The setting sun of life gilds with its rays
The unforgotten but far distant days,
The days when youth and hope walked hand in hand.
An 18-year-old prospect, born in New Jersey and raised by the iron hands of military time, watches as team after team dismisses his raw talent and intense desire. “His feet are all wrong on grounders,” they say. “He could never play short in the majors.” Even the believers have to deny him, even if he wouldn’t be. No matter. The prospect dreamed in pinstripes all his life, the kind which create giants out of ballplayers and ballplayers out of mere men. Black and white didn’t mean anything to them.
Daylight meant playing ball, and this young man was a natural. Michigan refined him, to an extent, at least in terms of the things you can teach. The prospect already had plenty of the things you can’t. The most famous club in the world chose its next hero not realizing precisely the gift the gods had bestowed upon them. The prospect was something, to be certain, but what? Passionate and wet behind the ears; that was all for now. Hang him out to dry for a while.
It sheds around the past a rosy glow,
That past which never was a present, though
On looking back o’er life it seems to stand
A world champion, four times over in five years. Another would arrive later. Because that’s what accolades seemed to do with this one, wander aimlessly through dense vegetation until they stumbled into his relaxed greatness. Uncertainty checked its coat at the door and unwound before him, the best player on the best team. A lithe wonder who gave it all and still found stronger fumes in his tank than others’ fuel. He downed the upstarts of his city one year and revitalized all of it the next. The player earned an entire month for his harvest. A reeling nation found a sliver of comfort in the enthusiastic crowned prince of a reviled and revered battalion.
His instinctive movements, which took him light years from his home, drew the awe of millions and ire of millions more. He surveyed monuments and avoided the nefarious pitfalls of his day. Enemies gritted their teeth at mere mention of the player’s name. “He isn’t what everyone thinks,” they said. “His style is the opiate of the masses. Deconstructing him is a fool’s errand. We shan’t waste our time.”
All the while, the player kept his steely gaze only on what was most important, even risking himself for the good of the cause. The pulp was ripe, its juices sweet. Wins came and went; so did losses. Serenity kept injustice at bay, protecting what we all once held to be self-evident and moral, and pure. Purity, that’s what this is about. What we remember of it, the player carries. Oceans can rise and seize our houses, our land, our livelihoods, but they could never take this one from us.
A ship, slightly but increasingly off-course, battering its way to some unknown destination that had to be better than this. The sun stopped shining years ago, and each dawn brought no rescue. Every would-be hero found himself in dire straits, castrated by the idea of being the only hope for millions. Forging beyond the regularly-scheduled itinerary became an idea so foreign it drew blank stares, as if anyone who suggested it were speaking a foreign language. Hope and glory stood away, wary of a shipwreck and the end of it all. “It always catches up to them preening on the past,” as they exchanged knowing glances.
Meanwhile, the captain, a once reliable and omnipresent engine, withdrew to almost nothing. There would be no revolt, although it might’ve caused a better outcome, but that was never his cup of tea. When the sails had been in motion, he was the one who set the course. “North, of course!” he would calmly exclaim. “Just off the river. It is here where I will build a new home.” Now, he feebly took to his task, looking for any proper end to his journey.
Upon arrival, they lavished him with gifts, a fond farewell for having served such a tenure. These materials were immaterial, of course, but he appreciated the gesture and smiled as brightly as he had in his youth. The greatest gift of all, however, was that for which the captain had always striven: respect. Time could take away his speed, and acuity, and render him languid, but the respect was his, from there to eternity.