on perspective

what a shame; what a pity.

i would like to thank the many fans of various teams who posted their condolences here yesterday. i'm betting that most of them didn't have much of a connection to josh hancock --- had rarely if ever seen him pitch, didn't know a whole lot about him. many of them identified themselves as fans of rival teams in the nl central, so presumably they have no particular love for the cardinals. but those people were touched by yesterday's news and genuinely shared our sadness; they posted their thoughts here out of concern for their fellow fan, a sense that there's some universal connection that binds us.

it's obligatory when something like this happens to say that death puts it all into perspective --- it reminds us how little the games, the winning and losing, really matter. true, as far as it goes. but it's also true that being a fan is largely about abandoning perspective. this is a willful, deliberate choice; we know going in that the attention, money, and emotional energy we commit to baseball is way out of proportion to the game's true affect on our lives. yet we make the investment anyway because it's in human nature to do so. people need symbols and rituals, we need tribes to belong to, we need to feel occasionally like we're part of a heroic struggle; our teams and our games provide a largely harmless outlet for those impulses.

if we truly wanted perspective, we would acknowledge that people of josh hancock's age, or even younger, die every single day. they get shot in iraq or murdered in drive-bys in our very own communities. they're struck down by drunk drivers, killed in industrial accidents; they die of cancer or heart failure; they commit suicide. each of those passings means the same thing as the one we are mourning today --- potential lost, loved ones bereaved. but they rarely give us pause; they rarely stop us in our tracks and make us ask ourselves, "how am i ever gonna care about this silly game again?" quite the contrary, we'll segue directly from nightly news footage of bodies in the streets to the first inning of the cardinals' game --- and we'll do it without missing a beat. too bad about those people who were bombed in southern wherever, but goddammit is reyes ever gonna get out of the first without giving up 3 runs???

that's in human nature, too. you can't feel the weight of every life lost in the world, in the country, in your town; you couldn't function if you did. that's another reason we abandon perspective so enthusiastically --- for the sake of our sanity. all of us, baseball fans and non-fans alike, attribute great significance to endeavors that we know are truly insignificant. but every once in a while, we don't have the luxury. as cardinal fans, we feel like we knew josh hancock; we feel like we know his teammates and friends. the loss is a personal one; it's not an abstraction. hence the jarring intrusion of perspective into a realm of our lives where, very consciously, we are trying to give perspective the slip.

i'm going to try to remember these things when i think about josh hancock. i'm going to try to remember that perspective is always there to be had --- not just when a ballplayer dies or when some other tragedy strikes. i'm gonna try to remember that the same universal connection which moved fans from across the baseball world to express their sadness here yesterday, binds me to every person everywhere who is stung by sadness.

derrick goold has remembrances of hancock at Bird Land.

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