Chicago—home of Wrigley Field and the lovable losers, current residence of Soriano, Ozzie G, and Ken Griffey Jr. And here I am. For baseball-related reasons, you ask? No. Though, while I am here, I do plan to go to Wrigley Field for the first time ever. (Nothing against the White Sox, but U.S. Cellular Field? Meh. Not so much.) But the real reason I have come to the Windy City is in order to race in my first triathlon. And what an ordeal. I have trained the adequate amount, bought all the necessary equipment, fought through the crowd of obnoxious Type A narcissists (nothing against triathletes) at the Hilton where they made me go to pick up my race chip. You could say, for all intents and purposes, that I am ready. And, yet, I am afraid. I am afraid not that I won’t finish or that I will get a flat tire and be unable to proceed. Those fears would make sense. Those are things that might actually happen. Rather than direct my energy towards those practical fears, however, I choose instead to focus on something slightly less plausible but a great deal more frightening—the unlikely, yet, seemingly very real possibility that I am going to be eaten alive by a great white shark. While swimming in a fresh water lake. In the middle of the Midwest.
I am going to state a fact verified by both scientific evidence and Tim McCarver. There are no sharks in Lake Michigan. I know this. I believe this. And, yet, somewhere in my soul, I remain unconvinced. Blame it on Steven Spielberg, who single-handedly ruined an entire generation’s relationship with the ocean. Blame it on my father, who used to swim around the swimming pool with his hand on his head like a fin. All I know is that, when I see a large expanse of water, I assume that, somewhere--somewhere nearby--there must be a shark that's starving to death and waiting to eat me.
The anxiety began about a month ago, when I went for my first swim in open water. Up until then, I had been training in a pool, and I figured I ought to get a feel for being in a lake. I saw a couple of guys fishing on the shore and asked them if they would watch my stuff while I went out into the water. Feeling pretty cocky, I told them I was going to be gone for a while—at least an hour—and that they should feel free to leave if they needed to.
I hadn’t been gone four minutes when the panic began to set in. I was seeing things under that water that I never saw inside the pool. Fish. Algae. Rocks. It occurred to me that there was a whole ecosystem of creatures about which I knew nothing living down there. That I was invading their space. That I didn’t belong there. That I was making them angry. It was then that I realized that it wasn’t totally impossible that maybe, just maybe, somewhere in that lake, there lived a shark that would take vengeance on me for my intrusion. Of course, it was impossible. Somewhere inside me, I knew that. Furthermore, I also knew that if I turned around and went back to shore after eight minutes, having made such a production of the fact that I was the second coming of Michael Phelps, I was going to be eating a whole lot of crow. And I hate the taste of crow. But so powerful was my anxiety—the certainty that at any moment that fin would emerge from beneath the water, that horrifying jaw that had been emblazoned onto my brain would open up to swallow me whole—that my lungs began to close up. Dignity be damned. I was going ashore.
I could barely keep it together to flounder my way back. Once there, I tried to explain myself to the fishermen with whom I had entrusted my belongings. However, being that I was in Connecticut, it was the wrong crowd for my attempted self-deprecating comedy routine about my own neuroses. The men looked at me with confusion and sympathy. Whenever I leave New York, people often do.
Since this event, I have been plagued with dread about the open water swim. I tried talking to my mom, but she just put me on the phone with my dad, saying it was his fault anyway for having let me watch Jaws at such a young age. I looked to my dad for encouragement, but he had very little to offer besides the advice I could easily have gotten from Tim McCarver, saying with some exasperation, “There are no sharks in Lake Michigan.” Yeah, so they tell me.
Given that my parents and Tim McCarver, the people I rely in my times of need, were so unhelpful, I decided I would try to draw strength and inspiration by asking of myself, "What Would the Yankees Do?" My mind immediately went to Carl Pavano, who would have of course come up with some kind of injury that prevented him from entering the race. And I could have gone this route without even lying. I have a bone spur, a bruised palm and, if necessary, would have taken a hammer to my ribs and broken a couple for effect. However, since I have already established that Carl Pavano is in direct defiance of the principle of Try Your Hardest, what kind of sense would it make for me to look to him—of all Yankees—as my role model?
So I thought about Hideki and the integrity he brings to all his endeavors. Having made a commitment to himself, he would have gone through with it--even if there was a shark in Lake Michigan. Because pride is king in the universe in which he resides. Giambi would have undoubtedly done the race, and, in the unlikely even that he had seen a shark, he would probably have just given him the bird. I think it’s his go-to. Jeter would have done the race. And won it. A-Rod would have done the race, probably failed to perform to expectations, but never missed a photo op. Robbie? Please. Even if the swimming portion was in a pit full of crocodiles. The point is, Pavano aside, they all would have tried. Just as I expect them to continue to try until all hope for October is officially dead. So that’s what I’m going to do. Even if my parents, and science, and Tim McCarver are all wrong, and there is a shark in that lake that can and will destroy me. At least that way, they can write it on my tombstone that I died trying. Though, honestly, I would rather if it just said, “Science and Tim McCarver, You Were WRONG.”
Speaking of aspirations for October, last night our offense had a hell of a game. Abreu went five for five, Robbie and Molina went back-to-back on home runs, and Cap clocked his 2,500th career hit. Solid work, but now we’ve got to figure out how to do it lots of times in a row. Every other game might be fine if it weren’t so late in the season and we weren’t so far behind. But, at this point, our only hope is to do what we did last night, and then do it again. And again. And again. All the way until the end of September. The series against Boston and Tampa Bay are important for obvious reasons. But when you’ve got a series against a subpar team like the Orioles, and you’re as far behind as we are, you have to take advantage and win. Sure, at this point just a series would be nice. But I’d sort of like to see a sweep. And now is the time, Pavano, for you to show us what you’ve got. It’s not too late for you to earn our respect. Well, that’t not true. But it’s not too late for you to earn your paycheck. Hm…also not true. OK. At the very least, it’s not too late for us to say, “Well at least the schmuck helped us turn things around in the end and make it to October in our last season at the old stadium.” Beats sucking—Coco Crisp style.