Opening Day (Fantasy League #1)

Baseball starts today, and for the first time in three years, I know who to root for: the Pittsburgh Pirates. Incongruously, the team we’ll watch this year with rooting interest will not be the Boston Red Sox, the team I grew up cheering for. It will not be the New York Yankees, the team just across the Harlem River from where we have made our home. It will not be the New York Mets, who offer a kind of National League compromise for those who can’t stomach the pinstripes, or the Houston Astros, the heels who my wife watched–growing up in the Texas town that gave the world Roger Clemens, no less–in the years of Biggio, Bagwell, and Berkman. (She missed Derek Bell, apparently an even more potent member of the first iteration of the “Killer Bs”). No, we won’t look south to Philly, or west to the old New York teams that landed in California, even if the Dodgers were the beneficiary of the trade that soured me on the Red Sox, the one where John Henry gave up Mookie Betts. 

Nope. Last year, the Pittsburgh Pirates went an elegant, disastrous 62-100.

This year, they’re our team. 

Unlikely, as I said. But this is a new year, operated under new rules aimed at reforming the game back into the national pasttime of a national time long past. More personally, during these weeks of hope and possibility that follow the report of pitchers and catchers to Florida and Arizona, I’ve been working through the possibility of moving my family of four to the Steel City. It might have happened, and at the end of August, there’s an alternate reality in which I might have been teaching writing as an appointment-stream faculty member at the University of Pittsburgh. It won’t happen, though, and it won’t happen for one reason: business. 

So this is a series of essays about, among other things, this business of baseball: the way numbers with and without dollar signs around them have reshaped the game; the way big data and information technology have embedded themselves in fan experience; the way media structures determine what and who you support and why. But it’s also about the business that brought me to think so fondly of the “Paris of Appalachia” to begin with: the business of teaching writing to university students—mainly first-year students, mainly at public colleges—in an era that’s anti-union and neoliberal, using technologies that are powerfully multimodal but more familiar as vehicles of passive consumption than of active production, with students who spent formative years of their educations in pandemic-inflected environments, against a demographic decline both in universities as a whole and in the traditional, if not completely natural, home of writing programs: English departments. 

Business, as Sam the Eagle from the Muppets would have it, is not an area of my expertise. But fantasy is. And so is care. And honestly, making an emotional investment in a team–any team, it turns out–is part of the fun.

So let’s have some fun.

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