Our Year

By JCB on Sunday, March 30, 2008
The crowd was vocal. Because the subject here was baseball and the stadium was full of scholars—and historians—and soon enough I found myself engaged in learned debate with all these ... strangers, these ... guys.

--Mason Marzac in Richard Greenberg’s “Take Me Out,” Act Two.
* * *

Saturday night around eleven o’clock I went to one of my stacks of books and pulled out my copy of “Take Me Out,” a play by Richard Greenberg. I bought the script about a year ago after the Zach Scott Theater here in Austin performed it. I thought the play was not only excellent but of exceptional literary quality, so I ordered a copy from Amazon or somewhere to add to my library, where baseball literature does its best to counterbalance the stuffier law books that look as heavy as they are.

The play’s premise is rather simple: A superstar named Darren Lemming (patterned after Derek Jeter) for the Empires (patterned after the Yankees) comes out of the closet mid-season. Extreme tension, occasionally comedy, and finally tragedy ensue, fueled by comments to the press by the Empires' racist, homophobic, hillbilly, rookie closer with a tiny IQ. (No word on whether patterned after John Rocker). The script handles all of this drama perfectly, I’d say, a remarkable achievement. (For a great review of the play, read Michael Feingold’s review for the Village Voice).

In particular, a year ago, actor Martin Burke as Mason “Mars” Marzac stole the show, at least for my girlfriend and me. Although, we’re partial to Burke already because for several Christmases he’s performed David Sedaris’s hilarious “The Santaland Diaries,” and has made us laugh to the point that we can barely breathe. Still, as great as Burke is, Greenberg’s character meets him more than halfway.

Through Mason, gay and recently promoted to financial manager for Darren, we see the game of baseball anew, from the vantage point of a man who has been an outsider in every way imaginable his entire life. A man who, until meeting Darren, has never watched an inning. Witnessing Mason discover the joys and graces of the game, it reminds us of why we are so passionate about baseball, and our team.

It’s a reminder worth remembering as a new season begins, I thought, which is the whole point of having a library in the first place, so I read.

From Act Two, as Mason attends his first game, picked up shortly after the leading quote:

Then, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, the miracle happened.
We got a hit.
Then another.
Then another.
And another and another and—
Think: Mets versus Braves June thirtieth, 2000—where the Mets went into the eighth losing eight to one and scored ten runs in a single inning to take the game eleven-eight.
And we took this game.
And when the winning run crossed home plate, the fans who had stayed rose in this single surge and let out a shout like the “Hallelujah Chorus.”
And it was the first crowd I had ever agreed with.

There’s no way to describe that feeling except to capture the events that evoke it. The best part is that Greenberg doesn’t have to provide more than the skeleton: we can all provide the rest. I mean, admit it: just from that brief passage, your mind’s eye summoned the infield and the crowd as vividly as any memory, right? This is a scene where the purities of imagination and hope and memory align—between the lines.

And it looked like Wrigley Field, didn’t it?

I like to think that Mason agreed with the crowd not just in the shout, but in staying until the end. Earlier (in Act One), in describing discovering how baseball is a metaphor for Democracy, Mason says: “And baseball is better than Democracy—or at least than Democracy as it’s practiced in this country—because unlike Democracy, baseball acknowledges loss.”

To stay to the end is often to acknowledge loss, but hoping against hope—believing against history—that near-certain loss will be transcended.

This, as much as anything else, is what it is to be a Cubs Fan.

This season is going to be a significant season no matter what happens because circumstances are special. This one will matter—resonate—whether the Cubs finish first or last. Knowing that, it helps us feel even more optimistic—naive?—than ever because if the 100th season is going to stand out anyway, what have we got to lose if we put our faith in this team; if we believe—truly believe—that Next Year is finally here?

Cubs fans understand better than anyone that someone must lose every baseball game. We also have more than any other fans the capacity to believe that next time, this time, when the most critical moment arrives, it will not be our turn to lose. This is our year to reaffirm this belief.

This is our year.
Posted Sunday, March 30, 2008 by JCB
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