Last Thursday, the Red Sox and Royals resumed a game from August 7 that had been previously suspended due to rain. The original contest took its pause knotted up 4-4; it resumed in a 2-1 count in the top of the 10th. It was a strange viewing experience. With the game still tied in the home half of the inning, Andrew Benintendi came up to bat. The chyron showed his season stats entering this day, August 22, but marked his batting line from a day when he was two full weeks younger:
It was a testament to a few things — the surprising rigidity of baseball’s schedule, the allure of a chance, however small (entering the day, our playoff odds had the Red Sox with a 1.7% shot at playing October baseball), the grip of a discounted hot dog on the hearts of children. But the whole ordeal also made me think about how we think about time — how we sometimes consider it banked, or free, or very precious, or, when we’re mad, or tired, or perhaps inconvenienced, something we’d just like to hurry along. The Red Sox played the Royals for about 12 minutes, and in that span, they showed us time in four different states. These are those four.
Time as Inconvenience
Early in our excursion, the NESN broadcast shows the Royals’ lineup from the day the game began, a day when the Amazon rainforest was less horribly on fire. The booth notes that the Royals will have to pinch hit for Billy Hamilton, employed as he is now by the Atlanta Braves. They will have to suffer this small inconvenience, amidst a much larger one:
And of course, this whole affair could be understood as a bother, a nuisance. This game is the email you have been putting off, the call to your insurance company to haggle over your rates that you meant to make yesterday, the boxes of clothes and chipped coffee mugs you spent a Saturday around the house collecting, but still haven’t taken to Goodwill. None of those things are hard in themselves, but as soon as they’re left undone for a day, they weigh on us, the little thing we almost checked off our to-do list, except we didn’t quite. Time works against us, amplifying these small inconveniences into the vexations we sweat over when we wake up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back asleep. Twelve minutes of baseball is nothing really, but left to fester for two weeks, it transforms into the thing our partners ask us about when they get home from work and want to know if we’ve made that call, because shouldn’t we have by now?
It is a terrific hassle to fly from Baltimore to Boston “on the way to Cleveland,” as if that isn’t a whole other trip. Which, it is. The players had to show their IDs, and breathe airplane air and have their ears pop uncomfortably, and stumble over which city to tell their moms if their moms should call and ask, “Hey, where are you?”
All of that is a lot to remember and do for a few minutes of game time in a lost season and on a hot day, but then you remember that Billy Hamilton had to move. He votes in different elections now! Overnight, he had to pick up and go to a whole new city, with new coffee shops and work pants and a Walgreens but not his Walgreens, and now when he needs shaving cream for his next trip, which might have just as many stops as the one the Royals just made, he’ll have to look for it in an entirely different aisle, and dig through a box to find his shaving kit or else buy a new one. And look, they aren’t expensive, shaving kits, but it does seem wasteful when there is a perfectly good one floating around somewhere. Only Billy can’t find it, because he didn’t have time to label his boxes, because he moved to a whole new place in a day, and probably doesn’t even know what day it is, and had to play baseball besides. So I suppose, understood in those terms, having to play approximately 12 minutes of baseball a little late isn’t quite so bad, no matter what angst it caused in the meantime. Especially when you fly charter.
Time as Both Something and Nothing At All
A lot of things change as we age — we grow taller, learn to drive, develop the self-esteem to decline invitations to house parties — but I think one of the most significant divides between our kid-selves and our adult-selves comes in how we experience the passage of empty time. How we relate to boredom. Young people are all verve and exploration; to be bored and a kid is to waste something of yourself, to be pulled out of your cool kid stories, and plopped down on the edge of grownup stress. As you sit waiting for your mom to get her oil changed, you brush up against the annihilation of your kid-self.
It’s different for adults. We might sigh and swear under our breath when our commuter train gets delayed, but we rarely throw things. We don’t scream. Partly that’s because we fear embarrassment; once one can legally gamble on a casino cruise in the state of Georgia, one really shouldn’t shout in public. But it’s also partly because boredom is so close to nothingness, so nearly the opposite of something grownup. It’s almost peace of mind. Kids want to clutter up their brains; we strive to empty ours out.
Part of the appeal of this game, of any baseball game an adult might take a child to, is finding a place for the collision of the two, where kids might be stimulated while their parents can be pleasantly bored. Of course, getting there is a production. The worst part of any day involving a kid is having to get that kid ready to go somewhere. Somewhere cool, somewhere far, somewhere cold. Bored kids, ripped from their cool kid stories, can become little monsters, and what’s worse, they can transform even when they are going somewhere they love, somewhere like freaking Fenway.
It’s the reason kids come laden with all sorts of stuff — books, blankets, toys. They need to be engaged, distracted lest the monster come out. But all that stuff requires packing and fetching. It requires a careful assessment of which teddy bear will actually help — unhelpful teddy bears are the worst, both because they can trigger the terrifying rage of a child faced with the wrong bear, and because they require toting — and an assembling of a backpack, and a making of snacks. That any parent leaves the house at all is a miracle, and I remain convinced that they only do it so that while their little maybe-monster is busy doing something, even if it is with stuff that monster already had at home, they can do nothing. They can, quite possibly, be bored.
Last Thursday, a bunch of parents did that, packed and gathered and traveled, risking an appearance of a monster all the while, only for the something they went somewhere to do to last just 12 minutes. And sure, kids got to run the bases after but what did that add? Twenty minutes? Thirty? Imagine it! All that prep and fetching was for naught. Being alive carries with it this risk, that the sunk costs we incur, the making of peanut butter sandwiches and charging of batteries for things that whir and whiz, won’t be repaid later in the unadult nothing we seek. But we’re usually able to count on peace of mind lasting at least as long as it takes the helpful teddy to wear out his welcome.
Time As An Act of Faith
I think one of the best things about baseball is all the time it affords you to go to the bathroom. And not just go to the bathroom, but also not be all that worried about missing anything while you’re there. A home run might sail over the wall while you’re washing your hands, sure, but the game has predictable beats, knowable gaps. What’s more, it has wiggle room, at least early on. You don’t fret if it takes the beer guy or hot dog gal a few extra minutes to take your order in the first inning; you’ve got eight innings and change to go. Thus, each trip for peanuts functions as an act of faith; that you’ll spend your wiggle room wisely; that this beer acquired in the seventh will last you until the action is done; that drinking it won’t make you have to pee on the ride home. That while you might miss some things, you probably won’t miss everything.
Of course, there are times that predictability breaks down. God sends a test; hot dogs are purchased too close to the final out, and whole halves of them discarded. On August 22, all the ballpark staples were there but the faith took on an unfamiliar catechism. And what surprised me most watching this little nub of a game was how, even in the face of baseball turned a bit silly, most of those assembled held true.
This family thought they would need not one, not two, but three tubs of cotton candy…
…while some adult helped these kids to a bottle of water and a not-small soda, respectively:
Given how short the game might have been and proved to be, both carried risk — of a sugar high and a full bladder in the midst of afternoon traffic — and yet they are, snacking away, sure of divine love and a few more innings.
This woman thought she had time to run out for ice cream in a little plastic helmet:
She did not; the game ended six pitches later, though presumably her keepsake offered some succor.
Perhaps nowhere was the faith more surprising than in the consumption of beer. Tubs of cotton candy can make their way home, to ruin teeth another day, but that cold one has to stay here, mister. This guy is enjoying a brew. We don’t know how full it is but he isn’t holding it like it is empty; a frame later, he sips it in that way people do when they want to make sure not to dribble on themselves because, have a little dignity. We’re in church.
Of course, another expression of faith is the belief that we will not be allowed to suffer over-long. The home plate umpire, with his sweaty lap, the result of having to bend forward in the midst of hot weather and a human’s belly, is holding troth, too, by just going to work, seemingly secure in his belief that the game will end before his lap becomes more risibly wet.
Routine is a powerful thing; perhaps this was less an act of faith, of conviction, than of habit. Maybe the folks there didn’t think too much about when to make their concession runs, and what to buy when they did. But I bet a few of them considered whether their consumption of the sacrament was well-timed, their purchases well-considered, off kilter though they likely felt as the game’s usual beats were tilted on their heads. They thought about keeping the faith. After all, there are a lot of folks in the Bible, but the names of those who really goof up God’s tests seem to be the ones that stick.
Time as an Analgesic
It’s an odd thing, but baseball players’ preferred way to celebrate a walk-off hitter’s heroics appears to be getting him as near to naked as possible. Time and again, in city after city, the crowd roars and lo, there are several of the home nine, possessed of Gatorade and absolutely intent on their compatriot’s shirt, which they rip, rip, rip until he’s exposed and likely sticky, as we see here:
And also with these guys:
And again with these other, different dudes:
It isn’t necessarily a bad way to celebrate — nude is the best way to commemorate being in love — but when Janet in sales lands a new account, her co-workers generally let her keep her blouse. And yet something about the euphoria of a walk-off calls for the rending of garments, the tug and pull of an undershirt. The game was all fretting and uncertainty before, and then, with one crack of the bat, in one mighty swell of relief, things settle in your favor; you were anxious, in pain even, and now you are content. Also? Somewhat nude.
At least, that’s how it is most nights.
A lot goes into a baseball game reaching extras, but one could argue that this whole bother was Holt’s fault. If anyone could use some relief, it was him.
But on August 22, upon hitting a walk-off single, Brock remained entirely clothed. He escaped without new wrinkles. Some of that was the result of him running toward home plate and sliding across it like a dork:
Pfft, can’t make that dork almost-naked.
But some of it was because time is an analgesic, and also an anesthetic. If Holt’s walk-off had come on August 7, all slop and mud and redemption, he would have been swarmed, and we would have learned about his chest hair, because he would have needed the relief. He was in pain. But instead, he got to do his dork dance, trudge back to the clubhouse with his guys, and prepare to fly to San Diego all tidy. He’d already gotten his relief; time, or more precisely its passage, had numbed him up — at least enough to keep his shirt.
Baseball lends itself to the contemplation of time. It plays both fast and very, very slow, stretched out over weeks and seasons, and then all scrunched up at the end. August is a time of waiting, the dog days, but soon enough, it’ll be chilly out, and kids will play other sports. Scouts and players will take vacations; writers will fret over how to fill their days and column inches, and we’ll all start pining again. We’ll think about time, try to hurry it along, and then, when the moment comes to put Christmas away, wonder where it’s gone. We’ll do all that, same as we always have, trying to learn something about time’s contours, but it’ll take us an entire offseason, whole months of furrowed brows and fits of frustration and long glances at the calendar, to do it. The Red Sox and Royals managed it in the space of one weirdly displaced inning. That’s not bad for 12 minutes.
Meg is the managing editor of FanGraphs, the host of FanGraphs Audio, and the co-co-host of Effectively Wild. Her work has previously appeared at Baseball Prospectus, Lookout Landing, and Just A Bit Outside.