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Life, D’Angelo Jimenez Plod Onward

It’s not a big deal or anything, but last Friday marked my thirty-fourth birthday. I’ve never really been big on birthdays; the cake is fine, but the singing and the attention and the sincere well-wishing of acquaintances I can do without. Even-numbered birthdays are even worse, because you can look back at where your halfway mark was, and watch how it steadily increases. Half my life ago, I was a high school senior, playing four-chord songs on the guitar and sweeping up a hardware store on the weekends. With each passing year, the number of baseball players older than me is dwindling in logarithmic fashion toward Moyerdom.

D’Angelo Jimenez is still older than me. He is a thirty-four year old baseball player. Half his life ago, he was a seventeen year-old baseball player. Between those two endpoints, this happened:

During that span Jimenez played for 23 different teams among nine different organizations and two independent leagues. He broke his neck. He joined the Yankee AAA affiliate Columbus Clippers at the age of 19, and played for the Washington Nationals AAA affiliate Columbus Clippers at 29. Last weekend, not content with his resume, Jimenez signed on for a second tour with the Newark Bears. He played his last game in the majors in 2007, and will almost certainly never play there again.

It’s not because he lacks the talent. The baseball pundits of the early aughts saw him as a better prospect than teammate Alfonso Soriano. But Jimenez always flashed just enough to tease the scouts, as well as the streakiness and lackadaisical attitude to infuriate them. They saw what happened when he swung but not what happened when he didn’t, watched the erratic arm rather than the quick feet that gave him so many chances to err. Everyone sees what they want to see. Mostly, they wanted to see him fail, and he helped through his attitude, magnifying his own flaws again and again.

But while most antiheroes get to die onstage, he labors on in the background. It’s hard to imagine what constitutes success for someone like D’Angelo Jimenez, at least from a strict baseball standpoint. Is he hoping for a championship? If he’s already won any, the world has forgotten them. Is he hoping for one more shot at the bigs? If his .355/.471/.542 line in Yucatan in 2010 didn’t impress teams, nothing else will. Is it the money? It’s always, of course, about money.

But I’d like to think it’s something deeper, more instinctual and human that forces Jimenez to keep working walks from the likes of Gustavo Chacin. Visible are strains of the pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus, who saw the world embroiled in eternal flame. Like Jimenez, Heraclitus was a bit of a clubhouse cancer. He saw life as a struggle, a battle that was its own end, one that brought its rewards in the afterlife. He sneered at those who sought happiness and retirement.

Ironically, the lasting legacy of both figures is their doctrine of perpetual flux. Philosophers since the beginning of time have looked for something permanent, something meaningful in existence. Heraclitus, always the contrarian, saw a world in which everything is consumed and destroyed, and found his permanence in the destruction itself. Change became equally an identity for Jimenez, jerseys swapped, potential continually in decay. Every day Jimenez grows older, becomes less of what he could have been. He may have spent his whole adult life stepping into a batter’s box, but he never stepped into the same one twice.

And yet he continues to step in. Maybe he’ll get one last shot, but it doesn’t matter. It’s enough that he’s around, still fighting, still failing. I just hope that when I fail, I can do it with as much resiliency as D’Angelo Jimenez.