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Jim Christensen

December 10, 2018

Jim_Christensen_in_color_3

Played

2.

I wake up every morning and against my will play.

“Let’s play, Daddy. Daddy, let’s play. Daddy, Daddy. Daddy, play!

I’d rather not play. But I play. Lately it is Disasters (where I throw pillows and blankets at them and shout “tsunami!” or shake the bed and shout “earthquake!”) or Crazy Bonkers Disasters (similar to above but now volcanoes erupt peanut butter or we’re besieged with fartnadoes). It’s exhausting thinking up scenarios. I’m usually the conduit through which any given chapter of play begins to feel burdened with the gravitational pull of boredom. The chapter starts fraying at its edges.

“What now, Daddy? What do you want to play now, Daddy?”

“How about catch?” I say.

Uuuggghh—no!”

Seven years now I’ve been waiting to play catch with my sons, to fall into that soothing heartbeat rhythm of my own childhood. I was one of two brothers, just like my sons, just like John Christensen and Jim Christensen, and playing catch with my brother was more than a favorite activity for me. It was certainty itself. I wonder if that’s why John Christensen looks uncertain in his 1988 Topps card. He’s playing catch, or something like catch, but it’s not like it used to be. His brother isn’t there.

***

As noted on the back of John Christensen’s 1988 Topps card, John Christensen’s brother, Jim, once played minor league ball. Two baseball cards confirm this, one showing Jim on the Toledo Mud Hens in 1982 and the other capturing him in 1983 as a member of the Tacoma Tigers. I’m especially drawn to the latter card. For one thing, it shows him in his last season of professional baseball. That year, at Triple A, surrounded by once and future major leaguers, he hit .286 with 16 home runs and 58 RBI while splitting time between second base, shortstop, and third base. He was just 25 years old and had been showing a similarly valuable combination of pop in his bat and infielder versatility throughout his professional career, his 1983 batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage split of .286/.361/.450 in line with his overall career mark of .298/.361/.471. Why wouldn’t a player who could hit and play all around the infield not have gotten a shot at the majors? And why did he stop trying to do so? In 1983, the Tacoma Tigers’ parent club, the Oakland A’s, went nowhere, and their second baseman was Davey Lopes, who was 38 years old. The following year, they also went nowhere, this time with 40-year-old Joe Morgan at second. Why wouldn’t Jim Christensen have been given a shot, if not to unseat the geriatric carousel of 1970s National League West All-Stars than at least to battle the likes of Donnie Hill, Bill Almon, or Steve Kiefer for a spot on the bench? I don’t know why, but after 1983 he disappeared from public record, save for that note on the back of his younger brother’s major league card. He made that journey from playing, present-tense, to played.

***

I’ve only gotten my two sons to try throwing some sort of ball back and forth with me a handful of times, and each time has quickly devolving into a giggling, anarchic attempt by my partner or partners to drill the orb into my testicles. The preference around here is instead improvised narratives, fluid and frantic, hinging on hurricanes, jaguars, Pikachu, superheroes, collisions, connections, death, instant resurrection. I can sometimes lock in for a little while but my mind and heart ossified long ago when it comes to this kind of play. It’s pretty much all an effort. Play is work.

When did this happen? When did I stop playing? When did “I play” turn to “I played”?

***

I can’t hold the 1983 Jim Christensen card in my hands. But these days anything is available at some kind of remove. It’s easy enough to view Jim Christensen’s 1983 card online. You can even buy it. I considered doing that. I like Jim Christensen’s stance on that card: the classic infielder crouch. I like that his left foot is cut off by the border on the poorly centered card. I like that his eyes are not looking straight toward the viewer but are instead veering off to the side, giving him a look of melancholy distraction. He’s already thinking about what’s off to the side, out of the frame. There are fairly dark shadows cast by his arms and legs. There are two players off in the outfield beyond his right shoulder. He looks wiry and solid and quick, like he knew what he was doing on a baseball field. He looks like he was probably a good brother to have.

But I didn’t buy the card. I don’t really collect cards that way. I play with them.

I wanted to find a way to play with the Jim Christensen card. I wanted Jim Christensen himself to keep playing.

(to be continued)

3 comments

  1. So good to have you writing again!


  2. Thanks, Mickey


  3. Agreed completely, Mickey! I still check every day just in case Josh decides to write!



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