds us that this is indeed a child’s game, and the MLB is so far from its original intention that the brass is changing the rules because people have been complaining that there’s too much baseball and we’d like to go to bed, please.
But the boys in the dugout this year are both ballists and players. Like the fans (who finally have a reason to do so), each man pays attention.
They watch one another bat. They shout encouragement and hand-signal inside jokes. It doesn’t stop if the ballist reaches base, either; he rows the air in honor of the way the team is moving as one, and then applies himself to stealing second.
And his teammates aren’t just watching: They’re standing. They’re standing at the dugout rail, not milling around the dugout. They’re standing because they’re invested in their teammate and they’re invested in this game.
The main topic of the season has now shifted from “Did you hear they’re good? They’re actually good!!!” to “What caused the collapse, what missing pieces do we need, and when can we really compete?”
This is our version of standing at the rail, and the astonishing thing about it is that over the winter, the fanbase was madder than I’ve ever seen it, Lou-Throwing-The-Base mad, possibly because the president of the entire team informed us that we were out of the playoffs this year. In January.
Now look at us. Using the “P” word instead of screaming into the winter night, wondering if we might lose the team to a city looking for an economic engine.
Using Their Words
For their part, these are lads who purposely avoid a depressing dugout, and this isn’t the artificial cheeriness of corporate retreat. They’re talking to each other.
That’s an important sentence in two ways:
They’re talking. They’re communicating. They’re using their words. They are asking questions and making plans. Because they give a crap.
They’re talking to each other. Not the press. Not their agent. Not the internet at large. The old are mentoring the young: I once caught sight of Joey Votto– who learned Spanish early in his career so he could talk to all of his teammates– speaking to Elly De La Cruz and pointing at an iPad. Maybe Votto had just come across a particularly fine meme and thought he’d share it with the kid. But his hand motions suggested otherwise.
Replacing the Windshield
But a healthy clubhouse has been the least of our problems lately. This year we have the luxury of replacing the windshield now that the engine is working.
We’ll know more about how to do that by the end of the season when, in first place or in last, this team will still be standing.