“Baseball is not about perfection. It is about wishing a thing were possible and discovering something flawed and still beautiful along the way.” -Chris Turner
On Wednesday, when news broke of Anthony Alford’s sudden, unexpected, and emotionally unjust trip to the DL after a fractured wrist, a lot of us wailed “how?” and “why?” I started to feel like we might actually be stuck in the middle of a stereotypical baseball movie plot—a high drama, tear jerking, meandering sports film built for maximum emotional impact and a good old fashioned feelings-kicking. It seemed as if mere moments earlier we had been celebrating Alford’s call up as a piece of much-needed good news. Then, in a sudden scene shift, the joy and buoyant smiles of his story were temporarily snatched away. Baseball, as it has proved at multiple points in this season, seemed to really hate us.
“The reality is we’ve had a significant amount of injuries,” said GM Ross Atkins, pointing out the obvious. “We’ve had to dig deep into the minor leagues to overcome the depth issues. We’ve had some good stories come of it. We’ve also had some unfortunate things happen, like the injury to Anthony.”
If I had to guess, right now we’re somewhere around the forty-five minute mark of this imaginary baseball movie plot. If you were watching it in a theatre, this would be the part where the team has faced a general onslaught of ridiculous, demoralizing, soul-crushing on-field adversity, where the scriptwriters deliberately sacrifice a bright young star to tug hard on our beleaguered heartstrings. (Those in-stadium shots of Alford’s adoring family, and his first major league hit—405 feet—certainly didn’t make the news any easier to take.) What’s more, Alford’s backstory of missing a lot of his season last year due to injury offered yet another cruel twist of the baseball gods’ knife.
I mean, he said of his mother after that hit; “I’m just proud that I can make her happy in some kind of way, show her that all of the hard work and sacrifices that she made are starting to pay off.” (How awful this injury is for us, yes, but more importantly for her, and for him.)
If this actually were baseball fiction, we’d likely think it was—good and bad details alike—all a little heavy handed. Biagini becoming a starting pitcher with his nervous dad in the stands. The Luke Maile and Marcus Stroman battery hitting back-to-back home runs. Relative unknown Chris Coghlan becoming airborne. Up until this point it has been a season defined not only by thwarted expectations, but by the unexpected guy stepping up, and the unlikely hero having his moment.
In writing the script of a season, it’s hard not to think of these dramas as a way to get us, the viewer, more emotionally invested in a triumphant end. (Wishful thinking, I know.) Of course there’s no way for us to know if there will actually be a triumphant end to this particular seven month plot, but the narrative-types among us can’t help but fantasize that this would be a fascinating and compelling road to October. Beyond that, maybe this kind of movie plot mentality is a crutch to get through a season characterized by baseball giving us something beautiful, only to take it—or something else—away.
In a lot if ways, 2017 thus far often feels like the very definition of “you win some, you lose some.” I don’t mean literal wins and losses (then it would be “you win some, you lose some more,”) but instead a seemingly endless revolving roster door, some non-superstar surprises, and how when one man is healed another is struck down. It would all be absurdly comical if it wasn’t so awful and hard to take—almost every new day stripping hope from one place (the trusted reliability of Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitski) and transplanting it somewhere else (a magical Jose Bautista double play or a Justin Smoak home run or two.)
Late last night, without a baseball game to watch, I did a little reading that reminded me of the marked uncertainty of the Jays’ 2015 baseball season. As Chris Turner put it in his beautiful (and yes, now post-scripted) essay about former Jay Chris Colabello’s personal story, before that team hit the All-Star break they were “treading water with a .500 record” and “all promise, not enough execution.” It’s a prior season precious in our memories, mainly because it too at times felt entirely impossible, that recollection a light of hope as the team currently sits at .447 and 21-26.
Yet another plot point/scene change was announced today, this one on the more positive end of the spectrum. Atkins informed the media of his expectation that Troy Tulowitzki and Josh Donaldson will finally, finally, finally return to the team on Friday. (Donaldson has been marooned on the DL since April 14th, and Tulowitzki since the 22nd. My god, has it been that long?) The pair will face the Rangers in the start of a three game series at home, and while only time will tell if this marks the team turnaround we need, their faces will definitely be a welcome and hopefully permanent sight.
As Stoeten rightly pointed out earlier, there is still much hope to be had for this current baseball plot we find ourselves in. Even though we haven’t gotten the scorching start we wanted, we can admit—at least in the month of May—that we’ve had the consolation prize of being entertained in so many weird and wonderful ways. And I think a lot of us who have been sitting through these up and downs, and back and forths are holding on to the belief that the latter portion of this bizarre, jam-packed sports movie will, indeed, be triumphant.