Bartolo Colon continues pitching in Major League Baseball games. He represents everything a baseball fan wishes to be.
The year is 2017 and Bartolo Colon is still pitching. He’s added double digits years and pounds since his debut in 1997 with the Cleveland Indians. The first half of his age 44 campaign with the Atlanta Braves was something of a disaster. He got cut. He’s rebounded to moderate respectability as a Minnesota Twin after being picked up on a minors deal on July 7th. Through 8 starts with the Twins, he still isn’t injured. He still throws strikes. He still competes with professional athletes 15-20 years his junior.
|Bartolo Colon’s Age||Average Age of Batters He’s Faced|
Grit. Talent. Moxy. Trickery. Magic. Pure narrative. I don’t know. There must be an element of novelty. Does he sell tickets? To a particular niche of baseball fans, certainly. Here’s your chance to see a fat guy throw little balls for two hours. Sign me up. Give me a choice of seeing Clayton Kershaw or Bartolo Colon and I’m taking Colon 100 out of 100 times. See a certain hall of famer in his prime or a large, goofy 44 year old man who somehow continues to get major league hitters out?
Baseball fans experience a diversity of fantasy. When you’re very young – say, in the age 6-14 range – you dream of becoming a great big leaguer. Casey at the Bat stuff. Bottom of the 9th, 2 outs, bases loaded, full count, Mariano Rivera on the mound. World Series on the line. You’re standing in the box as a lefty (even though you’re actually right-handed). You know he’s going to the cutter. You’ve just got to pull those hands in and hook it around the foul pole. The pitch comes in. You’re ready. You barrel it up. Bat flip. Ball disappears into the night. The crowd erupts in a white noise whisper scream from the back of your throat. You pump your fist as the ball soars out of the stadium with a splash into McCovey Cove. You aren’t a Giant, but the thought of the ball landing in the water is too cool. So you pretend. You’re the hero. You’ve won. You could die.
Teenagers start taking it more seriously. You play middle or high school ball. Coaches start noticing you. You compare yourself to your favorite players. You grip pitches like your favorite pitcher. Mimic their batting stance. Spread eye black and streak it down your cheeks. Learn the aphorisms. Spit. You start noticing all the adults are real stern when they talk about sports. You’ve still got the fantasies you obsessed over as a child. But now you’ve got tools and muscles. You could really do it.
As a young adult out of high school everything is a whirlwind. You’re lost. Physically and mentally. Hammered. When you’re not hammered, you’re in the phase of getting hammered. Life is moment-to-moment. Your baseball dreams hover in the ether. You’re going to live forever. You can eat everything, never sleep, and feel great. Enjoy right now. Baseball will always be there. You still dream of the bases loaded in the World Series in the bottom of the 9th. But that’s later. Enjoy what can be enjoyed in 5 minutes. Then worry about the next 5.
By the time you reach your late 20’s, the fantasy is to be permanently buzzed. Sober means streams of introspection, rumination on mortality, and rationalizing reasons to get out of bed in the morning. Too drunk and you think about disappointing your parents, what happened to your dreams, and where you’re going to sleep after vomiting. Enough inebriation to converse jovially but not enough to cause difficulty in conversing. The dream? To be comfortable. You’ve long since abandoned your dreams to be an athlete, but you know you’re the same age as the pros and still cling to the remaining tattered veil of your frivolous, childish dreams. Maybe I’ll work out harder than I ever have and play hardball next year. I could play minor league ball if I really wanted it. You don’t tell anyone or ever say it out loud, because it’s stupid. You think more about Dennis Quaid than Mariano Rivera. You throw sliders and knuckleballs in warmups for beer league softball. Stand sideways in the mirror and inspect the belly bulge. Forget it, I still got it. I’ll eat, drink, and smoke what I want and still compete with the best. All I need is a chance.
Bartolo Colon is your softball team’s right center fielder living a child’s dream. He’s you, right now, pitching to the best hitters in the world. Tune in while you can.