“Beat L.A.!” (Fantasy League #10)

The Pirates announced an extension with Brian Reynolds yesterday. Something like 8 years and 130 million dollars. It led to an excited crowd last night in PNC Park against the Dodgers, who looked overmatched, somehow. Mookie Betts went 0 for 3, struck out looking. Jason Heyward, similarly overmatched. Outman, apparently a leading hitter in the league, also not figuring out Pittsburgh pitching. Contreras took a no-hitter into the sixth or seventh inning, and left the game with a shutout. The only run was on a two-out solo shot by … someone. Freddie Freeman? Someone who could have inflicted a lot more damage. 

But aside from the shots of Reynolds’ enormous toddler and very blonde wife, of McCutchen’s kids, about the color of mine, or even of the kid wearing the Reynolds jersey, there was that moment with Drew Maggi, the player from Washington PA just 30 miles southwest of the Paris of Appalachia who they’d drafted in the 13th round, who’d played like 1100 minor league games and was finally making his major league debut in front of his parents and a crowd chanting his name. He’d lit up spring training, and he roped the first pitch foul. Eventually he’d strike out and he got interviewed after the game anyway, and seemed absolutely overwhelmed. But it was lovely anyway, in a Daniel Nava sort of way.  

It gets me thinking about one of the things I’d been thinking about before this project started and before the Pirates started the year 17-8. (Seventeen wins in 25 games—it’s not a sustainable pace but through 150 games it’d be 102 wins. A year after a 100 loss full season?) 

Stability—the business side of this game, and of higher education. That field is what would have taken me to Pittsburgh if they’d taken things more seriously, the role, my candidacy, differentiating between me and the other nine people who will eventually work there. If they took seriously the time and effort of the five people running that search. If they took seriously my actual experience not just my potential. If they valued teaching as opposed to research, sincerely, not just with lip service. 

It’s OK. I’m a writer not a professor and I now I need to act like it. 

But seeing Ben Cherington projected onto my screen in my living room, talking about Brian Reynolds being a good person, and good people being who you want to build an organization around, and that being something (though he didn’t quite say this) that you fucking pay for—that brought back a lot of the things that drive the business side of this project. Who let Mookie Betts (lost at the plate as he looked) go to LA for Alex Verdugo and a bag of balls? Boston, who is much better positioned to pay for all this than Pittiesburgh. So that’s my emotional way in, the source of my happiness for Reynolds types, my appreciation for McCutchen (who came back and seems to step up), for your Rich Hills and for your Ke’Bryan Hayes and your Castros, who are filling in the Oneil Cruz sized-hole, as is Bae, and your Connor Joes. Even the player that was sent down to make space for Maggi, Canaan Smith-Njigba, who would look sometimes lost at the place, he did his part. They’re just a great team. It’s so fun to watch. 

The title of this post is a reference to a Boston based chant from the 1980s, a basketball chant, mainly, that carried over to other sports, sometimes nonsensically, so that occasionally, a team that was sealing its win over the Red Sox, say, and about to go on to face the Yankees might be cheered on with the bleachers saying “Beat LA”. It’s confusing, high context, parochial and provincial and inside-baseball. But it does speak to a kind of fandom that I grew up around, one that I’m happy to be away from here, in a city whose teams consistently win or lose (depending on if yuo’re rooting for the Yankees or the Mets), and where there is not that kind of whiney, entitled emotional investment. 

Case in point: the other day I stopped a neighbor who was wearing a Yankees jacket and walking his boxer how the Yankees had ended up winning. The game had gone to extra innings and I’d stopped listening to Ma and Pa after the dishes were done. We had a conversation about it, based on his consumption of video highlights, and then we discussed the runner-on-second rule. (We had mixed feelings). Investment—low. Expectations—high. Chance for connection between strangers—good. 

It’s a lot harder in boston when both investment and expectations are kind of unreasonably high. Maybe I would have come across this in pittsburgh (though, most likely, it would have been in teh context of teh STeelers, who play a sport I find barbaric, and am not shy about saying that, and so I would pretty much avoid most of those conversations eventually). But it sure is uninteresting. And the point of anything I’m doing these days is to make sure it’s interesting. 

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