Eric ByrnesMarch 5, 2011
According to the Gods: a 2011 Team-By-Team Preview
I went for a run this morning. It was still kind of dark out, and it was windy and drizzling. I usually run with my Sirius-XM radio pouring the Howard Stern show into my ears, but lately I’ve been running with no babble or music (I’m trying, in general, to pay a little more attention to my life as it’s flying by; ironically, I may also have been influenced in this new way of running by Howard Stern, who practices and preaches not listening to anything while running). This morning I noticed, of all things, a small brown rabbit darting up the opposite sidewalk. A few minutes and blocks later, I saw another rabbit bolting and then freezing to a quick-breathing halt on the crushed brown grass outside an apartment complex. I didn’t know there were rabbits living in Chicago. I wonder what their life is like. They seem pretty frightened all the time. When I was a kid, I had a pet rabbit for a little while, a soft white one. He was constantly terrified, it seemed, and I didn’t feel anything for him but pity and didn’t do a very good job of keeping his cage clean. Luckily for him, he got out of his cage one day and never came back, hopefully going on to live a life of carrot-eating and wisecracking and eluding large-headed hunters with speech impediments, but more likely getting crushed by a gravel truck or macerated by coyotes. I still feel guilty for failing my rabbit. Compounding my guilt: I don’t even remember his name. I can tell you all sorts of things about the inert baseball cards I collected as a kid, but I can’t tell you the name of my rabbit.
And now all things fall away from me almost as soon as they enter my consciousness. My first instinct when looking at this card, and the reason why I started this post with a complete digression from forecasting the 2011 baseball season, is that I have nothing to say about it or the Arizona Diamondbacks at all. The card is shiny and slick, professionally rendered, soulless. If it did not feature Eric Byrnes, I would have no connection to it at all, and if Eric Byrnes had not done a couple of things over the years to make my wife laugh, repeatedly, each time the incidents were replayed getting the same laugh out of her, her laughter among my favorite things in the world, I wouldn’t have a connection to Eric Byrnes, either. But I guess I do have a connection to Eric Byrnes. I just showed this card to my wife as she was putting something into the filing cabinet next to my writing desk.
“Recognize the guy?”
“No.” (The silver lettering of his name would be difficult to read from where she was standing.)
“Eric Byrnes?” I said.
My wife started smiling.
“The guy that slid into first?”
She was referring to the moment when the Rockies won the 2007 pennant. The focus of the moment is Todd Helton making the catch for the out at first, exulting, then centering the Rockies’ scrum, but my wife has always loved how the runner, Eric Byrnes, after his fruitless and somewhat asinine headfirst slide, remains prone for a long moment face-down in the dirt, adding a sulkingly toddler-like accent to the otherwise standard issue victory moment. Years earlier, she’d gotten the same kick out of a similar toddler moment from Byrnes, when he gave Jason Varitek a shove during a weird homeplate play in the 2003 playoffs. Anybody remember this play? Varitek was tagging Byrnes out, I think, but the disoriented Byrnes thought that he’d already been called out and that Varitek was messing with him, but the key to the humor of the play was in the harmless, petulant nature of Byrnes’ shove, the kind of thing you might see in a playground sandbox when two three-year-olds have a dispute about a shared toy.
What all this says about the fate of the 2011 Arizona Diamondbacks is a little beyond me, but I guess if I have to trust in the images that come to me while holding a baseball card and pondering the featured team’s immediate future I guess I’d have to say that the Diamondbacks’ season will be a little like the short, frightened life of a rabbit, but that maybe at the end there will be some moments that, on reflection, stand out for one reason or another, a laugh here or there, and in these slick, disappearing days you can’t ask for a whole lot more than that.
How to enjoy the 2011 baseball season, part 6 of 30: take a little break from all the baseball and read Jennifer Egan‘s A Visit from the Goon Squad. This novel, my favorite work of fiction to have come out in the last couple of years, indeed has nothing whatsoever to do with baseball, but it does explore memory and the passage of time, two things that I’m often wondering about while I’m thinking about baseball (or about anything).
Finally, here’s a video with Eric Byrnes and some laughter in it. After being released from the Mariners last year, Byrnes joined a slow-pitch softball team with his buddies. This is his first home run in his new laughing life beyond the bigs: