The most common form of communal victory celebration in baseball these days is the roiling many-bodied bounce, in which several triumphant players converge and make loud happy noises while hugging and jumping up and down, everyone remaining vertical. These happen near the pitcher’s mound after the last out has been recorded or at home plate to greet the scorer of the winning run or near first base to swarm the author of the game-winning hit or sometimes in two places at once until the two many-bodied bounces converge into one big many-bodied bounce that seems, at least for a little while, capable of lasting forever, of perhaps even morphing into a new kind of everyday being with its own library card and many arms and legs, forever roaring with disbelieving joy even while going to the post office or waiting for a bus.
Last night, however, the Philadelphia Phillies, proving themselves once again a team for the ages, punctuated their four games to one victory over the Tampa Bay Rays by eschewing the many-bodied bounce, instead breaking out the old-school suffocating bone-crushing mound-centered pileup, in which laughing bodies thump down horizontally one on top of the other until the guy in catcher’s gear at the bottom is dead or at least a little scared.
The man pictured here played a key role in turning what could have become a many-bodied bounce into a pileup. Jesus Christ played a role too, probably the most important role, as He may or may not do in all things, depending on your understanding of the world, but in this case He worked in ways not quite so mysterious, or at least not mysterious to an amateur aficionado of sports celebrations such as myself. The pitcher who recorded the last out, Brad Lidge, dropped to his knees and stayed there, pointing and looking skyward, silently giving thanks to his personal lord and savior, as he did in a TV interview a few minutes later. This made the all-important first embrace between pitcher and catcher one that occurred with both men very close to the ground. They were not flat on the ground, however, until the third man in, the first baseman Ryan Howard, steamrolled the moment with the arrival of his hulking happiness (video courtesy of Josh Barron) . . .
As you can see, once Howard clinched the mode of celebration with a hug so massive that it acted as a two-man tackle, everything else fell into line. A few seconds after the pileup starts, a windbreaker clad reveler stands outside the pile with arms outstretched for a hug from a figure sprinting in from left field, probably Shane Victorino, but the Flying Hawaiian chooses (or perhaps in such moments there really is no such thing as choice) to bypass the mere vertical embrace and instead flies onto the pile, arms and legs wide like a freefalling skydiver.
I watched the celebration happily, thinking about my cousin Jamie and my friend David, both huge Phillies fan fans, thinking about how for the first time since the glory days of Andrew Toney there would be a victory parade down Broad Street, thinking, as I always do, of victory celebrations in general. My day had been a normal day, a long commute in the morning and evening, hours in between those two blank passages spent how I usually spend them in my professional life as a proofreader and editor: looking for mistakes. If I find a mistake there’s no celebration. If I find ten thousand mistakes there’s no celebration. There are only more mistakes, meaning that eventually (and it usually doesn’t take that long) I’ll miss one, and feel stupid, and worry about losing my job and going broke and going hungry, etc. Mistakes are everywhere. See if you can find the somewhat glaring one on the back of the Ryan Howard card:
So I guess I follow sports in part to imagine an escape from this life’s samsaric wheel of mistakes, an escape that peaks with the vicarious thrill of watching grown men celebrate. Sometimes, much more often than is healthy, I fantasize vaguely about enjoying a similar moment as a participant and not simply a watcher. When I was a kid I put these imagined celebrations in the context of sports, but I no longer do that. What could I win? What would it change? Everything, somehow. I’d laugh and curse and weep. I’d get down on my knees and give thanks. Or I’d plow into the moment like a building-levelling wrecking ball. Or I’d sprint in from left field and fly spread-eagle onto the pile.
What would you do?