Seemingly ever since humans gained sentience, we’ve been obsessed with the concept of flight. How powerful birds must have seemed to ancient man, able to free themselves from the constraints of the ground. Joyous was the starling, dancing and warbling through the air. Terrifying was the hawk, diving for a kill. To fly is to move in ways unimaginable for those trapped on the surface. We stared at the sky, the last frontier to be conquered, and dreamed. We told stories of magical heroes and gods who could fly. We sought any way possible to experience it, from the Dark Ages to Da Vinci and on.
By the time we came up with hot-air balloons and gliders and airplanes and helicopters so that we could join the birds in the sky, perhaps we lost a little bit of that wonder. Generations have now grown up with intercontinental flight as a simple fact of life. We still dream of joining the birds in the skies, of flying like Superman. But we no longer wonder if it’s possible. We know that we can fly with mechanical aid. But we’ll never truly join the birds. At least not for more than a few seconds.
It’s a small stroke of genius that the gods put Chris Coghlan on a team named after a bird. And indeed, last night’s Blue Jays came in St. Louis against the Cardinals, who are also named for birds. Teams named for birds play each other all the time, of course. The Jays play in the same division as the Orioles. Almost none of those games, if none at all, have featured a moment like this.
We can’t earnestly call what Coghlan accomplishes here flight. If anything, it’s falling with style. It’s a leap and a near-perfect handspring. It’s something out of a gymnastics exhibition, except Coghlan is wearing cleats and a helmet instead of a unitard. It’s the closest anyone’s come to real, honest-to-goodness flight on a baseball field since Ben Revere achieved liftoff in 2013.
Coghlan didn’t plan on springing over the head of Yadier Molina. Like the most satisfying superhero origin stories, he didn’t know he had the power inside of him. He jumped because instinct told him to, because years upon years of baseball conditioning told him to score that run. Humans are capable of great physical feats when fueled by adrenaline and instinct. They can lift cars, run faster than they ever have before. For a few precious seconds, they can fly. If they’re lucky, they can even stick the landing, like Coghlan did.
Without ever having done this before, Coghlan touched home plate with his head, and rolled up onto his feet. He may be a utility player, a bench man who’s had trouble holding down a job over the last few years, but never forget how athletic he is. He is a major-league ballplayer, the 2009 Rookie of the Year. He’s still got it, even if it doesn’t show its head very often.
For a few beautiful moments on Tuesday night, Chris Coghlan flew — and in those moments, the Blue Jays occupied a place free from a ghastly 5-14 start filled with injuries and the sight of Edwin Encarnacion playing in a different uniform. Baseball was joy and awe, as it should be. That small moment, in a game that saw Russell Martin start at third base and Marcus Stroman pick up a pinch-hit double for his first career knock, helped the Jays towards their sixth win. In a game that wild, with that much chaos and quirk, it’s quite fitting that Coghlan seemingly never touched third base en route to the runway.
And therein is the small tragedy of human flight, no? We can fly for a short while, but we’re never doing it for real. Coghlan’s run, as spectacular as it was, should not have counted. We can fly an airplane or a helicopter, or perhaps at some point in the future we could put on a jetpack. We won’t be flying for real. We’ll never achieve what the birds can achieve. It’s a mirage, a temporary high.
That mirage can’t stop us from enjoying the moment. Even though you truly aren’t flying on your own, you can still look down and see the landscape disappear into the clouds. Coghlan may not have touched third base, but he still did leap over Molina and stick the landing. He did the hard part. Even though by the rules of the game it shouldn’t, it does count for something.
The Jays, by the looks of things, probably aren’t going to have a ton to celebrate this year. A strong contender for the highlight of the year, unblemished by a replay review and a retroactive out call, is the least they can ask for. Coghlan gave them just that.
For a few brilliant seconds, Chris Coghlan flew. It may be the most physically impressive to happen on a big-league field in years, because truly, what is more wonderful than flying?
Nick is a columnist at FanGraphs, and has written previously for Baseball Prospectus and Beyond the Box Score. Yes, he hates your favorite team, just like Joe Buck. You can follow him on Twitter at @StelliniTweets, and can contact him at stellinin1 at gmail.