Overlooking a bakery

It’s snowing in St. Paul this morning. I am sitting at my kitchen table, writing, and watching it drift down onto the parking lot outside my window. The skinny trees at the edge of the alley still have their leaves, their light covering of snow incongruous with their yellow-ish green. The world is wet, and droopy, and lovely, and perfect.

On the other side of the world, in Hyderabad, India, earlier today, Umesh took a ten-for and India beat the West Indies by 10 wickets in three days. It happened as I slept, as I dreamed. As the cold drifted in through my leaky storm windows and I felt its chill settle in the room around me. In Hyderabad it was 90 some degrees with humidity and no breeze. The opposite of this 40 degrees with damp snow. Here, there is no cricket, only wet streets and grumpy midwesterners. Here, cricket doesn’t even exist. It’s like we are on separate worlds, but we’re not, we’re on the same planet, together, linked, hurtling through space.

Umesh’s ten-for reminded me of a post from the Old Batsman:

Simon did it. The last two, from memory, were bowled. We surrounded him. We had Junaid Khan smiles. He was a lovely guy, always great to play with. He deserved it. It had taken maybe an hour and a half. They’d only made 60-odd and we knocked them off quickly, on the ground surrounded by trees, underneath the perfect sky.

It’s a melancholic feeling, thinking about it now. I wonder what happened to Simon, and to everyone that played that day. Have they had good lives since then? I hope so. Nothing ties us except that game, but I doubt that anyone who played has forgotten it. All ten. Not bad. Well done, mate.

And so when I pulled up Cricinfo this morning, I didn’t think of India or Umesh or 10 straight home series wins, I thought of the Old Batsman, and Simon, and I wondered too where he was, where they all were. And I thought about life and the places it takes us, and the changes it brings, sometimes without us even knowing that the change was happening. We are always drifting away from a past, always moving away not just from places but from people, things, dogs, books, comfort, homes.

Today I am writing this on West 7th in St. Paul. Earlier this year I was somewhere else. There’s been so much change. Life has taken me not to the other side of the world where the world is baking in high hazy sun, where cricket exists, but still to a place so alien, so new,  so different than all that I am accustomed to. And there’s a life that I had that is now gone, and in that life were people, and I am drifting away from them, and they from me. Some of them were Simons, small heroes that I loved, that I will think about now and again, and I will wonder how they are doing, where they are, whether they still think of me, of a memory of a day we shared.

That post quoted above is from February of 2012. Six and a half years ago. If May seems alien to me now, than February of 2012 feels like another plane of existence entirely. I was writing about cricket a lot then. Almost every day I would post something here. But then I drifted away. But cricket kept going, and the Old Batsman kept writing, though maybe not as much as he used to. I drifted away, but then I came back. It wasn’t the same, but it was still familiar. We hold on to these old houses that we used to call home, we keep them in our hearts, maintain them, keep them up, go back now and again and fix peeling paint and weed overgrown gardens, so that someday, if we want, we can go back, move back in, accept that they’re different, that we’re different, but also familiar.

And then we are reminded that the houses inside us are just that, inside us. We build them, we hold them close, we carry them with us, we can raze them if we want. They are moveable feasts. I can write about cricket and read the Old Batsman at this kitchen table that looks out over a parking lot, or at my old kitchen table that looked out over a half acre of green. You can’t go home again but you can go home anytime want. Sometimes all it takes is an Umesh ten-for to bring you there, to remind you of the way.

A few years ago I wrote a post about how important the smallest of things are — in life, and in cricket. Those small things are not always small, or are different sizes for different people. Umesh’s ten-for was massive for him, but small for me. But did he know just how massive it was? That it rippled across oceans to St. Paul, Minnesota, to a little apartment above a Home Health Care business overlooking a bakery where someone was sleeping, dreaming, and would soon wake and read about it and spiral back through time to someone else’s moment, to the Old Batsman, to Simon. What we do matters, what we do is a wave across the world.

Three days ago I was struggling. Then I found records that I didn’t know I still had. That I thought were gone from my life forever. And a switch flipped. And I felt better. Six years ago the Old Batsman thought of Simon and a day decades in the past. And he felt not better but maybe less alone. And he wrote about it. Today on the other side of this giant world Umeshkumar Tilak Yadav took his 10th wicket and together we spiraled down into a chasm of memory. Years and decades like cliff walls hidden in the black, the rush of air drying our tears, the ground forever away.

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Emotional Rescue

I play on an adult rec-league soccer team. It’s a pub league without the pub. I have played on the same team for 10 years, every May through October. We play soccer, then we drink beer and stand around. It’s the perfect way to close out a weekend. These days, we win or draw just about as many games as we lose, more or less. But when we first started out, we were terrible. We lost every single game of our first season together. And all of the games our second season together, until the very last game. It was a cold late fall night. Mist turned into a light snow in the second half. It was dark. The flood lights were on. Early in the second half we scored a garbage goal and it was the first time we had ever led during a game. The second half wore on and we held onto that lead. But with a minute or so left the other team scored and the game ended in a 1-1 draw. But we didn’t care. We hadn’t lost. For us, it was a victory.

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Earlier this week Australia rescued a draw in their first Test match against Pakistan. It was never meant to be that close. But Usman Khawaja held on for an incredible 302 balls, and Nathan Lyon of all people saw off 11 overs with his captain. It was a great escape from a match they looked destined to lose from the first session onward.

Rescue. Escape. Those are words you don’t hear very often in American sports. And that’s because we, as a nation, abhor draws. We want winners, and we want losers. We want black and white. Never gray. People can wrest victory from the jaws of defeat — and vice versa — but they can never rescue a tie. They can never pull a great escape, walk away bruised, bloodied, but still walking. Still breathing.

In this way, European sports — sports that allow for draws (and ties) — are a better reflection of our daily lives. Life, for us, is rarely black & white. In fact 99% of the time it is some shade of gray. Sometimes we walk away just barely hanging on by a thread to whatever is keeping us whole, and that’s enough, to rescue a day, escape with some loose change in our pocket and a black eye and torn jeans, but able to go out and fight another round.

And while there’s of course the rare joy that is a comeback victory, there’s also joy in the escape. Draws that somehow feel like wins are one of the great parts about following a sport that allows shades of gray — and when that feeling is compared to a draw that feels like a loss, like Pakistan must feel today — it shows the rich textures of these games that we follow, textures that American sports simply do not have to offer.

To rescue: “to free from confinement, danger, or evil”

To escape: “to get away”

Australia rescue a match. And look toward the second Test.

We rescue a day. And we live to fight on.

I watch cricket not always for the game itself, but for the hope that there’s a way out. This week Australia reminded me — reminded us all — that’s there always light at the end, you just have to keep batting. And when you emerge from the tunnel you might not feel like you’ve won, but you’ll feel like you’ve survived, and most of the time that’s enough to see you through.

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It’s a big old world, Sophie.

On Thursday I re-re-subscribed to Willow.TV. It was only $10 a month, which I think is five dollars cheaper than it used to be. I’m not sure why it’s less expensive, as nothing in this world ever gets cheaper, but I will take it.

The subscription to Willow came with a free subscription to Gaana, which is the Indian version of Spotify. Western bands like Radiohead and The National and Sigur Ros are only available to subscribers in India, but I am able to listen to the latest in Bollywood and Punjabi pop music.

I must say, I don’t quite get it. It is so vastly different than the music I usually listen to (see above) and honestly vastly different than pop music here in the states or in Europe. Which, I don’t know, I kind of like. I might not like the music, but I do like that it’s different. India is such a huge and interesting place, and so widely variant from western culture. Sure, it’s a small world, but it’s also a very, very big world, and I take heart in knowing that we aren’t all the same, that we are in fact very different.

There’s a beer that you can only buy Wisconsin called Spotted Cow. Everyone that loves beer loves Spotted Cow. And whenever you drive through Wisconsin, you make a point to stop at a liquor store and pick some up. The owners think that’s how it should be. That beer should taste different in Colorado and Wisconsin and Florida. That everything shouldn’t taste the same, and that you shouldn’t be be able to buy everything everywhere. That you should be constantly reminded of just how big America is. I’ve always rather liked that. But I digress.

India might be very different than western nations, but at the same time the fact that they love the same bat and ball sport that western nations do goes to show the power of the game, as well as the power of Imperialism. Sports really do bridge cultures, and cricket more so than any other sport — even soccer — as the cultures that it attracts are just so different. Of course, I realize that when it was first introduced to India and the Caribbean it was an instrument of empire building, but in the decades since it has become very much an uniquely Indian pastime. Yeah, you could say that parts of the game have been Americanized, but also I think the influence of Indian culture has had a profound impact on the game, which further cements its stance as a bridge between east and west.

And that’s also a part of enjoying global sports that you don’t get when you just watch baseball or basketball: you get exposed to not just a new game, but a new culture. Its music, its fashion, its food, its people. I have traveled domestically rather extensively — been to 40+ states and most major American cities — and I have to say that the differences between, say, New York and Seattle are pretty minor. I was just in Boston this past week and was struck by how much Cambridge reminded me of San Francisco, of how much Beacon Hill reminded me of Cincinnati. But the gap between Mumbai and Minneapolis is vast and wide, and I love that I am exposed not just to a slight variation on my own culture, like I would be if I was an avid NFL fan, but to cultures so different that it reminds us just how big and wonderful this dumb old world is.

And that’s a real gift, I think. Most people in America know India is a place and that a lot of people live there, but honestly that’s really about it. I like that I — and my fellow cricket following Americans — understand it just a bit more than the rest.

I probably won’t stream Gaana very often, but I will now again, to recall that there’s seven billion people on this rock, and each and everyone of us is a completely different person, with different interests, values, knowledge, passions. The fact that it takes cricket to teach me that some might say is evidence of a flawed educational system, emblematic of how insular America is. And yeah they are probably right. But I will also say that I don’t care what makes you a global citizen, as long as you get there in the end. Music, sport, literature, travel, film: whatever it takes to know that the world doesn’t end once you step off American soil.

You’d be surprised at how many Americans believe that.

Then again, maybe you wouldn’t be.

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Cause and effect

Oh, right. This is a cricket blog, haha.

Cricinfo has been posting this graphic a lot:

Which got me thinking: is there any correlation between winning or finishing second in the Asia Cup and a team’s performance at the next World Cup? I mean, it would make sense, when you think about it. Cricket is like all sports: it’s about momentum and confidence and getting hot at the right time. And winning and finishing second at a major tournament would be indicative of all three.

So I had a look:

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And, interestingly (or not), winning the Asia Cup is not the slightest bit indicative of World Cup performance. India is the only team that won an Asia Cup and a World Cup back to back. In fact, it’s twice as likely for the team that lost the Asia Cup final to win the next World Cup. On top of that, no team has gone back to back — winner or runner-up — at a World Cup that didn’t take place on the sub-continent.

So, there you go. Bad luck, India and Bangladesh.

My money is still on New Zealand.

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Say it ain’t so

Yesterday we all watched as Joe Mauer played what was probably his last home game for the Minnesota Twins. He hit a double in his last at bat, then donned his old catcher’s gear and caught one pitch before waving to the crowd and disappearing into the tunnel. It was a wonderful end to his 14 seasons at the club, 14 seasons that had their shares of ups and downs — and about a million seven hoppers to second base — but that never quite reached the heights we were all promised when the Twins drafted him out of high school, choosing baseball over a chance to play quarterback for Florida State.

He made his debut in 2004 against the indians to much fanfare. Like he was the second coming of Christ. He went two for three that day and caught a good game. A few days later I was standing in my kitchen listening to the game as it wasn’t on TV. Drinking cans of beer and ducking out between innings for cigarettes. My wife and new dog were upstairs. I could hear her laughter every time the dog did something funny. It filled me with all this love, all this happiness, emotions I wasn’t sure how to deal with then.

The game was at the Metrodome. A tired old stadium with artificial turf like concrete. The Twins batters would bounce the ball off the turf in front of home plate and easily convert the hoppers into singles. Around the fifth inning or so, Mauer tracked a fly ball back behind home plate, making the catch but sliding knee first into the wall. He would end up having to leave the game with an injury to the medial meniscus in his left knee. He came back in June but the knee still kept giving him trouble and by July his season was done

I think about that incident a lot. Yeah, sure, Mauer had a good — if not a great — career. He won batting titles and an MVP. But injuries always seemed to hound him, and never let him get over that proverbial hump from good to great, from All-Star to Hall of Famer. And I always trace those injuries back to that night in 2004, when he had all the promise, all the potential, and then it was just gone in the span of a few seconds. So while Mauer’s career was, of course, one to be proud of, there was always this note of tragedy in his eyes, his gait, his body language. Like he carried the weight of the team’s failings, of his massive contract, of the sneers of fans on his back, on his sleeve, and in his heart. His was a tragic character. Something you don’t see a lot in sports. Maybe even an introvert in the mold of Mesut Ozil. Quiet, quality players lambasted for not being bombastic captains.

Mauer then joins other Alastair Cook (who’s farewell was somehow even more poetic than Mauer’s) and Paul Collingwood and Jonathan Trott (speaking of tragic figures) who walked into the tunnel this summer, never to emerge again. Who let the sun sit squarely on their backs one last time before hanging their boots up forever. It adds to this sense of a chapter closing that I just cannot shake. Life feels like a series of endings these days, and I am in desperate need of a beginning. Of potential and promise not marred but one ill-timed slide on artificial turf. When life just opens up, and all you see is clear road ahead of you.

“There are endings and then there are endings,” Hanif Abdurraqib wrote. I keep waiting for the latter, because the former is all I have, and I have them over and over and over again.

Cheers for a great career, Joe, though I wish you would have given it one more season. I’ve had enough change, enough endings, to last a lifetime, but it feels like that’s all that life is now: endings. Endings and change. Every week, something or someone gone forever.

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A time of innocence / A time of confidences

Two days ago Surrey County Cricket Club finished off their County Championship season against Essex with a last ball loss that denied them the proper end to their fairy tale season but still allowed them to celebrate on their home patch under the long shadows at the Oval in South London.

It was their first County Championship since 2002, the year I was married. And so since this year is the year of my divorce, the Surrey Championships bookend my entire marriage.

Surrey won the title in 2002 with an aging team of rock star 90s cricketers. Alec Stewart, Mark Butcher, Graham Thorpe, et al. It was at the tail end of a period of great success in the Championship, with titles in 1999 and 2001, as well. That August my wife and I were married at her sister’s house in the middle of a Wrath of God, Old Testament-style thunderstorm. We were living in a downtown Minneapolis high rise and we spent our honeymoon just hanging around town, with the week off work, drinking beer and wishing the Twins were in town.

In the fall of the next year, we bought our first house together. I got promoted the following January, and two months later we brought home our first dog, Murray, on a dark late winter night. He was the light of our lives for the next seven years. Surrey for their part were relegated in 2005, won promotion in 2006, but were relegated again in 2008. My wife and I bought our second house the August of their first relegation, we both quit smoking in 2007 and I started following cricket, and then in July of that year we both took new jobs, leaving the jobs we thought we would end up working at forever. We refinanced our home, we laughed a lot, we walked the dog together every morning.

Surrey were never even close to promotion the following few seasons. I was laid off in 2009 and took the worst job I’ve ever had. I was miserable. But there was money coming in. And thus started a rather tumultuous but lovely time in our lives together. We cancelled cable and started going out again. Niki started playing music and formed her own band. I went back to school. We went to London and Paris. Murray aged. We fought a lot but we were okay, maybe more than okay, maybe happy.

In the fall of 2011 Surrey finally won promotion back to Division One by the margin of a single point, after winning their final four matches. The previous August Niki and I went to the wedding of my friend Rob in Ashland, Wisconsin. It was a magical long weekend full of friends and love. Maybe the best weekend of my whole life, surely the best weekend of my marriage. Murray stayed with my mother. When we picked him up it looked as though he had aged 1,000 years since we’d last saw him. He could barely hold his head up. A month later on a cloudy Tuesday September morning we said goodbye to our precious boy on the cold floor of a sterile vet’s office. We wrapped him in a blanket, turned out the light, and left him sleeping. We never stopped mourning. Niki got laid off one month later. Her dad got sick. Things were hard.

The following June the immensely talented Surrey cricketer, Tom Maynard, was killed under sad and heartbreaking circumstances. It cast a shadow over Surrey’s season, one in which they barely survived relegation. Meanwhile, Niki and I grieved. We walked away from our house. And then we came back. It was a hard, terrible, wonderful year. We adopted Robbie, a hound mutt with big floppy ears who made us laugh everyday. I graduated from school, and took a new job and started this blog. Life shuffled on. 2013 saw Surrey finish at the bottom of Division One, sending them back to Division Two, where they would stay until 2015. That same year, I took another new job, so did Niki. We went on trips and bought records and laughed a lot in our kitchen, just like we always did. We got a new car and a new roof and a new furnace. We saw live music and went for walks in the woods with the dog on fall days. Niki’s dad died. My sister got cancer.

On Friday, April 20th, Surrey kicked of their 2018 County Championship campaign against Hampshire at the Oval, winning by 133 runs. Two weeks later, I left Niki, left my home. One month after that, I got my own apartment in St. Paul’s West 7th neighborhood. Two days after I signed my lease we filed divorce papers in the cold cubicle of a paralegal in a soulless government building. Three weeks after that, our divorce was final. In mid-August Niki met someone else. One month later, at the New Road against Worcestershire, Surrey won their first County Championship in 16 years with two matches to spare.  And today I sit here alone, writing this, my tea growing cold, autumn settling in outside my window.

16 years between Division One titles. A marriage. A lifetime. So much happened. So much life, and so much cricket. 16 years. And the above was the only the big moments. The houses and the dogs and the promotions and the relegations. It doesn’t even scratch the surface of all that truly happened in that time period. All those long days at the Oval in front of sparse crowds as the players shivered in April, or the days of long shadows at Old Trafford in September. Or the quiet mornings with coffee and a walk, or movies together, or concerts, or dinners. Birthdays, anniversaries, inside jokes, secret lexicons. Trips to the bank. Trips to the record store. Oil changes and grocery shopping. Countless small moments that make up a marriage, a life. I cannot turn a corner without a memory smacking me in the back of the head, reminding me of all that’s changed, of all that’s lost.

16 years. That’s such a long time to wait for fans of Surrey County Cricket Club. Just look at all that can happen in that length of time. And that’s just my story. What’s yours? Kids and aging parents and new houses and success at work. Plus quiet nights on the patio with the sunset, or a mug of tea on a winter’s afternoon, its steam visible in the low sunlight from the kitchen window. All those moments that make up a day, a week, a month, a year. Now add up 16 years worth of those moments, and you start to understand how long those suffering Surrey fans had to wait, and you also understand why my heart is broken, even though I was the one who left.

All that time. All that life. Gone forever.

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And watched out for a simple twist of fate

Think about where you are.

Now think about how you got there.

All the things that had happen for you to be sitting where you are right now. All the things that had to go right, all the things that had to go wrong. A million billion moments that broke one way when they could have broken the other, all of them leading you to the place you are at this very second: sitting in your cube, or on your couch, or in your bed, or in someone else’s bed.

I met my now ex-wife at a Halloween party in South Minneapolis in 1999 that neither of us were supposed to attend. I was friends with someone who was friends with someone who was friends with the host and I got dragged along at the last minute.  She knew the guys in the band that were playing the party and got asked at the 11th hour to help them drive their equipment into the city. We happened to be waiting in line for the bathroom together. The rest is history. We were together for 19 years.

Over those 19 years, I thought about that night a lot. All that had to happen for me to get there, for her to get there, for us to meet. All the twists and turns that led us to that party and in line for that upstairs bathroom at the very same time. And how different my life would have been if, say, one tiny thing had gone differently and one of us never made it to the party. I would lie awake at night and think: I could have never gone to that party, and we never would have met, and nothing would be the same. And it would have been so simple, so easy: one tiny decision altered and one of us isn’t there that night. Nothing monumental either, not some big life choice, but something minuscule: what if my friend and I decide to get a drink before heading to the party? That’s all it would have taken.

That night, and all that got me there, changed my life forever. I am 42 years old. That night defined my life for 19 of them. And will define my life for the rest of my days, even though we are no longer together. Because without her other life events don’t happen: jobs, trips, college, dogs, friends.

Everything.

One night. A lifetime. And everything in it. For good or for bad, it’s reality.

Today in Dubai India beat Bangladesh with the last ball of the last over. 50 overs; 300 deliveries; a pitch of random holes, seams, bumps, creases; wind; humidity.

Nine batsmen, six bowlers, 11 fielders. Humans. Flawed, perfect humans.

All of that. But still. Exactly 300 deliveries later, India win, somehow. All that could have changed, every ball that could have zigged when it zagged. Every mistake, every moment of brilliance, all somehow leading them to that last ball, those leg byes trundling down toward the boundary rope, giving India the Cup.

It’s amazing, when you think about it. All that could have been different, yet somehow wasn’t.

What a game.

What a life.

What a world.

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