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The Impermanence of Baseball

November 13, 2011

It has been reported that Jonathan Papelbon will end his six-year stint with the Red Sox and head to the Phillies. I want to thank him for his excellent work, especially ensuring leads for the ’07 World Series champs, and wish him the best. I am glad the Red Sox understand that closing is not usually a position worthy of tons of cash–the skill set is easily replicable, and as it’s been said before, getting three outs just isn’t that hard (was it Cleveland’s Doug Jones who admitted that?). The Sox will move up Daniel Bard from the set-up role, and he’ll provide the same kind of psychological safety net for the next Boston manager.

Papelbon’s exit, and the current vacancy in the Sox’s manager’s office, highlight a deeper truth about baseball: its impermanence. I’ve been a fan of this team for over four decades, and it’s easy to think of the Sox as a single entity. Same ballpark for a century, almost no change in the uniform (the current bright-red jersey reminds me of the shift to the two-tone cap in the ’70s), and incremental changes to the roster–all give the illusion that the Sox are an unchanging institution. But it isn’t. The roster doesn’t stay the same for a month, let alone a year. The uniforms are made of different materials, the ballpark gets renovations and repairs every year, and the front office personnel changes too. I am especially aware of this impermanence this winter, as GM Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona have left the Sox. Theo, with his deep analytical understanding of the game, and Francona, with his firm-but-friendly style and his apparent awareness that the manager’s chief role is to put the best players out there and let them play, have given me a false sense of security. I felt like, in their hands (particularly Theo’s), the team would keep finding good players, develop them, and give them a chance to succeed in Boston. My certainty is now gone. As Jerry Seinfeld said, if you’re a baseball fan you’re actually just rooting for the laundry.

This idea of impermanence is vital to Buddhism. As we look deeper into our experiences, we see that permanence is illusory. My thoughts come and go; the cells of my body are replaced regularly; my personality can show different sides at a moment’s notice; and my desires and interests can be just as fleeting. So it is with the world around me: my family, my home, my neighborhood, can look the same on the surface while they are changing just as frequently as I am.

Good luck to Theo and Pap. Hope you find a job, Tito. Thanks for reminding me that nothing stays the same–even the team my grandfather helped me learn to love.

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3 comments

  1. It does make you think. It’s like we thought the 2007 team would last forever…


  2. I’m sure I’ll feel this way should Jeter leave the Yanks and/or Helton leave the Rox. Loved the link to Buddhism.


    • Thanks for taking the time to read this, Kristin. It’s not losing a star that made me realize this, it’s the year-to-year and month-to-month shuffling of the roster. Suddenly I look at the Sox and there are not many guys left from the ’07 champs–Beckett, Ortiz, Ellsbury, Varitek, Youkilis. Yet it can look like that team is still out there, even though most of them are gone. The illusion of permanence–there’s the Zen of it.



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