I once had a meeting at Sony Pictures Studios. I was out in California to do some readings and signings for Cardboard Gods. I drove over in a rental car from Pasadena, where my wife and I were staying, to Culver City. Afraid I was going to get lost and be late, I got to the studio very early and wandered around a little. I got a green tea at a Starbucks on the lot, or whatever it’s called, and peered around in vain for people I’d seen on television and got more nervous. I felt tired and nauseous and burned my tongue on the tea.
Dave Hilton never played for the Toronto Blue Jays. In fact, in 1977, the year this card appeared, he was in the organization of the Blue Jays’ 2016 ALCS opponent, the Cleveland Indians, though he never appeared in a major league game for the Indians either. The 1977 Blue Jays—the first edition of the team, with a roster built with expansion draftees and other even more marginal odds and ends, such as Dave Hilton, who was purchased, along with one of a small but baffling series of fellows in baseball history named Dave Roberts, from the Padres—were like this, a collection of phantoms and rumors, as if their main purpose was to illustrate the more mysterious properties of the word expansion. Hilton somehow carried some of this mystery with him beyond 1977 and beyond the Blue Jays and across the ocean to Japan, where he played a role in the launching of the literary career of Haruki Murakami, who once reflected in a New Yorker essay on this turning point in his life:
The crack of bat meeting ball echoed through the stadium. Hilton easily rounded first and pulled up to second. And it was at just that moment that a thought struck me: You know what? I could try writing a novel. I still remember the wide-open sky, the feel of the new grass, the satisfying crack of the bat. Something flew down from the sky at that instant, and, whatever it was, I accepted it.
Marukami went on, of course, to write a lot of great books, I guess. I’ve always meant to give them a whirl but haven’t gotten to it yet. Most of us have these things we mean to do. In the end, what’s it all going to mean? We’re passing through, registering in a soft wash of blue for a moment before disappearing without much left behind to mark that we were ever here.
On the Sony lot, when it was time, I rose and tossed my cup in a garbage bin and moved in the direction of a building that housed the office where my meeting was scheduled. It was the office of a person whose name appeared in shows I’d seen, one of those names that came right before the beginning of the story. Was I moving toward something? Was my name going to be one of those names? Was my story about to begin? The sun was shining, the California sun, and I was wondering if I’d later talk about this day as if it were a turning point, when the sky cracked open and I was grabbed by the collar and led into some permanent golden light.
To be continued.