Will McEnaneyDecember 2, 2008
When you were a kid, did you dream of an ideal life for yourself in the future? I guess I did, but most of the time only very vaguely. I must have known instinctively that keeping such visions foggy and only partially imagined helps numb the pain when they fail to materialize. I can think of a couple exceptions to this general rule, both having to do with my team, the Red Sox. One dream was actually more of a vow, which perhaps explains why I made sure to make it come true: I decided that no matter where I was when it happened, I would make it to Boston for the victory parade if the Red Sox ever won it all. It was a good dream for me to have, it turns out, for it allowed me to be anything and anywhere, and in fact even implied that my adult life would be one that included rootlessness and drifting. The other dream was in this regard a polar opposite, as its success rested on a sturdy, rooted adult life: I dreamed that one day I would be a season-ticket holder at Fenway.
The dream was born in joy. Do you remember the first time you ever came up the tunnel into the stands at a major league baseball game and caught your first glimpse of the green diamond? I’d guess that most baseball fans hold tight to the magic in that memory. My dream of being a season-ticket holder may not have flickered to life in that moment, but when I learned that such a thing as going to every single home game was possible I’m sure my enjoyment in fantasizing about doing so was based in part on that first dose of glowing green. A life built on top of that joy: how could it fail to be a good life?
I only took one philosophy class in college, Philosophy 101, and I remember only three things about it: it was taught by an extremely tall man, it occurred so early in the morning that you could never be entirely sure you weren’t dreaming, and once, either in a dream of the class or in the actual class, the extremely tall man climbed up onto a table and while towering over us and gesticulating frantically with his elongated corduroy-covered limbs called the existence of the table into question. I think Plato came up. Something about an ideal table. I don’t know. Years later, after I’d circled back again to an institution of higher learning to obtain my ticket to guaranteed preposterous riches, a master’s degree in writing, one of my teachers, Francois Camoin, added to my spotty knowledge of Plato by, I think, disparaging the Greek’s take on the world. As I understood it, or quite possibly misunderstood it, Francois did not like the dualistic idea of an ideal version of the world, an idea that makes this world into a faded echo. There’s only this world, so you might as well spend your brief time focusing on its actual concrete details, the nouns and the verbs, the garbage, the stink, the talismans, the doubt.
My childhood imagining of an ideal adult existence, being a season-ticket-holder at Fenway, has never even remotely approached coming true. If my 12-year-old self were here to ask me why this is, I’d have some explanations, I guess. First of all, besides a three-month stay as a directionless 17-year-old at my aunt and uncle’s house in Auburndale, I have never lived in the Boston area. And even if I did live in Boston, I have never been able to and almost certainly never will be able to produce the kind of money needed to pay for season tickets.
“As it is,” I’d say to my 12-year-old self, “I can barely afford my usual couple tickets in the nosebleeds when the Red Sox make their annual visit to the city where I reside, Chicago. Face it, kid, you are doomed to grow up to be an anonymous guy far, far away from the action.”
My 12-year-old self would be unnerved by this news, the pain in his eyes gradually turning to panic.
“But if I’m not going to be a fan when I grow up,” he’d ask, “then who the hell will I be?”
I woke up yesterday morning feeling old. After four days off it was back to work with my 40-year-old carcass. I was dragging. I tried to write something before work, an appreciation of a book I just finished, Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch, about the season-ticket holding author’s lifelong life-defining connection with his favorite team, Arsenal. But I could only go on and on about how I had dreamed of being a season-ticket holder when I was a kid (as Hornby had dreamed when he was a kid) and how it had never come true. I was unable to get past my ritualistic self-flagellation to an appreciation of the book before I had to go to work.
I started this morning with a baseball card, a 1976 Will McEnaney. In the lower left of the card is an icon of a pitcher. The 1976 cards all had these icons showing an ideal version of the player’s position—left-handed pitcher, right-handed pitcher, catcher, first base, second base, shortstop, third base, outfield. I would venture to guess that few, if any, of the cards from that year featured the real player so closely aping the ideal player as the Will McEnaney card. In fact, Will McEnaney appears to be someone here who knows nothing about pitching (and, judging from his pained, ironic expression, cares even less) and is inexpertly contorting his body into a pantomime of a pitcher by imitating some idealized version of a southpaw.
This is no way to go through life, twisted toward some ideal.
But if I’m not going to be a fan when I grow up, then who the hell will I be?
Kid, you’ll be a fan. Just not quite the kind of fan you thought you might be. In fact, you’ll be very much the kind of fan you are now. Far away from the action. Riddled with distance and solitude and doubt and nauseating boredom and self-absorption. Your fandom will involve the radio and gaps in information and your imagination attempting to fill the gaps. It will involve baseball cards. It will involve holding these cards in your hand and trying to make sense of the actual world. It will at times resemble a quiet strain of mental illness. It will at times resemble prayer.