I've often written about my family and our connection to baseball. It is not a unique or special one. In fact it is pretty ordinary. It is one repeated in families all over the Delaware Valley, the Susquehanna Valley, and everywhere in America, except in St. Louis, where there is only evil and villainy. A primary aspect of what I appreciate is the ritual and the routine of baseball. There is a rhythm of summer and summers and years and generations to it. It is there in good times, bad times, and ordinary times.
Baseball is rarely an event exclusive and unto itself. It is not football. It is an accompaniment to life, there in the background, as well as a special occasion, as when we go to games. But even then, it is relegated to the background when we ride, talk, sit at our seats, talk, kvetch, commiserate, eat, drink, and cheer.
In the terms of ritual, I often think about the roles each generation plays, starting with my grandparents to my mother to me to my children. The roles don't change over time, but each of us changes. We turn from children into adults into parents, and our relationships with each other and with the game change. You turn from acolyte to priest. You follow, learn, and then lead the ritual. That is the way it works. You move down that river from the headwaters to the sea, and it is a slow, long journey. That's part of baseball. It isn't a cross country flight on a jet – it is a rafting trip down a winding river.
It's the same way for the players. We saw this last night. The official flaming asshole of the Phillies, Larry Bowa, had a classic Larry Bowa moment with Daniel Murphy of the Mets. Bowa, who left little to the imagination of amateur lip readers, is no longer a bantam rooster at shortstop barking at the other team. He's the grizzled old prick barking from the dugout, doing the dirty work from the bench so that neither Mackanin nor the players get into trouble with the Big Blue Authority Figures. Bowa will take the heat though. It's his ritual now, not Dallas Green's. See?
There's a natural order to it all: birth, growth, maturity, decline, death. It follows a natural pattern. It all does. Baseball and life as ritual. It is comfortable to all of us, and it helps us work our way through our lives.
Tonight brought the New York Metropolitans to town. While the Phillies and Mets success cycles seem to be nearly perfectly offset, there is still a fair amount of blood in the water between the teams and fans. This is especially true since the Phillies Pholded the Mets up and sent them home after two wonderful late season runs where the Phillies caught the Mets from behind despite very large Mets leads in the standings.
This year, this week, the Mets look ready, as unlikely as it seemed early in the year, to topple what appeared to be a Washington Nationals juggernaut headlined by a pitching Rushmore. In terms of run differential, the Phillies have the worst team in Major League Baseball, and it is not even close. While the young Phillies team has done well since the All-Star Break, we were all well aware that it would come crashing back to earth when the Mets came to town with their fantastic pitching and all-of-a-sudden much better offense. But we hoped to rain on the Mets' parade at least a little. Sadly, our hopes have been dashed. With emphasis.
In the first game of the series, the Mets fans who jammed CBP were treated to a record number of homers off a Happ-less Phillies pitching staff. Should of kept, indeed. Bomb after bomb landed in the bleachers, and the Mets kept swinging from the heels long after the outcome was no longer in doubt. If the Phillies could collectively curl up in a fetal position and cry in the shower, they would have after that first game. It was a bloodbath.
Last night, it was less bad, but it was another Mets win, though Larry Bowa did explode. Maybe he was trying to get the blood up from the young Phillies team that had been so embarrassed and so lifeless during the first game. I think it is because he hates losing and he's always been seemingly prone to angry outbursts. He also likely feels impotent to change anything because he can't get on the field and kick someone's ass anymore. He's moved along that life cycle of ballplayer to old cranky guy in the dugout. As I've moved from kid to parent, from acolyte to priest, I've gone with him. We've floated down the river in an orderly fashion, Larry Bowa and I. That would be a rafting trip, wouldn't it?
What did Larry and I watch tonight?
There was good and bad. I was honestly more encouraged by what I saw than anything. The Phillies kept in the hunt for the 1:1 pick and I saw encouraging signs from the Phillies' young starter, Jerad Eickhoff.
Bad? The Phillies offense was apparently not fired up by Larry Bowa or anything else. Eickhoff was bled to death by 9 batters in a marathon 40 pitch first inning. The Phillies had a win expectancy of 23.3% before they ever hit. An error by Odubel Herrera, three bleeder singles, a walk, and a double stretched out Eickhoff and gave the Mets and Bartolo Colon a 3 run lead. It was all Colon would need.
Good? Eickhoff settled down after the first and pitched well, retiring 16 in a row, starting with the last two outs of the first and ending with the first two outs of the sixth. Eickhoff went 6 innings of 4 run ball (3 earned) with 1 walk and 6 strikeouts. Of the six hits he gave up, only a couple were hard hit. The rough start was too bad, but seeing him hang in there and settle in was encouraging. He needed only 57 pitches for his last 5 innings of work after using 40 in the first. His last pitch, to strike out Anthony Recker looking, was just sick.
Jeanmar Gomez had a 4 pitch 7th inning, getting 3 outs in close to record time.
The Phillies showed some fight late in the game, putting up 4 runs in the 8th, but then...more bad: 3 9th inning runs from the Mets. Ugh.
There was poor defense. Galvis horked up two errors in the 9th inning in addition to the Herrera error in the first. All three errors contributed to Mets runs. There was poor bullpennery from the Phillies, aside from Gomez as they gave up 5 runs after Eickhoff left.
Colon threw 107 pitches over 7 innings, striking out 8 while walking 2 and giving up 5 hits. He carved up the Phillies effectively, facing a serious threat only in the bottom of the fourth following a double by Andres Blanco and a HBP on Cody Asche. With 1 out, Colon got a fly out from Cameron Rupp and whiffed Domonic Brown.
The two run homer crushed by Michael Cuddyer to the upper deck in left to make it 6 - 0 was just style points for a Mets team that is just raking against the Phillies this series.
So, it is what it is. Another ballgame come and gone. Grandparents, parents, and kids came and watched. Old players managed young players. A game was won and lost in a million moments, all with consequences that felt real, immediate, and dire to everyone involved. Or not. The river flowed, and we flowed with it. It was baseball. It was enjoyable. It was orderly. It was comfortable and it was comforting. It was ritual.
Earlier tonight, a hundred miles away from Citizens Bank Park and before the game, I attended another ritual. A memorial service for the son of a friend.
I visited Bruce, a friend of mine who I last saw Wednesday during one of my workweek rituals – lunch at one of several places where I see people I know. I was eating lunch at my regular haunt and ran into Bruce. He's a little older than I am. He'd just had knee surgery and was feeling pretty banged up. We talked about pain medication, heroin problems that we've seen and how we can save the world from it. We commiserated about getting older, and I asked after his son, who I also knew. Lunch ended, we both went back to work.
Tonight, I visited with Bruce again. It was at the memorial service for his son, Trent. Sometime after I had last seen Bruce on Wednesday, he learned that his son Trent committed suicide. He was 20 and a great young man.
The visitation when someone dies is another ritual that comforts and provides order during a period of turmoil. When I arrived earlier tonight, I signed in. On a card, I wrote a memory of Trent to share with the family. I think I wrote something coherent and hopefully meaningful. I looked at years of pictures from his river: toddler to student to graduate to soldier. I hugged Bruce knowing that no matter how incomprehensible the tragedy was, that they both loved each other dearly and they both knew it.
I stood in front of a coffin draped in a flag that I know will be folded into a triangle and handed to devastated parents in a few days while Taps plays. I thought about the times I met Trent. I thought about what Bruce, Trent, the family, and the whole community had lost. I thought about how Bruce's river was flowing backwards. Fathers don't bury sons. It's just wrong.
I left, I went to my car, and I cried. The ritual was over, and I returned home.
The family has discussed Trent's life, struggles, and death with the local newspapers. I wouldn't write about it here if they had not. I can't imagine the nightmare that they are living through right now. Their desire to raise awareness by talking openly about what happened with Trent is the only reason I am writing about this. Let Trent's circumstances be a catalyst to other families – maybe yours.
It is said after events like this that there is an incredible stigma about depression, as well as other forms of mental illness. It sounds trite by now, but it is true. Depression is also lethal, especially among young men with still-developing brains, the corresponding impulsivity, and a load of cultural baggage preventing them from displaying or talking about weakness or failure.
Middle aged folks? We're used to sucking. We've already failed, often many times, and we've accepted it. We look at it in the mirror every day after we get out of the shower and see our naked bodies in the mirror. See? Failure.
I suspect that if we help our kids to understand that we've failed, it would help. Failure is a huge part of life – the old baseball cliché is that .300 hitters fail 70% of the time, right?
Maybe helping them to understand "What Really Matters" would also help. School, work, romantic relationships – how much of it really matters when you are 20? It seems overwhelming, but it means almost nothing in the long term. When you are 20, almost nothing is unfixable. Almost nothing.
When I got home, I returned to my other rituals – my daughter's riding lesson, followed by a Phillies baseball game with my son. I really needed the latter tonight.
Baseball is always there. It is there in the background as an accompaniment to life. And death.
Here's a fangraph because I have to follow form and complete the ritual.