Our bodies betray us.
Let’s say you’re a professional baseball player. You’ve been given tremendous physical gifts that allow you to play the game. Your muscles, tendons, nerves, eye sight . . . All of it coming together to create a ballplayer. A team puts a uniform on you, and suddenly you’re a sight to see. Like an ancient Greek, you represent the highest achievement in human athleticism.
(Note: I realize not every baseball player represents a Platonic ideal of human anatomy. Babe Ruth was not chiseled from marble. Just work with me, okay?)
Then, something breaks down. The machinery of flesh stops performing at an elite level. Often times, catastrophic results occur after fairly routine behaviors. Or, worse yet, for no reason at all. The ballplayer comes down to earth with the mortals.
Byron Buxton has been held back by the limitations of his body for years. For a variety of random reasons, his body has betrayed him. He’s already scared us once this year, but so far our hopes for a strong, healthy hero seem to be holding up.
This is good, because the sky is falling over Twins Territory. Ober’s on the IL and Gray might be coming off of it. Garlick and Sano dropped in to spend some time there. Correa’s got a bad finger, but we may be okay there. On top of that, the COVID virus has descended onto the team, taking away our coach and two players. For now, at least.
We’re uncomfortable being reminded of the flesh and its random, cruel power. Just look at the ways we discuss Buxton and Sano. Before his contract, people said Buxton was “owwie-prone” or caught the “injury bug.” They were trying to make bad luck quantifiable. We love our ballplayers so much that we’d rather believe in the supernatural elements of personified luck than let that cold, sinking feeling of despair at the randomness of chance into our hearts.
For Sano, the conversation always comes down to his size. It’s hard to read anything about him without the word “big” finding its way in. I think I’ve even seen “hulking” a few times. This is more than just an act of description; this is evidence of mythologizing. How can someone so huge fail to crush the ball? This feeds the despair fans feel when he’s not hitting. Maybe it’s part of the reason he gets more grief than other Twins players.
In short, everything in baseball rides on a very fallible collection of bones and flesh performing tasks routinely, over and over, without falling into a state of disrepair. Try as we might, we can’t will them into being superhuman. At the same time, I doubt we can will ourselves to stop romanticizing them, either. We’re stuck in between the reality of frailty and the promise of superhumanity.