Nick Markakis is the right fielder of the Baltimore Orioles and the very soul of baseball (with all apologies to Joe Posnanski and the late Buck O’Neil). He’s nothing too special as a player though he’s above replacement level and would serve as a useful cog on many teams. I live neither in the Baltimore area and I’m no Orioles fan- I know next to nothing about the man though I doubt he’s despicable. He hasn’t been arrested for murder or caught drinking and driving on some warm night down Florida. With my lack of knowledge I can project whatever I want onto him and that’s the fun. That’s one of the joys of being a fan.
Baseball is now a white collar game, long forgetting the ethnic roughnecks of the late 19th and early 20th centuries who found their way out of the mines and off the farms by playing a child’s game with a sort of violence only found now in football, rugby, or YMCA intramural basketball. Now baseball is a sport for the water cooler set. Where George Will and a bunch of white sportswriters can write epic poems about the American spirit supposedly found in the hidden layers of the game. Under 2nd base is Entrepreneurialism, behind the home plate umpire is Democracy, and somewhere in the outfield grass is Can-Doism or maybe that’s Cheating. The last fellow goes by a lot of names. There’s Joe from accounting who enjoyed reading Moneyball and now thinks of graphs to explain how right-handed power hitters are underestimated in today’s market and ways to utilize that information for his fantasy league. While in the next cubical Mark has no need for numbers. He SEES players, can read them as men. He writes crass comments on some of the local team’s blogs and enjoys getting slightly drunk at games. And for such a sport Markakis is the perfect representative. He is not among the elites nor is he scraping by. He’s a middle-class guy for a middle-class sport.
I know there will be many more Markakises as I grow older. Dependable, memorable in their own way but not enough of a character to be recalled often in baseball literature. The player who will be quickly forgotten by the next baseball generation with only his statistics to prove he once roam the field. There’s the eternal bond of baseball- a thousand Markakises played before him, a thousand will play after. I shall remember some of them fondly and others will agitate me with their ill-time swings and miss catches. The dependability of baseball is based around there will always be super-stars and scrubs but there will also be some outfielders with some pop, pitchers who throw strikes, and those feisty defensive catchers. The game smells of clichés like a garbage dump of Michael Bay movies because roles will be repeated. Baseball is a song which always returns to the chorus. I’m sure this all sounds very boring but boring people must be amused as much as the next person, it’s just that they’re never going to return that favor but they’ll do your taxes for you. Isn’t that enough for you people? Let me enjoy by little banal paradise and the place where Nick Markakis can live out a dream of glory without being a star.