Timelines

Toronto Blue Jays Designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion after hitting the game winning home run during the American League Wild Card game against the Baltimore Orioles. (Photo by Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire)

On the first timeline I am 40 years old, husband, father of three children, builder of things, writer of things, breaker and fixer of things, maker of mistakes, possessor of a desire to whittle down, slough away, simplify, to realize a slenderness of being. I have a left knee which occasionally balks, and a left wrist which aches in the cold. I am ossifying in the face of a wish to remain pliant and open. I am forgetful, yet trying to remember to make things right, every morning and every afternoon and every night.

On the second timeline I am watching baseball, and it has all just happened, is happening, will happen in a moment. Time does not elapse. I am, on this timeline, at some indistinct age, an age which I have always been, and which I will always be.

These two timelines are related. They occasionally snake and entwine, curl into one another, engage in dialogue, and then fall apart, diverging until they are no longer proximate, a state in which they will exist for an indeterminate amount of time, until something forces their convergence. A moment which nudges them together.

i. Roberto Alomar, American League Championship Series Game 4, October 11, 1992, Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum

My parents occupy the couch and I am in an easy chair. We live in Ottawa, or the suburban east end of it. The couch matches the easy chair. The carpeting is beige. My father has retired from the navy and now works in the private defense industry. The patio door is obscured by hanging aluminum blinds which sway and rattle against one another when stirred by the air pouring from the floor vent; cool air in summer, warm air in fall, winter, and spring. The nights are now cold. The Blue Jays were down 6-1 but Roberto Alomar completes the comeback when he pokes Dennis Eckersley’s sidearm-slung offering over the wall in right field. Eckersley, who looks like a human fringed biker vest, is angry. What do each of us carry which will one day steer our fate? We can’t now know. Alomar is jubilant. He raises his arms over his head. I am 16 years old, skinny, with a face hammered by cystic acne. I have read Hemingway and Homer. I raise my arms over my head. I am jubilant.

 ii. Joe Carter, World Series Game 6, October 23, 1993, SkyDome

I have a girlfriend. She and I are with friends in the basement of a house in Blackburn Hamlet, the same subdivision where my parents lived when I was born. We’re deep in the weeds of teenage self-seriousness—JG Ballard novels and writing our own poetry and lying on our backs in the dark listening to Leonard Cohen—but we’re watching the game. This is not something these friends would usually be doing, but among the vestiges of my childhood which I cannot relinquish, baseball is the most tenacious. I will not ever successfully quit it. Besides, everyone in Canada is watching this game. No one is losing any teen-angst cred over it. When Joe Carter comes up with Paul Molitor on first and Rickey Henderson on second I tell my friends that Carter will hit a home run. This doesn’t represent any special insight on my part, just a wishful guess, the words of the boy from the mouth of the young man. Alfredo Griffin is on deck. The count is two-two. Carter reaches down for a Mitch Williams pitch—low and a little inside—and lifts it over the wall in left. It just lunges over, only barely clearing. I hug my girlfriend, our friends. Joe Carter leaps like a child, jumps and skips down the first base line, pinwheels his arms as he nears second. He touches ’em all and is smothered at home plate. Fireworks spark and drift down from the SkyDome’s roof. I jump and whoop and my head brushes the low ceiling. Soon I will betray my girlfriend because I am young and stupid, but she will eventually forgive me, undeserving as I am. She will still be my dear friend twenty years after Joe Carter’s home run.

 iii. Jose Bautista, American League Division Series Game 5, October 14, 2015, SkyDome

My wife is in Northern Ontario and the children are up late. Game 5 is happening, 90 minutes down the highway from our house, and in the family room, on our TV. I cannot pry my attention away from the game to officiate their bedtime rituals. They drift into and out of the family room. I tell them to brush their teeth, but they ignore me. I run upstairs during a commercial break to separate the boys, who are wrestling on the bathroom floor, and I squeeze a dollop of Thomas the Tank Engine toothpaste onto each of their brushes. Then I go back to the TV. My second book will be released in six months and it will contain an essay about this very baseball game, and the things happening in it, and which are about to happen. I give up on getting the kids into bed. I’m too distracted by everything happening on the field. This characterizes my parenting style; haphazard, inconsistent. This is the strangest, most thrilling baseball game I have ever seen. I am lit up in a way that suggests the short distance I have traveled from childhood to middle age. There is other evidence to suggest this, too: I have been unkind, let friendships wither, hermited myself inside a life defined by this family and the writing I do. I have wavered, and doubted, and let fear guide my actions. After several delays the Blue Jays are up in the bottom of the seventh and the Rangers have made a string of mistakes, allowing Toronto to load the bases and score a run. Bautista comes up with runners on the corners and consigns Sam Dyson’s pitch to history, and then flips his bat in a manner which will prove cipher-like; it is defiant and triumphant / it is unsportsmanlike and proof of the degradation of our society. I watch it disbelieving, my children having come downstairs to watch with me, two in their pajamas, one in his underwear. Bedtime is forgotten. A friend who had offered me a ticket to the game, immediately behind the Blue Jays’ dugout, messages me the next day: YOU COULD HAVE BEEN THERE. No, I couldn’t, I reply.

 iv. Edwin Encarnacion, American League Wild Card Game, October 4, 2016, SkyDome

We were just in Toronto, but returned home the day before the Wild Card Game. We were there for a family celebration of my father-in-law’s 70th birthday, but we were also there for our children; our wish was to see the city do its work on them, prodding and picking apart the ideas of normalcy to which they’ve been exposed. We wished for them to marvel at the diversity of life and experience in such a place. We wanted to settle back and watch the very real expansion of their boundaries. It’s so real that you can sometimes see the moment on their faces as it occurs. I spent an afternoon with my daughter and my niece, taking the subway here and there, rocketing along beneath the city, emerging in new foreign places, then ducking again back into the tunnels. My daughter is 10, and so is approaching the time when it is appropriate to entertain inappropriate questions. I want her curiosity to lead her to things that startle and thrill her. We have fed our kids a selection of natural wonders—mountains, lakes, oceans, rivers, fjords, animals—but have perhaps skimped on the human-made variety. So we showed them mummies and Persian rugs and marble busts and suits of armor at the Royal Ontario Museum, taken them through the alleys of Kensington Market, walked Queen St. West and Yonge Street.

The Blue Jays won on Saturday night, and then again on Sunday afternoon, securing their spot in the Wild Card Game, as we watched on TV with a cousin, a man who was a boy the last time I saw him. We visited the CN Tower and dizzied ourselves staring down through the glass floor, gazed across Lake Ontario at the point where the cloud cover cracked and was infiltrated by the sun’s bright flaw. On the west side of the observation deck, from high above, we saw the SkyDome, closed, inert, waiting. A characterless hulk, perfectly still from our vantage, and yet for me buzzing with something latent, as all ballparks are, and always will be. From the ground the building is ugly, I said to my daughter, but it’s still one of my favourite places in the world – a charmless block of poured concrete with a white plastic bubble on top, the place where Carter and Bautista excited us and defined themselves.

When the Wild Card Game begins I have no plan to get my children to bed on time. I make popcorn. My daughter makes signs: GO JAYS GO, and, WE’RE COUNTING ON YOU TO WIN THIS. My wife is again in Northern Ontario—she frequently is this time of year—but will be home in time to see the end of this game. Her plane lands at Toronto Island, within view of the SkyDome, when the score is still 1-0. It’s 2-2 after five innings; she is driving home from Toronto. Eventually I put the kids to bed, then return to the TV. It’s still 2-2 in the ninth inning, in the tenth. I’m not there. The same friend offered me a ticket, and again I said, I can’t. I’m watching on TV. I am at home. I am fighting fatigue in the 11th but there are two runners on and I am convinced that all Edwin Encarnacion need do is hit a decent fly ball.

But he doesn’t hit a fly ball. Ubaldo Jiminez is pitching—and Zach Britton is not—and his first pitch to Encarnacion meets wood and then rises up through the cool air inside the open-roofed stadium and lands in the second deck. Encarnacion stands with his arms above his head and drops his bat. I stand with my arms above my head. “Oh my God,” I say. “Oh my God.” “Did they do it?” asks my wife, who is upstairs unpacking. “Oh my God,” I say again. The SkyDome erupts in jubilation and disbelief. The TV broadcast will end with that buzz still apparent, the emotional currency of that place plain and enticing to us at home. It is unlikely that a team’s fans should ever know even one of these moments, but we have counted four. In the morning I will show the children the replay of Encarnacion’s home run over breakfast. I will watch it myself a dozen more times. My wife will leave on another business trip. She will return for Thanksgiving.

Events on these timelines occur in order, spaced out by intervals of time, but also concurrent, mutually haunting one another. Their engagement is one of proxy and distance, events which feel both intimate and alien, removed. I share the second timeline with countless strangers. The first is real only to me, if at all. In some ways I am a fiction, but the baseball moments are indisputably real. They exist in the eyes of millions of people, and are recorded in box scores, game wraps, newspaper accounts. They are official.

De-centering is a messy process; I’m wondering if that’s what’s being broadly described by the first timeline. The gradual trend can only be seen in macro scale. In the second timeline all that stands out is what’s perfect. It’s the magnetic pull of such aesthetic and emotional faultlessness which bends the first always eventually back toward the second. The second is cleaner and more easily understood, even for all the mystery which engulfs it. The second informs the first; it suggests the attainability of perfection, the probability inherent in the improbable. It says amazing things are possible. The first timeline requires this information, bereft as it often is of such proof. Keep going, says the second timeline, and I, in the heave and tangle of the first, resolve to do just that.

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Written By

Andrew Forbes's writing has appeared in Hobart, The Classical, and Vice Sports, among other places. His first book, the short story collection What You Need, was shortlisted for the Danuta Gleed Literary Award, and named a finalist for the Trillium Book Prize. His second book is The Utility of Boredom: Baseball Essays. He lives in Peterborough, Ontario.