You Never Know

Anything can happen, even Micah Owings playing the role of hero. (via Elise Lotz & Howell Media Solutions)

Anything can happen, even Micah Owings playing the role of hero. (via Elise Lotz & Howell Media Solutions)

Somewhere, everything that can happen, does happen.

It’s an idea from theoretical physics that I’ve been fascinated by for years. That there are countless universes and countless copies of you out there somewhere and that things are different in each place. Sometimes only a little different, but sometimes more different than you could ever imagine.

It’s such a strange idea to think of, but really not so different from the “anything can happen” sports cliché. It’s just that we don’t often think about how limitless the words anything and everything are.

On that note, I want to take you back to May 10, 2009. Cardinals vs. Reds. There is no reason for virtually anyone reading this article to remember that game. I recall it for a few reasons. Most obviously, I remember it because I was there. In a few weeks, I would be a father, and this was our last getaway before parenthood set in. But also, in many ways, this game contained the high point of the season for the Reds. It was also a game they lost. I realize those statements are contradictory, but stick with me.

The 2009 Reds were destined for mediocrity—at least in this universe. But on May 10, they stood a game and a half back, having beaten the first-place Cardinals two days in a row. A win that day, and you might as well call it a tie for first place. Half a game entering mid-May is meaningless, after all. (Yes, I know, lots of baseball things are meaningless in mid-May.)

I remember the first part of that season as one of those you watch thinking, “Hey, they might have something.” The Reds won games they were supposed to lose. They seemed to recover from losses well. It was a young team. We were all just figuring out how good Joey Votto could be.

It was an exciting game that day. The Cardinals got a run in the first, but the Reds tied it in the second. It wasn’t exactly a back-and-forth struggle, as the Cardinals never trailed, but the Reds always responded. Then we came to the bottom of the ninth. The Reds were down by two. Jerry Hairston, of all people, led off the ninth with a homer. Now they were down by one. Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce both made outs and then, because of the vaguries of a messy, high-scoring game, the pitcher’s spot in the lineup came up. And the bench was empty. Well, almost empty. The Reds had Micah Owings. A pitcher, certainly, but a pitcher who could hit. You may have forgotten him already, but he was the kind of pitcher people liked to imagine picking up starts in left field every now and then.

Still, two outs and the pitcher batting in the ninth. Not something you feel confident about as a fan.

He homered. Left field, just over the wall. Our seats were positioned perfectly to watch it. I can still close my eyes and see it slipping over the wall 400 feet or so in front of me.

It was proof of the idea that “anything can happen.” And that made it feel certain the Reds were going to win, and that it was going to be a good season. It had to be! The pitcher had just homered to tie the game against the first-place team in the bottom of the ninth. Come on!

But you already know the ending. I’ve already told you. They lost when the Cardinals scored a run in the tenth.

Somewhere, of course, they didn’t. Somewhere, Cincinnati pulled it out. And somewhere it kept going. Somewhere, the Reds won the pennant. Just not here. But remember, somewhere, everything that can happen, does happen.

I’ve taken a long time to describe an inconsequential baseball game, but there’s a reason. Last year, I had a bad year. Probably the worst year of my life, and yet I can remember a moment like that game. A moment when I felt that yes, everything was going to turn out. And then it crumbled. I wasn’t the first person that’s happened to, and I won’t be the last. Most of us see a year like that at some point—not that this makes it any easier. And yes, of course, in hindsight, I understand what happened. Just like I understand why the 2009 Reds weren’t good.

But you know what? I look at that roster, and I see why the Reds were about to be good. I see how they were only missing a few of the pieces that would make them a scary team to play for the next several years. They did have something. Even if none of us knew it yet. As for me, well, we’ll get to that.

The Pianist and Satchel Paige
A pianist finds inspiration in games from his childhood.

For now, I want to talk about dreams. Opening Day has a lot to do with dreams. One of my favorite lines in all of literature concerns dreams. It comes from the novel All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren: “If you believe the dream, you dream when you go there.”

I cannot tell you how much time I’ve spent turning that line over and over in my head since I first read it in college. Recently, I was thinking of it and found I couldn’t remember the context. It has been four or five years since I last re-read it, and so, I picked it up, found the line, and read the few pages that come before it. Here is the last bit, which is the part that concerns us:

For after the dream there is no reason why you should not go back and face the fact which you have fled from (even if the fact seems to be that you have, by digging up the truth about the past, handed over Anne Stanton to Willie Stark), for any place to which you may flee will not be like the place from which you have fled, and you might as well go back, after all, to the place where you belong, for nothing was your fault or anybody’s fault, for things are always as they are. And you can go back in good spirits, for you will have learned two very great truths. First, that you cannot lose what you have never had. Second, that you are never guilty of a crime which you did not commit. So there is innocence and a new start in the West after all.

If you believe the dream, you dream when you go there.

And, well, you see the line there at the end. And you see, perhaps, that it is a counterpoint to what comes before and to the idea we started with up there at the top of this essay. This idea that whenever there is uncertainty, we cannot be held responsible. Which is the same, really as the idea we’ve been talking about. That somewhere, everything that can happen, does happen.

But in All the King’s Men that is only part of “the dream.” And what feels more like the truth is that we are never fully innocent even as we may feel utterly helpless. That we do the best we can, and sometimes our best is not very good and sometimes, surprisingly, it is. And sometimes, scariest of all, what we do doesn’t matter. Could there be a better encapsulation of what it is to watch and play baseball?

And while it is true that you cannot lose what you never had, it is also true that so much time is spent not knowing what we have or for how long we may have it. And we call that not knowing uncertainty. And there is another word for uncertainty. That word is hope.

Hope is what you call it when the pitcher ties the game with a home run in the bottom of the ninth, and uncertainty is what you call it when your team loses in the tenth. But they are the same thing. It’s only the connotation that’s different.

It is Opening Day. And on Opening Day none of us know what we have. And so, the next time someone asks you how you think your favorite team is going to do this year, start your response with three words: “I don’t know.” And if you want to, put a little bounce at the end of it. “I don’t know, I think they might be pretty special,” or “I don’t know, they aren’t supposed to be good, but they’re young.” Because you never know. Sometimes your team is the A’s that year they won 20 games in a row and had a book written about them. Sometimes they’re last year’s Astros, and they grow up before anyone expected them to. This happens all the time. It happens to someone almost every year.

As for me? Well, last year was rough. A lot of things didn’t go as planned. And, yeah, there were clearly some problems with the plan in the first place. A lot of things have been changed around. And if you ask me how this year looks? What will I tell you? I’ll tell you I don’t know, but I think I might have something, and I’m going to do what I can with what I’ve got – even if it might not matter. I’ll tell you I don’t know, but it could be an alright year.

It’s Opening Day. Cheer for your team. Nudge them along as best you can. It might not matter, but you don’t know what you might have. You can call that uncertainty, or you can call it hope, but somewhere, everything that can happen, does happen.


Jason teaches high school English, writes fiction, runs a small writing program and writes about education and literature. He also writes for Redleg Nation and both writes and edits for The Hardball Times. Follow him on Twitter @JasonLinden, visit his website or email him here.
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Phillies113
Guest

This was fantastic, Jason. Thanks for this.

Ben
Guest

Jascon,

Beautiful piece on optimism and enjoying what’s to come. I look forward to reading more of your work