I have been absent from all things baseball for a few days, since shortly after things became their most exciting for my team. We had a death in the family, my cousin’s husband. I do not relate this detail here for sympathy – it is very sad, but we’ve all been there and then some. But it is the context of the story. I had planned to spend Saturday at the Big A taking in the spectacle of the press conference. At the time I made my plans it seemed very important, indeed. But once we received that call, well, you understand. I spent the day at the funeral instead without a second thought for the press conference and then it was difficult to collect these thoughts into something cohesive, but I think I have finally hit on what I want to say:
Baseball is magic.
Seriously. Magic. I know, I know. I say “magic” and instantly you start thinking any number of fanciful thoughts having little to do with a bat and a ball. Santa Claus? Disney? Perhaps the darker magic of the Brothers Grimm, pre-Disnification? Well, Santa Claus inspires a lot of seasonal fun for the kiddies. Disney can imbue a child-like sense of wonder in most of us. And those brothers Grimm (being very grim) certainly send the imagination some deliciously scary places. But baseball? Well, it’s the real deal. Magic plain and simple.
So much so in fact, that baseball is even more magical than the everyday OhMyGod!Wow!!DidThatJustHappen! magic that occurs on the field. Baseball is the thing my Dad and I can always banter about over email, no matter how stressful life has become. Ding, Dong the McCourt is Gone! Congratulations on the Pujols signing – this might put your guys over the top. As long as SciosciaMike can keep the pitchers away from beer and chicken, anything is possible, LOL. And suddenly we’re both smiling.
Baseball is the universal ice-breaker for catching up at extended family gatherings. Oh, sure, you have a clue what your scores of cousins are up to these days via FaceBook. But start talking about trades, awards and an Oh My God! World Series and suddenly everyone is lively, chatting warmly and laughing together like they’ve never spent much time apart.
Baseball is the comfortable thing we could discuss before and after the funeral, calming and soothing minds in between tears and hugs and sharing memories with my cousin and her daughters.
Baseball is the one guaranteed safe thing my sister and I can always talk about no matter how on the outs we may be. Another new lineup for SciosciaMike, really? So is Loney actually going to hit the ball this time? I don’t know, is Mathis? Touche.
See what I mean? Magic. The real deal.
Baseball is hardly life or death. It’s a game. A bit of fun. A distraction. It isn’t going to cure cancer or inspire world peace. And finally getting to savor that press conference off of the DVR didn’t make everything all better, not the recent family sadness, nor any of the other stressors I’ve been dealing with. But it made me smile. It relaxed me. It lifted my mood and put me in a better frame of mind to face the week. If that’s not magic, I don’t know what is.
A good friend wanted to celebrate her birthday in style this weekend, so she got the lot of us passes to the Magic Castle on Saturday. I know what you’re thinking – cheesy fortune tellers and kid’s birthday party tricks. I thought as much myself before I went the first time, but the reality is quite different. Housed in a gorgeous pre-World War I era mansion tucked into the Hollywood Hills, the Magic Castle is the headquarters for the Academy of Magical Arts and a truly decadent private club. A luxurious setting, an elegant meal, cocktail servers who never let your glass go empty if you let them, and the magicians, wow! My favorite part of all of it is the close-up rooms – card tricks, coin tricks, ring magic, rope tricks and the like all performed to perfection mere feet away. The magician might as well be sitting on the other side of the dining room table from you if you are lucky enough to sit in the front row.
There aren’t very many new tricks in the world really, just infinitely innovative riffs on classic tricks. But the variations and personal stamps each magician puts on these tricks are where I think the true artistry lies. Take the 11 $1 bill trick, as it was first described to me. I have seen it performed many ways by many different names, on Saturday for example, it was performed by a magician from my home town as the 4 card trick. But I have never seen it performed so well as the 11 $1 bill trick so I will use that variation as my example. The magician performing this trick always invites a member of the audience to assist him. When I saw the trick, the assistant was Mike, a good friend of mine, and the rest of us were sitting in the front row, close enough to reach out a touch the dollars ourselves.
The Magician took a simple wallet out of his pocket and counted out the contents, 11 $1 bills, into Mike’s skeptical hand and invited him to look over each bill carefully. He then invited Mike to investigate the wallet to prove that is was empty and Mike did so thoroughly. The magician set the empty wallet on the table in plain view and asked Mike to count the stack of bills back to the magician. 11 $1 bills. Then the magician counted them back into Mike’s hand – 11 $1 bills – and asked Mike to count the stack back into his hand again. Only now, suddenly, Mike could only count 10 $1 bills. Surely Mike was mistaken, the Magician said and counted the stack back into Mike’s hand. 11 $1 bills. Try it again, he asked. So Mike counted the stack back into the Magician’s hand. 9 $1 bills. No, the Magician said there are 11 and counted them back into Mike’s hand. 11 $1 bills. Mike counted them back to the magician again. 8 $1 bills.
Ah, said the magician. I know what happened. And he picked the wallet up off the table, opened it up and removed 3 $1 bills! This trick then continued for some time with several variations. The 11 $1 bills grew in number to 15 and shrank and low as 6 until eventually Mike was asked to investigate the offending wallet again, which he did even more thoroughly, and put the empty wallet into his own pocket himself. In the end, Mike could only count 7 $1 dollars back to the magician again and the remaining three were, you guessed it, inside the wallet he had tucked into his own pocket. I am difficult to impress. I look for the misdirection, glance at places the magician is de-emphasizing, and try to see that which I am not supposed to see. Every now and then I see a bent card, the hidden coin or a few of the torn pieces of whatever disappearing, but not this time. I have the vaguest of ideas what the magician might have done, but damned if I could catch him at it. Magic? Of course not. Not in the Harry Potter/Walt Disney/Gandalf the Grey sense, at least. But definitely a gifted artist giving a brilliant demonstration of his craft, and what could be more magical than that?
Anyway, does the 11 $1 bill trick remind you of anything? Yes, exactly. The Angels standings in the AL West. Twenty days ago, the Angels only had to count a mere 1.5 games out of first back to the Rangers. But then they went to New York and Toronto, and entertained a visit from the Rangers themselves, and when the Rangers counted games back to the Angels, the stack grew to 5 games, then 6 games, then 7. But just when the audience expected them to count back 8 games, Mark Trumbo hit that walk off homerun and showed the Rangers that 2 of those games had magically disappeared from the stack.
After pulling several bats and a rookie outfielder seemingly out of thin air, the Angels took on Baltimore and Chicago and were able to count a mere 2 games back to the Rangers again…Boston may have helped with that a little. And then the counting began in earnest in Texas. The Rangers dazzled the Angels by making baseballs disappear over fences and counted 3 games back into the Angels palm. Then the Angels discovered the secret of the disappearing baseball trick themselves, Ervin Santana turned three days rest and grit into a win and the team counted 2 games back to the Rangers. This feat caused me to respond with a trick of my own and magically pull a Droid out of my small, elegant little evening bag to check the score several times on Saturday. However, Jered Weaver was unable to match Santana’s impressive prestidigitation, the Angels fielding moved out of the magic shop and into the novelty store, and suddenly the Rangers counted 3 games in the stack again.
The Angels have 29 games left, 3 of them against Texas, and I can’t help but feel they have a few more tricks up their sleeves. Provided the bats continue to obligingly reappear or, better yet, no one makes them disappear in the first place, I predict that the number of games in this particular stack is going to go up and down several more times before someone is eventually able to pull a division title out of the wallet on the table. The feat is hardly impossible, but if the Angels are able to cinch the division win, it will be one stylish trick indeed – even more enjoyable than the 11 $1 bill trick and even more impressive than my own little trick of walking and standing around the Magic Castle for seven hours in three inch heels with nary a blister to show for it. 😉