On this day last year, I wrote a piece for this very website titled “It Could Be Worse, It Should Be Better.” It would seem that at the time the Jays had endured five painful losses and were last in the AL East division of pain. The team was suffering from some messy bullpen woes and a few car wreck-style innings, and the overall tenor (and terror) of Jays Twitter was pretty similar to how it looks today. By revisiting said piece, I was not only reminded that I was forced to listen to a guy behind me talk about how “Brett Cecil is garbage” at the home opener, but that early baseball heartbreak is sometimes just part of the process.
Indeed there is some comfort to taking another look at that twelve-month-old post, one that was written during a season where yes, our team did indeed make it to the postseason. It further reminded me that the success of 2015 didn’t exactly come with an altogether stellar start either. A year later it does feel like we’re singing the same song (although maybe in a slightly more dire key,) wondering why the Jays are incapable of meeting our lofty expectations and worrying that this season will mark the end of the kind of team that very blissfully brought us to contention.
Well, I’m back like a broken record to tell you again that it’s early. It’s a long season. This is nothing to be concerned about. It is not yet time to panic. (And any other comforting stock phrase you’d like to insert here.) I wrote last year that “while we’re all totally welcome to our early-days disenchantment, we’ve got a long way to go before we need to place any blame,” and I still very much believe that sentiment today. Though we are perhaps apt to forget over the course of a long, empty offseason, baseball is a confounding, inexplicable game that is known to change and shift its overall course at any moment. Just as we’re stuck in a pretty demoralizing winless void now, a streak could indeed be imminent, and all we need is a little patience and hope to see the real joy appear.
And so, to offer a welcome distraction from your pressing baseball anxiety, and relieve your worry that this season could be a real drag, I thought I’d zoom in on something a little more light-hearted and a lot less pressing—pitcher Joe Biagini’s shiny new walk up music, Three Dog Night’s “One (is the loneliest number.)”
In the usual sea of predictable Drake tunes and top forty hits, Biagini’s quirky choice to approach the mound to the 1969 cover of Harry Nilsson’s classic is notable. (Interesting fact unearthed from the internet: Nilsson was inspired to write the song after making a phone call and listening to the busy signal for a while. The eventual Three Dog Night version got to number five on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100.) The decision for the track to accompany the pitcher during his ballpark appearances is reminiscent in its offbeat-ness of Josh Donaldson’s selection of Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight,” or Josh Reddick’s previous fan favourite, Wham!’s “Careless Whisper.” It also has the similar potential to become a joyous crowd-pleaser, and may even be something we find ourselves singing together in the stands.
What’s more, it feels keeping in character with the weird and wacky Rule Five jokester made famous by means of his irreverence. With this song Biagini has retired 2016’s similarly unique Smokey Robinson and The Miracles track, “Tears of a Clown,” trading it in for something more obviously piercing in its heartbreak, and perhaps more on the nose metaphoric when it comes to the role of the pitcher as the lone man at the centre of this game.
As soon as Biagini’s chosen song swelled at the home opener and he made his way out of the bullpen to fan rejoicing, I was struck by how fitting the track was in its relative absurdity. But more than that, I noted how perfect “One” is in touching on the trials and pressures of an athlete charged with making sure no opposing man gets a chance to get on base. And though our Joe is the affable funnyman in a scrum, he does have an obvious awkward outsider quality to him, a characteristic that has endeared the pitcher to the less than “cool” kids amongst the fan base. (I would count myself amongst that group.)
“I’m hopelessly awkward,” Biagini admitted to Sportsnet’s Kristina Rutherford, solidifying his position as the patron saint of the socially uncomfortable. “And because of that I’ve embraced it instead of trying to run from it. I like to embrace some awkwardness at times — or all the time.” (As the interview further notes, his signature awkwardness was beautifully showcased on the Tonight Show last fall.)
I’ve personally been long fascinated with the inherent high-pressure loneliness that must come along with being a pitcher on the mound. Yes, he’s backed and supported by his team (Turns out Tulo even has a nod to Stroman emblazoned on his bat) but at the end of it all, the pitcher is the quintessential man alone, the game heavily dictated by the quality of what he’s able to offer on any given day. Long shots of him in the dugout often emphasize this idea of him being that loneliest number of one, silently locked in his own thoughts while a buzz of action surrounds him. When he fails it feels like the weight of the loss is on his shoulders alone, and it can be hard to watch the painful isolation of that responsibility. And of course when he’s dominant, he becomes the prominent story of the game.
One is the loneliest number, indeed.
Whether intentional or not, Biagini’s new personal song choice is a humorous and maybe even poignant way to acknowledge the pitcher’s day-to-day emotional reality. I mean, at the very least enjoying and discussing it feels like a nice little distraction from the team’s current lonely (but I truly believe temporary!) place at the bottom of the pile.