Micro Essay: Baseball and the Art of the Possible

If Tim Parks, author of A Season with Verona (i.e. a real book that real people can really read) is to be believed, the fans of Italian football club Hellas Verona frequently chant — when they’re not making moderately to very racist remarks — frequently chant the words “facci sognare,” an Italian expression meaning “make us dream.”

It’s likely that readers of NotGraphs and FanGraphs, etc., follow baseball for a number of reasons. For the present author, however, it’s the sport’s capacity to facilitate dreaming that is its greatest strength. Offseason projections, prospect analysis, every Max Scherzer start: each is an exercise in the art of the possible. And each, I think, gestures at a version of a future that is perfect.

This, of course, is the problem with the present (and certainly with the past): there’s no opportunity for perfection in it. And even if there were — and I’d suggest, for example, that the Red Sox’ four consecutive victories over the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS at least approaches the perfect in sport — that perfection is always behind us, suggesting that the only direction in which one might proceed is downhill from these otherwise high heights.

What is happening and what has happened is necessarily tainted by the banality of fact. Reality is fascist in this way: it allows for only one possible outcome, when the prospect of many potential outcomes is in itself the pleasure of dreaming.

For this reason, I’ve always considered Wallace Stevens’ dilemma regarding blackbirds to be a false one. Stevens writes: “I do not know which to prefer, / The beauty of inflections / Or the beauty of innuendoes, / The blackbird whistling / Or just after.” In fact, the beauty he should prefer — or, at least, that I prefer — is the moment before the blackbird whistles. It could sound like anything, one imagines.




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Carson Cistulli occasionally publishes spirited ejaculations at The New Enthusiast.


7 Responses to “Micro Essay: Baseball and the Art of the Possible”

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  1. Well-Beered Englishman says:

    The moment before the blackbird whistles: yes. Like the words of Roger Ebert: the most romantic possible moment is not the kiss, but the moment before the kiss, when you are unsure whether or not you are about to be kissed.

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  2. Kyle says:

    Wonderful and very well articulated.

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  3. Illinois glass M. Michael Sheets says:

    I enjoyed reading this, lustily. But I take a different view. I think that the moment before the kiss is only romantic because of what is known from many kisses (whether experienced or the idea impressed upon me by others). I am not excited when I type in “wikipipedia.org” into my browser because I know that a puzzle globe with an empty search box is awaiting me; however, I do get excited after I plug in “fangraphs.com/not” becuase there is always a chance that Hunter Pence photoshopped into a weird ad is going to pop up. I do not attribute this excitement to the moment before hitting enter in my browser, but rather to all the prior visits I’ve had to NotGraphs. The moment before the adcert on the side finally loads isn’t the best part becuase it’s the best part, that moment is made possible by all previous moments. The moment before the kiss is the RBI king of romance.

    Also, I don’t like to think about the past as fact and only one possible outcome. To think that this is the only possible way the universe (or however you describe “your world”) could have turned out just doesn’t do it for me. Even after a game, I find it just as fun and exciting to discuss and think about what could have happened if only “such and such” occurred.

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  4. Greg W says:

    There are two moments in baseball that are possibiliy unrealized. When the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand, and when the ball is struck by the bat.

    As evidenced by the existence of pitches so high (and so far in front of the plate) they cannot be caught, and balls struck 3 times by the same bat, anything can happen. Baseball is wondrous to me because there is no way to avoid these moments of the unknown. Unlike a timed sport, you must dive back down the well of uncertainty and anticipation in order to complete the game.

    It is relentless in its demand for completion, without being demanding about the time required. Life has very few activities from which we can view cause and effect, without the constant encroachment of the clock.

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  5. Stevens has his blackbirds; Cistulli, his Blackmons.

    I’d like to offer a gentle rebuttal, but there’s no time tonight. I’ll have to wait until Tuesday.

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