Just a Couple Things

Ezra Shaw

I had to have my cat put to sleep on Monday. I had had her since 2002, and the vet's best estimate at the time put her somewhere between two and five years old. It was her kidneys.

Today would have actually been her 'birthday'; the day the people at the Adopt-a-Stray designated for her, anyway. Every year on the second of July, I would go to White Castle, buy a cheeseburger with no onions (I know onions are bad for dogs, and I always sort of assumed they were probably unhealthy for cats as well), and take it home for her birthday meal. I tried one year to simply break the sandwich up and put it in the food bowl, but apparently that wasn't good enough. It had to be broken up and handed to her piece by piece; I suppose it was as much the feeling of sharing whatever I was having as it was the food itself, though it was clear that White Castle was, in fact, her favourite example of people food in the world.

I know I've written before, here and elsewhere, about the concept of baseball as a backdrop and baseball as a friend, a constant companion on the car radio for six months of the year. I've always been fascinated by the way people live their lives outside the big moments we all notice; the everyday routine we settle into when the things we think are the important things aren't happening. That fascination is probably a product of my own unhappy childhood, I think; I remember trying as a seven year old to puzzle out the dichotomy of big, exciting family outings where we all pretended to be thrilled, measured against the low-grade misery we all existed in the rest of the time. No matter how much we looked the part of the American dream on our trip to Silver Dollar City, or how much fun my brother and I might have had on whatever excursion my mom's current boyfriend was bribing us to distraction with, the rest of life was just so muddy and grey and awful.

Baseball has always been in my blood, but as I grew older it came to mean something else to me. It was something that was always just there, this constant metronome of Jack Buck on the radio, a boxscore to peruse, a seven o' clock date every night, kept faithfully no matter what. (Unless it rained, of course.) It was part of that life that wasn't what you thought life was.

I miss my cat. I've lived alone for a very long time now, and for fairly long stretches of that time my only real companionship has been of the feline variety. Walk through the door after work, and there she was, trotting out from the living room to greet me. Now I pull into my driveway and I can see the ring of limestone rocks I put over where I buried her in the yard, and there's a little part of me that feels like it's just gone. My other cat, the younger one, seems to have just begun realising that something is different, that she isn't just gone for a little while this time to the vet's office. I haven't yet had the heart to put up the second food bowl.

It's not a big thing, of course; it's tough to really have big moments with an animal, especially one who so often seems indifferent to your existence aside from the duties of tending to the litter box and the food bowl. But sitting on the sofa perusing Netflix or queuing up a video game with a cat resting her head and front paws on your thigh is exactly the sort of thing, like the voice of your childhood on the radio calling a nightly ritual, that serves as one of those small things which makes up all the really important time in life when you think nothing is really happening.

***************

I'm really too depressed this morning to put together a big, in-depth baseball post. I had planned on writing up a piece on the Dodgers' incredible streak last season after Yasiel Puig came up, because I heard again on the radio yesterday a question that has been asked before, and is really frankly infuriating. It was Chris Duncan and whoever Chris Duncan is on the radio with, asking if Oscar Taveras could have the same kind of impact this year Puig had last year. First off, it's a stupid question because, well, he clearly didn't. Puig came up and hit .450 right out of the gate; Oscar looked like he belonged, but still put up a sub-.200 batting average over a few dozen plate appearances. I'm not making judgments about Taveras as a player, of course, but I do think it's fair to say he didn't exactly go full Puig on the league immediately.

The bigger problem with the question, though, is that it's not really just a question about Oscar Taveras. Sure, part of it is about Oscar and how good he can be, but that question is also really a proxy for a bigger question, which is, "Can Oscar Taveras propel the Cardinals to the same kind of crazy run of success that Yasiel Puig did the Dodgers last year?"

The problem with that question, of course -- that completely unasked but completely there question -- is that Yasiel Puig didn't propel the Dodgers to anything last year. He came up from the minors, he played brilliantly. But the reason the Dodgers won 42 of 50 games or whatever ridiculous thing it was last year wasn't Puig. It was Hanley Ramirez putting up an all-time great offensive season, albeit in just over half a season's worth of games. It was Clayton Kershaw going all super saiyan on the league, and a chubby Korean import going all Fernandomania on everybody. If one wanted to ascribe all of that to Yasiel Puig, I suppose one could. One would be stupid for doing so, but one could still do it.

The point is this: Oscar Taveras might hit like Yasiel Puig the rest of the way this season. I would be really, really surprised, but he might. Without the supporting cast of the other Dodgers' sluggers -- none of whom are walking through that door for the Redbirds this year -- Puig wouldn't have done what Puig did, which answers that unasked but oh so important question about what Taveras might be able to accomplish in the big leagues the rest of the way.

By the way, would someone please get Chris Duncan off the radio? He's just awful. If someone captured a chimpanzee, shaved it, and taught it nothing but how to spout sports cliches in sign language, you would have exactly the same thing. Actually, it would probably be better, because at least with the chimp it would be quiet while making the people around it dumber.

****************

You know something else I've found both fascinating and incredibly irritating of late? The very weird conversations taking place on sports television about how the game of soccer needs to change to appeal to Americans. On Mike and Mike this morning, Greenberg was arguing about using the terminology for soccer, saying he refused to call it a pitch instead of a field or a match instead of a game, things like that. Which seems odd to me, of course; if we heard a British person referring to a fastball as a "quickie-pitch", wouldn't we first correct them and then laugh quietly to ourselves at the ridiculousness of them not using the lingo of the sport they were trying to discuss?

It's not the only discussion I've heard on the subject, of course; there seems to be this very strange attitude amongst media types at the moment, this sort of angry glee in proclaiming to whoever it is they think they're speaking to (and for), that soccer is just never going to catch on in this country, that it's cute to believe this World Cup makes a difference, and we'll all forget about it in a week or two. It's not the sentiment that's so vexing to me, mind you; it's the smug satisfaction in the voices of those saying it I find so puzzling. Maybe it's just people clinging on to the old ways against what seems to be a rising tide of popularity for a sport they don't care for, or maybe it's just good old-fashioned manufactured outrage, but no matter what the cause, I just can't understand why so many people seem so simultaneously angry and pompously gleeful when stating that thing lots of other people are enjoying is just never going to be anything, not really.

It reminds me, in a way, of all the conversations I constantly hear, again mostly in the sports media, about how much baseball needs to change. I happen to enjoy baseball; after all, you would assume a man who's spent so many hours of his life writing on the subject probably likes the game at least somewhat. But there's this very odd clamour for the game to change, to get shorter, to get quicker, to modify the rules, to alter the landscape, to become this other thing that really doesn't seem much like baseball at all in order to attain, or at least maintain, relevance, because there's obviously no way people could possibly enjoy this thing that so many people seem to be enjoying. I believe it was on the Effectively Wild podcast not too long ago that the BP guys had on some guest who wanted to change baseball around so that home runs counted for more when a team was behind. Before that, we had the nameless team official who wanted to make the games seven innings. What I find puzzling isn't the frankly bizarre rules changes proposed in so many of these scenarios; it's the fact that somewhere along the line someone stated the fact that baseball obviously needs to change, and it seems like an awful lot of people have picked up that ball and ran with it, without every asking the question which seems most germane to the discussion: Why?

**************

I'm sorry I don't have more in the way of real content for you today, folks. I'm not in the greatest of spirits to begin with, and I certainly don't feel like discussing last night's crapfest in any detail. The Cliffs Notes version of last night's game: Marco Gonzales isn't ready yet, Daniel Descalso really has no place on a major league roster, and Allen Craig still can't hit a ball in the air. Craig's GB rate for the season is 54.8%, up from 45% in 2013. That's a real problem.

I'll leave you with a pair of prospect-related videos to take your mind off the big club for the moment. First off, we have Rob Kaminsky, he of the 1.26 ERA this season in Peoria, who appeared on the club's pregame show broadcast back on Cinco de Mayo. He hasn't yet perfected his Crash Davis non-answers, which I have to admit is a welcome change from big leaguers in general.

Second, apparently the Cardinals may have drafted Napoleon Dynamite this year. I'm just saying.

I hope you all have a very nice Wednesday, and I really, really hope our favourite baseball team begins playing better ball soon. I have very little confidence they will, but I still hope they might find some way to surprise me.

I shall endeavour to return next week with something more uplifting and discussion worthy than a soccer team with no offense, a baseball team with even less offense, and a dead cat. Until then, take care, all.

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