Here comes Knight and the Mets win it

“When I was coming here from New York City, it was real cold. But it’s still summer here.” – Regina Spektor, introducing ‘Summer in the City’.

Tomorrow it will be August.

There’s still lots of summer left, of course. August and September and October and even parts of November are lovely in this part of the world. Dry, warm, calm. But they’re not summer. It’s getting dark earlier and earlier already. The other morning I was up at 6am and the sun hadn’t even come over the horizon yet. Fall is still around several corners, but it’s in the air.

Summers always pass us by these days, like water through our hands. It is early June and it’s light out until 10 p.m. and then you blink and it’s August and there’s a chill in the early twilight. And you can’t help but wonder: where did summer go? Where do all the summers go?

I think this is because the summers of adulthood cannot compare with the summers of our youth, when days and months stretched on forever, and the skies were always blue, and there were lightning bugs and ice cream and it felt like fall was a million years away.

One such summer that stands out above all of the others is the summer of 1986. We were living in upstate New York in a little suburb with a downtown near the Erie canal. There were bike rides and forts in the woods behind the house and sunsets that seemed to last forever. The sun was so bright all summer that it almost hurts to think about. “A time of innocence” is a line from an otherwise very sad song, but it works here like no other.

Every day that summer I would play a game of baseball with one of the older kids in the neighborhood, Mark. Mark was special. He could do long division in his head. Everything he said made you laugh. A big mop of black hair underneath a blue Mets cap. It would be just the two of us, with ghost runners and a whiffle ball. Mark would always be the Mets, and I would be some other random Major League Baseball team. Mark won every single time, but I didn’t care, and he didn’t care. It was summer and we were young and there was baseball, always baseball.

Mark loved the Mets. That young, swashbuckling bunch of hard partying outsiders. Gooden, Strawberry, Dykstra. They were one helluva baseball team that year.

In August a “for-sale” sign went up in our yard. Mark and I never talked about it. We just played baseball. Talked about baseball. In September a truck pulled up and movers loaded up our things and we were gone. Mark and I never saw each other again, though a week has not gone by where I don’t think about the lifelong friendship that might have been.

That same October the Mets won the World Series. A year later we moved again. A year after that my dad died. And that was that. I never got a summer again.

In their review of the new Taylor Swift record, Pitchfork talks about how Swift knows she’s had better summers than this one, that we all have, but that she, like all of us, has a hope that better summers are still yet to come. I don’t think that’s true. I think our best summers have passed us by, they exist in the ether of the long past, of childhood and loss. We won’t get those summers back.

Yes, this summer is different, harder, sadder. But virus or no virus, it wouldn’t be the summer we had hoped for, the kind of a summer we remember.

Summer in England in 1986 brought a County Championship won by Essex again. And tours from New Zealand (two ODIs and three Tests) and India (same). England lost both Test series. There were no Twenty20s, fewer helmets, it was a different game almost, nearly unrecognizable to what see out there today.

No matter what, we weren’t going to see a summer like that again this summer.

But. The thing is. This summer is somehow, in so many ways, more like the summers of our youth, summers gone by. The only international cricket in England is Test cricket. There’s no T20 tournaments or rock music and there definitely isn’t The Hundred. And we are all a little bored, and the days go on forever, and the sun is out, and all there really is to do is ride our bikes around, and think about a future yet to be fully formed, but which we hope will be better. In that way, this summer is a bit of a gift, a reminder of those long gone summers of youth.

While it is important to see a silver lining in all this, it’s not worth it. It’s not worth the dead, the sick. And it never will be. So in that regard it’s just another summer of adulthood, full of worry, and the constant reminder that we will never have more than we have right now, as far as the people around us are concerned. All the comes next is loss.

But the past is important for one reason: we can’t change it. It is real, it is concrete, for good or for bad, that’s the reality of the times that have gone by. We will always have those unbroken summers of youth, those can’t be taken away from us. It can be impossible for our summers now to live up to those of our past, and that can create disappointment, disillusionment, but it doesn’t have to. Instead, we can take comfort in that while this summer has been awful, and our future summers will never eclipse that one summer when we were 11 years old and the whole world was alive with cicadas and baseball, at least we had that summer, at least we remember that summer, and nothing can take that away from us.

Life is change, and loss, and an emptying, but that is only because it started so full, for a time, at least for me. I watched the Mets win the 1986 World Series in the front room of my grandparents’ house in Pomeroy, Ohio. I thought of Mark, and that perfect — oh, just perfect — summer, and I always do now.

“Here comes Knight and the Mets win it,” was from game six, of course, but it’s the moment that stands out among all the rest. And even though it was deep into the fall, and you could see Roger Clemens’ breath has he prayed in the dugout, to me it was summer.

It might be cold out, but in 1986, it’s still summer, and it always will be.

New York Mets on Twitter: "Happy birthday to 1986 World Series MVP ...

 

On Stuart Broad: when the world was young

Most of the great cricketers that were active and in their prime when I first came across the game in 2007 have long since retired. Gilchrist, Tendulkar, Pietersen, Flintoff, Amla

Those that are still playing are long in the tooth and a little over the hill. They are paunched and their beards are graying and even though they are years younger than I am, they look already old, already fading away. It’s a stark reminder of time’s passing, the relentless march all of us are on toward old age, and all that comes with it. I am not young enough to call the men I watched play cricket 13 years ago heroes, that would be a misuse of the word, but if I were a child, that’s the term I would use, and we have all experienced the melancholic ache of watching once proud heroes disappear into the ether of old age.

When Stuart Broad was dropped before the first test against the West Indies, I thought he would join that sad parade of aging stars. People who just couldn’t play the way they used to, who had to fight for their spot in the starting XI, flailing like a raging Lear against time itself, doing all they can to push the sun back into the sky.

The difference with Broad of course is that he hasn’t seemed to have aged a day. He is still the lanky, blonde, baby faced kid we all watched come up through the system over a decade ago. When, say, Ponting was nearing the end of his career, he looked the part. But Broad didn’t. Neither did Cook. It just adds to the jarring nature of the passage of time. Like the old saying goes, a 50 year old is just a 30 year old who went to bed one night. One can be toiling along without a care, and along will come age and with it the whiplash message that you are old, that we are all old, that the world is no longer young, and that we have moved on along with it.

But we were wrong.

Broad isn’t over the hill. He isn’t used up, tapped out or a has been. He is a very much right now.

Over the course of the five days in Manchester, as we all know, he batted and bowled like it was 2013 all over again. Shaving seven years off like they were nothing, battling against time and, somehow, winning.

In that victory, we can all find hope. We can all be reminded that it’s never too late, that we all have not just one race left to run, but many races, and we are in with a shout at even winning a few of them.

Life is short, but it also very, very long. And because of that it can seem like life has passed us by long before it actually has. We are in the fight a lot longer than we think we are. Time is opportunity, time is chance, time is room for magic, and we have ample amounts of it. We can feel old, broken down, left for dead, but that doesn’t mean we are.

We are never guaranteed a tomorrow. But it’s still a pretty safe bet for most of us, and even if it’s not we can act like it is. And with that tomorrow comes hope. Comes the space to be better, be more. We have all watched our heroes burn out or fade away, but that’s not how it actually works. Even after the spotlight goes out, long after it does even, life carries on, and in that carrying comes joy. In Manchester over these last few days, Stuart Broad showed us a sliver of that hope, that while all of us have numbered days, those numbers stretch long into the future, and as long as we are still breathing, we can still fight. And still smile. And still win.

Stuart Broad took his first Test wicket in December of 2007. He was 21 years old. Life stretched out before him like an endless horizon. He was young, we were young, the whole world was young, Today in Manchester he took his 500th and 501st Test wickets. He is 34 and until five days ago it felt he was old, that we were all old. But today he feels forever young, in his prime, and somehow so does the whole world.

Manchester show reveals why transformed Stuart Broad is far from ...

 

Your first rainstorm

There are a few things in life that I don’t take for granted. Or at least do my damnedest not to. A sunny, warm, pleasant Saturday, for instance. Or how lucky I am to be employed and healthy in these weird, frightening times. Or the fact that I am close with my family.

Included on that list is how fortunate I was to discover cricket as an adult.

The vast majority of us don’t have origin stories for our passions. Those of you reading this probably bonded with cricket as young people. It has been a part of your life for as long as you can remember. This is true for my other, non-cricket related passions. Books. Travel. Art. Baseball. Soccer. Bicycles. All things that have always existed in my life, in one form or another, since I was very young. But not cricket. Cricket came late. I was 31 years old. I have an origin story for my love for the game. And that is a gift.

Whenever I watch cricket, I think back on when I first started watching it. It just wasn’t that long ago. The blink of an eye. It feels like yesterday, so close that I can reach out and touch it. I can’t describe this feeling, this remembering, other than to say it is like a warm feeling in my gut, like someone just gave me a bit of really good news.

In 2007, when I was watching the world cup, even a brief mention of the game, much less a picture of a cricketer or video highlights of a long forgotten ODI, would bring this feeling to me. I was high on the game. That, I guess, is the only real way to paint this picture. I was rolling drunk on cricket.

Now, that feeling is more or less gone, except as a memory of that feeling, which is still a feeling. I am watching the West Indies and England play rather dire, rather boring, rather eventless cricket in an empty stadium on a cloudy Sunday in northern England, and the feeling is still there, or as mentioned the memory of that feeling, and the good news is whispered into my ear, and with it the gentle elation that comes with it. These days, I can understand the whisper, it’s not the subtle suggestion of good news, but the good news itself, spelled out and clear: holy cow I love this game.

The fact that I don’t have that feeling for any other of my every day passions, at least not so consistently, so powerfully, tells me that that’s because I came across the game so late in life, during a very impressionable time, when I was open and ready for anything new and different. But it’s also more than that. Discovering the game late in life I think gives me a different impression of it. I have no childhood memories of the sport, all the memories exist almost in real time, as an aware, breathing adult. And what I mean here are the powerful memories, the ones that stick to your guts. You might have such a memory of playing cricket in the backyard with your dad when you were 11 and it was one of those summers that seemed to stretch on forever. I don’t have those. But I do have similarly powerful memories of my first experiences with cricket that define moments in my adult life: dead dogs, divorces, quiet moments when everything was okay, if just for while, moments that have somehow seemed so rare throughout my 40+ years.

Take the power of that memory from your youth, and place it in the context of being 37 and feeling like life is passing you by. That’s what I have.

It’s a gift. It’s a gift I don’t take for granted.

*

I had a difficult childhood. We moved around a lot. My dad died suddenly. There are good memories, of course, happy memories, before all of the hard stuff came around, but they feel lost in the fog of a demolished timeline.

Cricket, therefore, in a way, gave me a second childhood. A time when everything felt new, even if by everything I mean this silly old bat and ball sport. I was able to experience something in the way a child would. Not through the eyes of a child, like parents are able to do, that’s a different but also powerful gift, but not quite the same here. I saw cricket not through anyone’s eyes but my own, they were opened to a new world, and time slowed down, and I took it all in, like it was my first rainstorm, or my first Christmas, or like it was one of those summers of youth, when the days stretched on and on and on, and the sky was always blue, and the minutes inched along to the tune of the birds and frogs and crickets. Everything was so new that time, almost, somehow, would stop altogether.

But I wasn’t a child. I was an adult. An adult with hard days and long days and sleepless nights. An adult experiencing loss and regret. I was — and am — soaking up cricket matches the way a child does, but doing so with adult pain, adult worry, adult joy. And that’s how I see the game so differently, I think, why I put so much emotion and melancholy into each ball bowled, because each ball bowled is still momentous, still new, still special, that it allows me to assign meaning to every single one, and to place that meaning into context, and then use that context to remember all the time that has passed, all that has happened, during a five day Test match, during a Championship summer, during a World Cup, during a single, six delivery over.

There is room for magic in the spaces between things. And as those spaces lengthen, there is more room for that magic to grow and blossom. I watch every ball. And time slows, and the magic takes root, and whispers into my ear.

 

You’re finally here and I’m a mess

England won the World Cup one year ago today.

To say that a lot has changed since is of course a profound understatement.

In the year that has passed, more than 500,000 people all over the world have died from COVID-19, most of them in the last six months. 500,000. Enough to fill Lord’s Cricket Ground 16 times over. Many more millions have gotten sick. And we all to a person have made sacrifices because of the global lockdown put in place to stem the tide of the disease.

Looking back. We all seem so innocent now. We were babes in the woods. The virus was percolating and waiting in the tall grass and we went about our lives like the world was going to just keep spinning forever.

And all that we took for granted just on that one day alone. Strangers hugging strangers. A sold out sports arena. Packed bars and restaurants and living rooms. All those things that we never thought would go away were, in a matter of weeks, gone. And at this point, there is no telling when they will come back.

But, at the same time, we really didn’t take it for granted.

We were treated to one helluva cricket match. There was nothing forgettable about that game. It was a rollicking, back and forth barn burner. Momentum swung probably a dozen different times over the course of the day. And it was a perfect day in London. And the home team won by the sparest of margins, there in the long shadows in one of cricket’s oldest grounds.

Because of that, because we were treated to such a gem of a final, we all remember where we were. We all remember the feeling of those packed bars and restaurants where we watched the game. And we all drank in the packed terraces at Lord’s. They are memories not of just another day, or just another cricket match, but of something very special. And so we take them with us now in these darker times.

There are memories that stick out in our lifetimes. Memories that we can reach out and touch. I was watching highlights of the final earlier today and I realized that that game of cricket is one such memory. A July day out in Minneapolis, sunshine and beer. Laughter and joy in an otherwise hard time.

Life can be an endless sea of days, all bleeding into one. It’s rare when we are able to stop and appreciate one single day, and for that day to sit up and get our attention over all of the other days. And so often those days involve a memorable sporting event. Many people will find that sad, of course, or a little silly, but I don’t care if it’s a cricket game or your kid being born, if the day stands out, if you remember the sights and the sounds and the feelings, then that is all that matters. Especially now as we stare down months where similar memories are not possible.

And the game, the final, therefore, as it is memorable, a memory, marks a moment in time, and says to us: a year has passed, remember where you were? What you did? One year ago? That’s how long a year is, or can be, or can seem like.

And so much can change in a year. The months since the bails were knocked off at Lords have taught us that in spades, a relentless hammering home of how quickly our lives can slip on black ice and spin out of control. Not just our lives, but the lives of every single person on earth, whether they were touched by the virus or not. We think back on the Cricket World Cup final and we know how long a year is, because we can reach out and touch the memories of that day, something that maybe sports fans are not able to do with any of their days over the last year. And in that touching, that remembering, we know of all that change. But while it is easy to lose yourself into a tailspin of remembering of all that is lost, it also a chance to turn it around, to reframe it, to think of all that change in the year that is come, when July 2021 happens. Yes, of course, things could get worse, but 12 months, a year, can bring so much good, so much change for the better. Just one year and this could be over. Just a year.

Think about where you were when those bails were knocked off. Remember that feeling. Think about how long ago that was, but also think about how it was just yesterday, and then remember all that changed, and all that will change again when we were are looking back two years from now, or four years, or a decade. Right now, no one knows, but in the time that is to come, there is possibility, there is potential, there is hope.

I can’t believe it’s been a year already. I can’t believe it’s only been a year. Those are two opposite statements, but both are true. A year ago we were hugging strangers in bars, today that is the furthest thing from our minds, and so where will be a year from now? Count of up the days, feel the time since that final, and think of all that could be better using the same amount of hours and minutes.

A World Cup final, a chance to mark time, to create a memory we can touch, to help us learn the enormity of one single year, and how in the blink of the same eye there can exist an eternity.

A memorable match gives us a chance to reflect, and reflect we do, but also a chance to look ahead. Thank you, England; thank you, New Zealand; for giving us a day out in the sun to remember all we’ve lost, and remember that life is short, but also long, and in those remembrances exist only hope, as there’s no room for anything else.

It feels like a million years ago. It feels like yesterday. I am glad that both are true, and I am glad cricket is able to show me that.

England Defeat New Zealand to Win Dramatic 2019 Cricket World Cup ...

 

 

 

A reminder

And so cricket is back. After more than four months of no international cricket — the longest period without international cricket since World War 2 — England played the West Indies in Southampton. And, as if they wanted to remind their fans of what the normal, pre-COVID  world was like, England capitulated in both the first and second innings, losing yet another first Test match in a series.

That’s not to say that the West Indies didn’t deserve the victory. They mostly certainly did. They dug in and got the runs and wickets they needed, and while England were guilty of poor play at times, a great deal of that was down to the pressure put on them by the West Indies’ batters and bowlers. It was a great Test match, and I think one that we all sorely needed.

I will admit that I didn’t watch a great deal of it. Work is super busy and my mornings just kept getting away from me. But on Sunday I was able to belly up to Willow TV and take it all in. I had a coffee, and the match streaming on the big TV in the living room. It was sunny but cool outside, and the windows were open to the world. And the match quietly paced itself out in front of me, lulling me into perfect contentment. More than once I thought to myself: :”holy macaroni do I love this game.”

For the most part, I was able to nearly forget all about about the pandemic. Sure, the stands were empty, but cricket of all games probably suffers the least from the empty stadiums. I mean, we’ve all watched some great cricket matches in some very empty arenas. The one moment of incongruity was when a wicket was taken, and the only roar heard was that from the players on the field. There wasn’t a peep from the galleries. It was a stark reminder of the world we all now live in.

But other than that, it felt like old times. Times that a few weeks ago I thought were gone forever.

I have watched other sports in the last few weeks. Primarily soccer. But there is something a little more dystopian about that. Something about the juxtaposition of the piped in crowd noise against the empty stadium. It feels like watching a video game. And in soccer the stands are shown all the time, just because of the location of the cameras and the movement of the game. But in cricket, the stands are more or less never shown during the game play — especially in a Test match where sixes are more of a rare commodity.

Maybe I am being a bit over dramatic. But there was something yesterday in those few hours I was able to spend watching cricket that made me like everything was going to be okay. If there can something so almost unbearably normal in this oh-so-abnormal world, something so utterly familiar, something like a Test match, then maybe there really is another side to this. Where life goes on. And there are concerts and movies and full stadiums cheering wickets.

When I turned off the TV, the moment was gone. I put on my mask and packed hand sanitizer and biked to a friend’s house where we sat socially distanced in his back yard and watched Arsenal lose to Tottenham and, of course, talked about the pandemic: grocery shopping and politics and getting tested. It was nice to hang out, but it still felt so different.

And that seems to be the case with most with most everything else that’s coming back from the “before times:” to entertain and distract us. It all feels so dystopian. The empty soccer stadiums. The NBA and their bubble, where the talk is not about sports but about how the virus is raging in Florida. The restaurants with quickly converted patios and the servers in gloves and masks. The live streamed concerts in empty venues. All of it is fine, but none of it takes you far enough away from the virus to where things feel even slightly normal again.

But cricket was different. At least, yesterday was different. It felt normal. Virus-free. A relic from a recent past now long gone, but a relic without rust, that maintained its shine.

A few days ago I humbugged the idea of the importance of sport. That it needs to come back in order for our world to heal. A load of nonsense is what I thought of that. They are just games. If it’s not safe, then we shouldn’t do it. But after yesterday I am not entirely sure. The cricket and the breeze through the windows and the iced coffee and the drone of the commentators and the sound of the run up and the chatter of the fielders all felt so normal that I couldn’t help but be comforted by it. The virus never completely left my brain, of course, but the taste of normalcy gave me some hope that there is another side of this.

Right now, we don’t know what that other side will look like, nor when this will be over. It’s going to be months and months, and it’s going to be a slow unwinding with stops and starts and two steps forward and three steps back and that can be so distressing and upsetting, all that time and hardship yet to come. But yesterday I was reminded that, one day, this will end. And that while it will be different, it will still be the same, the world that we used to know. It was a comfort that so far nothing else in this big broken world has been able to provide me.

I don’t think this means that we should have sports at all costs, but maybe it is a reminder of the importance of even a hint of normalcy. We should not pretend that nothing is wrong, we need to stay vigilant, but we also need to remember the rewards of the maintained vigilance: cricket, on a Sunday morning, with the windows open, and the crowd rising as one in celebration of a wicket well earned.

‘To the sounds of cricket bows’

In three days time, there will be international cricket again.

A few weeks ago, I wrote that it seemed almost a sure thing that something would cause the administrators to cancel the match, or even the series. But England is marching on, despite all the health warnings to the contrary, and unless it has been kept a deep, dark secret, no players or coaches or staff have tested positive for COVID from either side. In fact, there is little talk of the virus at all in the build up to the games. The talk on the back pages is mostly squad selection and the like. No mention of the lockdown, or the virus that has killed nearly 45,000 people in the United Kingdom.

(For comparison’ sake, the Rose Bowl which will host the first Test has a capacity of 15,000. So the number deaths is equivalent to a packed Rose Bowl three times over. Chilling.)

No matter what the toll, though, the band is playing on, and it looks like we will have meaningful cricket again come Wednesday. Meaningful cricket, but cricket played under the most extraordinary circumstances. A global pandemic that has sickened 11 million and killed over 500,000. (Everyone single of those numbers represents a person with a family, please bear that mind before tweeting any “the virus is a hoax” nonsense.) And on top of the pandemic there is the worst economic catastrophe since the Great Depression. And on top of that, a worldwide call for racial justice, with protests erupting in nearly ever corner of the globe following the murder of George Floyd not 15 minutes from my house.

But. This will be the 285th Test match between England and The West Indies, dating all the way back to 1928. And so the two teams have played each other under extraordinary circumstances before. Maybe not quite as extraordinary, but it would be hubris to say that our times were the only interesting times.

They played 14 times in the 1930s, for instance. When the Great Depression was raging all over the world. Included in those 14 games was a match in Kingston in 1933, just seven months after the 1932 Bahamas hurricane, one of only a handful of category five storms to hit the region. And those 14 included a match at the Oval in August of 1939, the last England cricket match before the second World War, just a year and a month before the Blitz would begin.

And then the two teams wouldn’t play each other again until January of 1948 in Bridgetown. Nearly a decade. If that is not an extraordinary circumstance, I don’t know what is. The two teams meeting again on that little island after years of war and death and darkness. What does that look like? Probably about the same as it looked before the war, maybe just a little quieter, a little sadder, a little more melancholy, but also tinged with relief, a relief that the cricket is back. And then when the game started, I bet the war was all but forgotten, at least for a moment or two. Which is of course what we all hope will happen next week in Southampton.

Even after that catastrophic event in global history, the two teams met under cirucmstances far from ordinary. There was the wave of independence in the Carribean following the War, as country after country freed itself from the bonds of English imperialism. Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago in 1962. The Bahamas in 1966. Grenada in 1974. Dominica in 1976. St. Lucia and St. Vincent in 1979. Antigua & Barbuda in 1981. St. Kitts & Nevis in 1983. The West Indies and England played 40+ Test matches over the course of those years of independence, and surely there was at least a hint of difference and change and shadow cast over the grounds as the games were played.

The two teams have been playing Test cricket against each other for nearly a century. A century that has seen monumental amounts change. The enormity of that change is impossible to quantify. To say the world was different in 1928 than it is now is one of the most profound understatements one could make. The two worlds are unrecognizable to each other. So much has happened in the last 92 years that 1928 feels like it must have happened on another planet. A World War. Independence. Revolutions. Hurricanes. Famine. Freedom. To put it in some sort of perspective, the West Indian cricketers that day in 1928 at Lord’s were only 94 years removed from the end of slavery in their home nations, which is only two years longer than we in 2020 are removed from that Test match.

All of this is to say that these two teams have always, in one way or another, played under extraordinary circumstances. In 1928, West Indian cricketers had great-grandparents who were slaves. In 2020, a pandemic is burning through the world. Nothing has changed, everything has changed. But there is still cricket. And the first ball on Wednesday will be bizarre, sad and melancholy. After an over or two, though, as the game settles into itself, we will forget about how the world is on fire, and we will only know the cricket. And I think that is just fine. Cricket has proven itself over and over since 1877 that it is a survivor, that it soldiers on, that it has known extraordinary circumstances, and ordinary circumstances, and it is still here, still entertaining, still making us forget about life, if just for a while.

I am not a huge believer in the “IMPORTANCE OF SPORT” that you have probably read in articles over the last few months. That sport needs to come back to heal our nations, our societies. I think it would have been okay to wait until next year, and that would have been safer and fine. There was no reason to rush it back. We will heal with or without these little games. What sport does do, however, is show our resliliency, our ability to adapt to new conditions, and just do what we’ve always done. And games like cricket — with long, international histories — are better than other games at doing so. Time is vast and wide, and cricket has seen so much of it, and yet it continues, and looks more or less the same.

1928 and 2020 are worlds apart. But they both saw England play the West Indies in a few games of cricket. No amount of extraordinary shifting change can take that away from us. And it’s a reminder that everything will, probably, be okay.