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Cubs Future Stars

November 8, 2016

cubs-future-starsWhat can last? Even stars blink out. Everybody knows this. But what about future stars? How do they come to be? I was wondering about this today, and so I learned that stars form in nebulas. I learned that nebulas are clouded spots on the cornea that make it hard to see. That’s one meaning anyway. Nebulas are also enormous galactic clouds of gas and dust. Either version of the word comes from a Latin root meaning mist, the same root of the word nebulous. The same root of everything. We never know. Geisel, Macko, Pagel? How could these names ever indicate that the future would lead to a third baseman stumbling and falling and smiling as he threw to first for an out to obliterate all old failings? We’re fans, all of us, which means we hope without knowing, love without seeing. Stars are born in the blooming regions of our blindness.

***

We got Wally a few months after we got our first cat, Marty. Wally was always Number Two. The number one cat, Marty, had shiny black fur and a gleam in his eye and charisma. He was smart, scheming, at times an out and out dick. Often he wanted nothing to do with you, but other times he reached out to you gently with his paw and purred, wanting attention, and he got it. If he was a baseball player he’d have been a Great, the kind of guy you remember unveiling in a pack of new cards. Marty even died spectacularly, suddenly plummeting from decent health into a terrifying series of increasingly violent seizures. Wally? Here’s Wally: Many times I’d be sitting on the couch and would look down in my lap and see that Wally had at some point arrived there and was purring in his ragged, drooly, number-two cat way. I was in the midst of petting him, but I didn’t remember starting.

“Wally, when’d you get here?” I’d ask him.

***

I have no memory of most of these baseball cards coming into my life. In a way it feels like they’ve always been with me, that I’ve always been touching them, looking at the faces on one side, the words on the other, or not even looking at them at all, just touching them, feeling the cardboard soften over the years. This sense of a beginingless beginning is strongest with the nobodies, like these Cubs Future Stars from 1980.

I’ve been holding this card in my hands a lot in the last few days.

***

Wally began losing weight a few months ago. We figured it was because his teeth, which were always terrible, had begun falling out, leaving him unable to vacuum up his usual daily mountain of dry food. His departure from a life of feline obesity seemed for the most part to revitalize him. He’d been an awkwardly fat cat for most of his life, unable to do the athletic things his more dashing brother Marty could do, but as he got thinner we started seeing him in places he’d never been before.

“Wally, when did you get up there?” we’d say, marveling at him up on the mantle.

***

I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a more beautifully mortal baseball game than the last contest of 2016. There were several physical errors by the Cubs fielders, who all season long had been among the best defensive units in baseball; there was an instance of over-managing by the highly respected Cubs leader that seemed as the game wore on to look more and more like it would be etched in baseball history as a tragic misstep; there was an All-Star pitcher, Jon Lester, stricken and helpless on the mound, unable to perform the first skill any little leaguer masters, namely making a short throw across the diamond to a teammate; and there were two previously unhittable relievers hollowed out by exhaustion and hittable and themselves abundantly in need of relief. Even the final out, immediately after which all the human frailty and failings of the game and of the preceding 108 years seemed to vaporize like dust in the face of a brilliant new star, was made by the gangly Cubs third baseman as he stumbled and fell, as if he’d slipped on a banana peel, one last echo of a century of doomed Cubs slapstick.

***

Recently the rate of weight loss increased. Wally kept nibbling at his wet food, but he just got thinner. A little over a week ago Wally became unable to jump up onto the counter, let alone the mantle. He stayed in the corner near his food, even though he wasn’t eating much, and he meowed at me whenever I was near. I kept giving him new food. I even started heating it up in the microwave because I’d heard somewhere that that might make food more appetizing to an old cat whose senses were weakening. He ate a little of each new offering and then stopped and crouched down again and looked out toward me unsteadily, as if his vision was starting to fail. Sometimes he lay all the way down for a while, and sometimes he got up and sat in a strangely contorted way, his thin legs splaying out to the side as they never had before.

***

The mortality of Game Seven crested for me somewhere in the middle, with David Ross splayed out awkwardly, near supine and momentarily immobile, as a wild pitch from his bedeviled battery mate, Lester, that had bounced off the catcher’s facemask careened far enough away for two runners to score, an occurrence so rare—it last happened in a World Series in 1911—as to border on the impossible. Ross went on to contribute mightily to the Cubs win by hitting a home run, but I still see him there reeling, tangled in his own splayed limbs, the game reeling away from his command.

***

People talk about baggage, about carrying around burdens, and it’s always a reference to the past, to the past’s ability to drag us down. But of course the past doesn’t exist. It’s gone. The future doesn’t exist either, but it might. The past has no might to it. So that ache you feel, that burden, whatever it is, it’s about facing the future, whether it’s the next day, the next few years, the next second. The day before Game Seven, I took the afternoon off from work and put Wally into a cat carrier and drove him up Clark Street to the only vet we could find that wasn’t booked up. A few miles south of me, people were massing in bars in Wrigleyville to watch Game Six, hoping there’d be a future for the team beyond that night. I got to the vet early and sat in the waiting room. As I waited, the future I was thinking about was just a few minutes up ahead of me. What would I be carrying back out into the street? I unzipped the top of the carrier and stuck my hand in and petted the top of Wally’s head. This was the only place to pet him. Everywhere else you were touching a skeleton. He was purring.

***

When I got home from work on Wednesday, the day of Game 7, my kids were out at a restaurant with their mom and grandma. The house was emptier than it had ever been. I felt it in my shins, which I’ve been conditioned to use as blockers when I open the front door. I heard it in my ears, which are conditioned to hear a friend demanding attention and food. I saw it in what I could no longer see anywhere. I sat down on the couch and turned on Game Seven and nothing gathered unnoticed on my lap.

5 comments

  1. That’s gotta be a 1980 card. Pagel had 39 dingers and 123 Ribbies for Wichita in 79. Geisel and Macko? I guess the Cubs had a pretty bad farm system then. Nice entry…sorry about Wally : ( I know what it’s like to lose the family cat. We lost two that were brothers in one year, Sinjin and Spenser. It’s hard. They do leave a void.


  2. This was beautiful and heartbreaking. So Sorry Josh.


  3. Josh: Nice juxtaposition of a couple of life’s inevitable highs and lows. I vowed to not own any more pets after moving down the pet chain and losing three aged dogs, two cats, and finally a parakeet. They all seem to take away a tiny piece of your own existence.


  4. Poetry. Loved this comment. I’ve had to put two pets to sleep and it’s never easy. The only thing you know in that moment is that the only time you’ve physically enjoyed the presence and love of your pet is the past, and the time that you’re going to miss that in some way is in the future. You also feel an uncomfortable feeling of making a God-like decision to effectively end the life of another living thing, and not just any living thing, but a pet which has become a surrogate human family member for you in so many ways. Sorry for your loss.


  5. Yeah, the decision part is brutal.



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