The Last Time We Saw That Guy: An Introduction

When was the last time you went to a major league baseball game? For me, it was Angels at Mariners, July 21 of last year: my younger brother and I got up at 5:30, took the train down from Vancouver, went in the stadium as soon as the gates opened. It happened to be Hall of Fame Weekend. We got big placards with all of Edgar Martinez’s hits plotted on them, and we carried them as we did laps around the stadium, trying to decide what to eat, trying to stay out of the sun, pausing behind pillars and watching as Brandi Halladay wept on the big screen. When Edgar showed up, the few thousand already in the stadium with us burst into cheers.

Our seats were out in the bleachers in right-center; for about an hour after the game started, they were fine, sheltered from the sun and central enough to give us a good view of Mike Trout’s back. It wasn’t long before the light moved and we began to roast. I’d meant to keep score, as I usually do, but I’d forgotten my pen, so the wandering began again — at first attentive wandering in a scoreless game, and then less attentive as the Angels piled runs on Yusei Kikuchi.

At 5-0, we looked out over the railway tracks and watched the trains pass through on their way to California, their rattlings and rumblings crashing down on our heads off the huge beams of the stadium roof; watched the ferries on their way to Bainbridge and Bremerton and maybe even all the way back to Canada; watched the people on the streets down below, busy streets, the busy waterfront piers — it was so hot and sunny, a beautiful summer day.

At 8-0, at the stretch, we leaned out over the landing on the right-field view deck and tossed “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” down to the people below us. Some guy standing beside me said something to me about Ohtani, and I said something back, and when the Mariners finally scored a dignity run in the bottom of the seventh, we raised our hands and yelled and high-fived and pounded on the drink counter as if it was the only run we’d seen that day — the only run we’d seen that year, which, in a way, it was.

After the Angels scored again, it was time to line up. It was one of those days where they let kids run around the bases after the game, something my brother had done many a time at the Nat back home, but never in a big-league stadium — and he was turning 13 in just two months, so he might never get the chance again. We thought we were being so smart, lining up in the eighth, so ahead of the curve. The line already snaked up all three levels by the time we got there. Us and all the other kids and parents and grandparents and siblings of kids, all watching the same little screen on the ramp, the same little pixels representing Domingo Santana and Omar Narváez and Trevor Cahill. Most everyone wasn’t paying much attention to them anymore. They were thinking about what was ahead, through the tunnel where the grounds crew bustled as the line of would-be baserunners trundled by, out the open gate to the hot, red dirt, circling the bases, winding back up the stairs through the stands — high five, high five, here’s your card — and past the concourse, down the stairs, onto the sidewalk, back home. Back to real life.

***

Sports, in a way that few other things can, will give you the gift of a planned ending. The Hall of Famer announces his final season before it begins. The one-time icon, many years since departed, re-signs with the old team for one last day. In baseball, the game ends with a win or a loss, whether it takes an hour or six. The way you get there, whatever turns it might have taken — all of it gets to mean something when you get to say that it’s over. In a way, an ending can make something go on forever: a story that you can keep telling, start to finish to start to finish.

When endings in sports are unplanned, it is jarring, often upsetting — an intrusion of real life on the comfortable narratives of games. Baseball is particularly fond of celebrating its chosen endings. The Hall of Fame, the goodbye tours, the curtain calls and hat tips. They’re a huge part of the sport’s memory, the way it shapes meaning around its past. But there are still the unchosen endings, too: the careers that never took off or never got started. The unforeseen, sudden declines. The free agents who never resigned. Injury, tragedy. A notification on your timeline that you don’t click: Someone you don’t remember and don’t care about has announced his retirement. There are so many more endings than we usually think about. There’s so much more finality.

***

For the next few weeks, I’m going to be writing about final games. They’ll be final games of well-known players and players who barely played, postseason thrillers and random sleepy Thursdays. I’m interested in what these final games can tell us — not just about the stories of the players who played them, but about what we talk about when we talk about endings, about last times. There are last times we expect, and there are ones we don’t. Lately, there’s been a lot of the latter.

And those ones are the ones that leave you with questions. When was the last time you went to a baseball game? When was the last time you went to a restaurant? When was the last time you had your friends over for dinner? When was the last time you went into work? When was the last time you saw your family, your ailing loved ones? When do you think you’ll see them again? Will you ever see them again? And if you do, will it ever be the same? Will you ever again be able to stop thinking about the ending?

***

As soon as we got home and I had a pen again, I made sure I sharpied in the date on that card — big black letters, right on the line. JULY 21, 2019. It was just a random game, really. We didn’t pay attention to most of it. But still, you don’t want to forget things. It’s so easy to forget.





RJ is the dilettante-in-residence at FanGraphs. Previous work can be found at Baseball Prospectus, VICE Sports, and The Hardball Times.

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jarhead659
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jarhead659

Good to see your byline, I hope you and your family are doing fine, and look forward to reading the last times, I know they will be outstanding.