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Jim Gantner

March 10, 2011

According to the Gods: a 2011 Team-By-Team Preview

Milwaukee Brewers

Not much is built to last. I’ve been going through all my possessions, packing them up for a move, and though everything seems to be in varying states of disrepair, not many of the things are that old. Besides these baseball cards and a few yellowing books, the only things I’ve had with me for more than a decade or so are a guitar and a backpack I got in college. They’re both holding up okay. The backpack has come in handy often over the years. I used it on a post-college trip around Europe and on hiking trips on the Long Trail and around Isle Royale. When I lived in a cabin with no electricity or running water for a year, it was my way of carrying everything I needed up the long hill from where I parked my car, including one day when I nearly broke both the backpack and my back lugging up a large tank of propane. I played the guitar a lot in that cabin, too, more than ever before or since, mostly strumming and singing Hank Williams songs because I was lonely and maybe because those songs were built to last.

The cabin had been made from scavenged building supplies by a tightly wound hippie carpenter who owned several acres of land and hoped one day to develop a commune on the land. I don’t know what happened later on, but at that early stage I was the only one occupying his future forest community, which made it the opposite of a community. Anyway, the cabin was well-made and had good acoustics, and when I played my guitar and sang I imagined I was inside the wooden body of a larger guitar, a song flowing out and starlight flowing in, a higher kind of breathing.

But while I really did have these lofty thoughts, they themselves were not built to last, and soon scattered in the wake of my gnawing insecurities about dwindling money and growing debts and estrangement from other humans and waning employment as a glaring, terrified adjunct professor who reeked of the smoke from the woodstove I had to practically give mouth-to-mouth to every night and morning to get going because the shitty wood the tense hippie carpenter sold me at the beginning of the year was so green it actually sizzled whenever it first came into contact with flames.

Oh the long demoralizing sentences that spooled inside my brain that cold smoky year! There were moments of peace, as deep as any I’ve had, like when the light from millions of stars was filtering down through the birch trees, etc., etc., but because these moments were built from my own faulty, faltering awareness, they were not built to last, and back I always went down into aching loneliness and doubt, but the guitar helped get me through, as did the backpack. I’ve never really known how to use a tool, even one as simple as a hammer, but I suppose someone who does know how to build things will come to have a feeling of gratitude about certain tools. I imagine it’s kind of like how I feel about my guitar and backpack, though in neither case have I ever used these things with anything that could be described as expertise. But I’ve used them, and they’ve helped me, and they’re still here to help if I need it.

And all this is to say that Jim Gantner was built to last. He wasn’t the first thing you would have noticed at any time during his long tenure with the Brewers, but he was always there, always coming in handy. Since his heyday, the Brewers have been as provisional and transitory as any team in baseball. Players have come and a gone, no version of the team built to last, even the team itself changing leagues. I could have pulled any number of Brewer cards from the team’s golden age in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and it wouldn’t have been as good an omen for the team’s 2011 chances as this Jim Gantner card. Even stars, like starlight, like moments of peace, come and go. Is there something in your ever-shifting world built to last? I predict on the basis of this Jim Gantner card that for the 2011 Brewers there is.

***

How to enjoy the 2011 baseball season, part 11 of 30: Read the baseball-obsessed smile factory that is Wezen-Ball, in which Milwaukee’s Larry Granillo investigates such things as where Duke Snider rates in terms of “The Charlie Brown Coefficient,” what game Ferris Bueller went to on his day off, and which baseball players best correspond to famous comic book superheroes (and that’s all just in the last month)

***

2011 previews so far: St. Louis Cardinals; New York Mets; Philadelphia Phillies; Washington Nationals; Pittsburgh Pirates; Arizona Diamondbacks; Colorado Rockies; New York Yankees; Cleveland Indians; Detroit Tigers

2 comments

  1. Brilliantly written. When I got to “Oh the long demoralizing sentences that spooled inside my brain that cold smoky year!”, I couldn’t sit still any longer. Had to do a little dance to celebrate the elegance of your sentence. Thank you.

    After several years living overseas, I’m headed back to the States in a few months; one of the treats I’m promising myself is a copy of Cardboard Gods.


  2. for some reason jim gantner always fell into that elliott maddox / garry maddox / gary matthews series of intertwining players, in his case invariably confused in my mind with phil garner.



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