The first time I saw Almost Famous, I was with my ex-girlfriend what feels like a million years and a million lifetimes ago. I don't remember thinking much of it at the time, but I came to love it shortly after she left. It wasn't pining over her. I can really only think of 2 incidents of pining over her in the time that she left - the first time was the first time that she was gone and it was just myself and her cat Tornado. She left us both. She had to have him, and she seemed happy to tag along into my life, but then when she got there, we realized that we were from different worlds. At that minute, it was just myself and the cat and it felt bizarre and depressing to be in that spot. Eventually, I had her take the cat, which she begrudgingly did.
The second time, I was in the midst of the depressed summer of 2002 after we broke up in April and I had too much time with my loneliness, and I went to drop off mail that had arrived for her at the apartment that we shared, but that was now only mine. In all the things the things that she did and didn't do in that time, it took me to change her addresses for her by returning stuff to the sender and posting the right address to forward things to. That time, I suggested we get together to talk, but we never did, which was a good thing. She got her mail, just like she got a box of stuff that was once hers. I always thought that she would come back for her Christmas stuff, but that was just wishful thinking. Our only Christmas together was miserable. In the end, I gave it to the woman who oversaw the apartments for her kid and threw away what she would never want. It seemed so wasteful at the time, but alas, sometimes, it's for the best.
In the movie Almost Famous, Elton John sings "Tiny Dancer," which is one of the greatest songs ever. At the time in March of 2001, I can remember listening to it and liking it, but I didn't really claim it as one of my own until it played at the right moment of my life - hiking back from Delicate Arch in Utah. It was in the same fateful walk that Elf Power's "When the Red King Comes" played. They were both mine. I never think of the ex girlfriend or things belonging to her other than Dave Matthews and The Barenaked Ladies, which I can differentiate from her in that other than when I consciously force myself to, I never think of her. There's no reason to. We never had anything much in common and our greatest moments were things that I've pretty much done with other people or that weren't that memorable to begin with - at least in the way that almost 9 years makes a person forget what happened.
However, I do think back to Almost Famous because I love the quote that is at the end where William Miller, the Cameron Crowe character asks Russell Hammond what he likes about rock music. The answer is "to begin with everything."
I think that I could answer the same thing about baseball. Everything. The game never disappoints me. If Aaron Boone hits a home run over the Green Monster in extra innings and I'm up until the wee hours hoping that the Red Sox make it to the World Series in 2003, then it's just a moment in communal misery that still says, "we'll get them next year."
If I choose to go to bed after the Arizona Diamondbacks can't score in the 8th inning of Game 7 of the 2001 World Series and it looks like the Yankees will 4-peat, then I can wake up happy when I see ESPN's headline that a bloop single wins and it's instant jubilation and the need to make Yankees fans suffer.
For me, baseball is everything... the trajectory of a long fly ball to deep center field in the St. Louis night. August 30, 1998, marks a change in everything that I am and that I will be. It signals that I have come to the promised land, and I have seen my burning bush. My heart is not hardened, but it is actually made light because I have been shown direction in life by the plague of locusts (well, Mormon crickets) that have descended on the desert north of Fallon, Nevada. From North Nutgrass, Stillwater Reservoir, Foxtail Lake and all of the other water that lies east of Route 95 heading south into Nevada's heartland, they swarm and die against my windshield and the hood of my Ford Escort. Uncle Tupelo's music plays after I refuel my car with gasoline and my body with Coke and iced animal cookies. Good stuff. I am to teach. I am to go about my journey and become something more.
For 12 plus years, I have prepared and done just that. Every time that I think it's time to get out, something rescues me and keeps me moving forward. Every time that I think it's not going to work out, something keeps me moving forward. Like much of my life, I have proceeded forward in spite of my mistakes and the turmoil of life, but I have kept going.
In reading about my baseball heroes, I see tales of lives that were destroyed and ended before they could fully realize what they might have been. I have seen great careers cut short of being the greatest. Bob Feller and Ted Williams gave the early parts of their career to military service for their country. Christy Mathewson did as well, but his was to an earlier war, but all the same, he trained and swallowed mustard gas. He was never the same. Roberto Clemente hit his 3,000th hit and died in a fiery airplane crash trying to get relief supplies to Nicaragua. Jackie Robinson gave his life to the stress and turmoil of integrating the Major Leagues with the players of the Negro Leagues so no more African Americans would have to lose out to what might have been. And Addie Joss died of spinal meningitis not 3 years after pitching a perfect game and a no-hitter. He was 31. He could have been great.
So many people could have.
And yes, they are immortalized in hallowed grounds on Lake Oswego. I can see them there. I can remember their lives and what could have been.
I sit here now and think of what could have been in my life. Where once I taught high school kids, I moved on to college students and adult education. I said that I would never go back, but here I am now, ready to go back and be great again, to feel the things that I once loved about this all over again. To feel the mix of history, literature, and writing all come together into something special for me and to make them something special in students as I once did. To feel comfortable in my skin and my classroom. To exorcise the demons of failure once and for all.
It's time to think that my life is ready to be.
If I have baseball to thank for that, then all the better for the ghosts of the past are still powerful and still have much to teach us.