Beyond the Batter's Box

Appreciating Craig Kimbrel

An odyssey of human appreciation and memory and, of course, Craig Kimbrel

Featured image courtesy of: (Oct. 8, 2017 – Source: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images North America)

One of the fundamental flaws of humanity is taking wonderful things we have in front of us for granted. Caught in the shackles of the demands and stresses of our everyday lives, we forget to acknowledge our blessings. When these blessings run their course, like everything on planet Earth, only then do we have the revelation. We finally comprehend just how wonderful they truly were in the first place, ceasing to exist but as a snippet inside our convoluted memory.

Then, twenty-two uneasy years go by and you are dozed off in a black, leather Lazy-Boy recliner that you got for an insanely good deal on Memorial Day weekend. Not only was it Memorial Day weekend, but you noticed a minuscule, inconsequential discoloration on the underside of the recliner lever, so you bargained your way to an extra 10 percent off the sale price. Anyway, slumped into the impenetrable depths of the chair, with your eyes flickering and the grip of your right hand on the half-consumed Rocking Roll loosening, you faintly hear something so sweet from the cable-less television screen.

Your synapses fire at an alarming rate, trying to recapture the memory you had buried inside a factory of intricately suppressed memories long ago. You perch up on your chair, heart pounding with elation unrivaled to anything you have felt since…..what, exactly? Was it the time when you saw your wife of thirty years for the first time in her wedding dress? No, that cannot possibly it. This feeling is different, profound even.

What did the  72-year-old returned and beloved Red Sox play-by-play announcer Don Orsillo say? Could it possibly be or did you conjure it in your dream-like state? You scream at Sheila, which is an advanced, futuristic version of a modern-day Alexa, to turn the volume up. Upset with your diatribe against her, Sheila demands an apology before complying with your request (this system is really big on politeness). You mutter a half-assed apology and, rolling her artificial, non-existent eyes, does what you asked.

The Rolling Rock’s contents have been spilled ferociously on the floor in your confused, hopeful trance. While your overweight, chocolate labradoodle scurries from its checkered-theme dog bed to lick up whatever the hell you just dropped all over the floor, you hear the words that brings everything rushing back to you. “Coming into pitch for the Boston Red Sox in the 6th inning, making his MLB debut, is Sage Pimbrel,” Orsillo says with a familiar bewilderment.

It can’t possibly be. Heart racing, pupils dilating and mouth ajar, you intensely watch the undersized kid begin to warm-up fresh off the bullpen cart. He is roughly 250 pounds and looks absolutely nothing like….but Sage Pimbrel sounds like….”it’s f*cking Craig Kimbrel,” color commentator David Ortiz excitedly announces to the world, interrupting your mid-life crisis and taking the words right out of your mouth.

Confusingly, — to Sage Pimbrel alone — the crowd begins to rise one by one, uniformly clapping and chanting “Craig Kimbrel” repeatedly. Pimbrel, confounded by what is happening, stops warming up and, the narcissist that he is, actually thinks they are cheering his name. The kid with a career 5.50 ERA in the minors, which is actually not as bad as it sounds considering the home run trend in baseball got really out of hand, removes his cap from his head, gesturing it towards the crowd in appreciation.

Naturally, the crowd goes nuts and the Craig Kimbrel fervor cannot be quelled. Nostalgia has captivated the hearts of 75,000 fans comfortably seated in their black, leather chairs that are very much not from Lazy-Boy at Fenway Park. Not to mention the hundreds of thousands watching from their Lazy-Boy recliners.

Side note: Fenway Park underwent a few minor renovations. Let’s just say Yawkey Way is not a thing anymore and Jersey Street’s tenure wasn’t very long. 

I’ll let the ever-suave, kind of a selfish jackass Don Draper of Mad Men describe what everyone watching Craig Kimbr… I mean, Pimbrel felt.

Nostalgia – it’s delicate, but potent. Teddy told me that in Greek, “nostalgia” literally means “the pain from an old wound.” It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone.

Wow. I really couldn’t say it better myself. No, literally, I couldn’t and that is why I ripped off the quote.

Anyway, Pimbrel spots his family in the crowd, life-long Red Sox fans mind you, standing in support about twenty rows back from the first base dugout. In an almost synchronized, father-son heartfelt moment, Sage’s father holds up a bright, yellow sign with horribly crooked and pasted bubble letters, reading “We heart (but think of like an endearing, conventional red heart that looks nothing like an actual heart instead of the word “heart”) Craig.”

A smile widens on Sage Pimbrel’s pimply and broad face. “Craig,” the enchanting, dubious nickname that his parents bestowed upon him before the beginning of time. They had told him this nickname was given to him in memory of a forgotten family friend. Consequently, whenever anybody would talk or reference the real “Craig Kimbrel,” Pimbrel would assume they were just talking about him. Even when they gushed over his career stats that were evidently not his or anointed him the “greatest closer of all-time,” Pimbrel seriously never questioned any of it, building an ego that has seriously gotten out of hand. It is actually why he choose to start playing baseball in the first place.

As you should be able to tell, our friend Sage was not known for being the most observant.

After basking in the glory for another few seconds, the pitcher who had advanced so far because of comparison alone, was told by the irritated umpire, who once upon a time cried tears for two weeks straight after Craig Kimbrel struck out Giancarlo Stanton with two outs in the bottom 9th in Game 7 of the ALCS to bring Boston to the 2018 World Series, that the pitch clock had reset and expired three times. This would go onto be an MLB record until the end of time.

As such, three balls had been charged against Pimbrel and he had used up the team’s one coveted mound visit. Yes, umpires coming to the mound constitute mound visits nowadays. Nevertheless, Pimbrel is not discouraged. He is the “GOAT,” after all, more precious to New Englanders than some 6th-round quarterback out of Michigan he heard of on Snapchat TV.

With a confident snicker retorting to the umpire’s outlandish punishments but still obeying his commands, Pimbrel got set to pitch out of the stretch. He exclusively pitched out of the stretch. At the plate, was a career minor-leaguer, who had taken Pimbrel deep twice in one inning last year in Single-A. For some reason, people really believed there was some untapped potential the right-handed hurler was on the precipice of discovering at any moment.

This was a new Sage Pimbrel, however. One who had not given up a regular season homerun in five months. Granted, the season ended five months ago and he had surrendered12 dingers in 3 and 1/3 innings in spring. Pimbrel knew, as well as us, that spring training stats were meaningless, though.

The roar of the crowd had not dimmed down even slightly. The world was on Sage’s side, there was no way he could mess this up. With the ball in his mitt, he started his awkward delivery, which objective scouts described as “simply the worst we have ever seen,” and fired the first pitch.

The self-proclaimed “knuckle-curve,” which his father had taught him in the backyard, did not go as planned, looking a bit like 50 Cents’ first pitch for the Mets thrown approximately 25 years ago.

The career minor-leaguer at the plate smiles at the pitch, which, clocked in at 63 mph, skimmed the right thigh of the on-deck batter. He jogs to first base and the on-deck batter, who has been on-deck for an ungodly amount of time, comes to plate, a wee bit mad that his right thigh experienced a slightly uncomfortable physical sensation for less than second.

This batter is none other than Mike Trout, who has played an absurdly long 30-something year career. Last season, his OBP was .450 and he surpassed the 200-career WAR threshold five years ago. Nearing 50, he publicly owes his long, successful career to the TB12 nutritional method. Trout vs. Time was a riveting sequel to Tom vs. Time.

The greatest player of all-time, outside of Pimbrel (of course), signed with the Montreal Senators, the team Pimbrel is currently facing, eleven years ago, inking the first billion-dollar contract in sports history. He owns a house in Nantucket.

Even with a runner on base and manager Jackie Bradley Jr. appearing a tad nervous, Pimbrel feels nothing but pure, unwarranted confidence. He gets back into the stretch, confers with the catcher, via bluetooth, about the pitch he is going to throw. They both agree on a classic, heralded Sage Pimbrel fastball. Trout is in trouble now, he thinks to himself while adjusting his jock strap.

There is a steady, obligatory cheer now. It is one built upon increasing skepticism but it is audible nonetheless. A 0-0 count, the possibilities are endless but for Pimbrel there is only one outcome feasible: a nasty strikeout, which will inevitably haunt Trout like the Pablo Sandoval signing has haunted Red Sox’ fans for decades.

He stares Trout down for a microsecond, a fragment in time that exists in that microsecond solely. He finally averts his gaze, focusing his eyes to the big catcher’s mitt dangling 60 feet away. To Pimbrel, it is much closer.

He sets himself, ball in hand, which is also in glove. He extends his arm backward and raises his leg at a way-too obtuse angle simultaneously. The fluidity of a pitcher’s delivery, with the exception of Pimbrel, is truly magnificent.

The crowd is engrossed and, among the 75,000 observers, no one is looking away. Pimbrel releases the ball from its tantalizing fourseam grip and it is in the air for what seems like a lifetime. Funny how time appears to slow down in moments like this. The ball was in the air for maybe a second, but to everyone watching, it defied gravity and stayed there for a lifetime. Think Carlton Fisk waving the ball fair for his iconic homerun.

If you do literally pause the game, you can see this confident smirk riding Pimbrel’s the entire pitch. It was actually really scary how his expression did not change, even slightly, during a time of such physical assertion. On the opposite side of the diamond, you can see Trout’s pupils dilate while a smile wider than the Atlantic Ocean stuck to his face during the entire second the ball left the hand of poor Pimbrel.

They say it was the longest homerun of the StatCast era, which actually is quite a bit of time history at this point in time. 562 feet. It soared over the Green Monster like a majestic bird flying south for the winter. Legend has it, when Pimbrel realized how far it was going he muttered aloud “if you’re a bird, I’m a bird.” He vehemently refuted this when he was asked in an interview about it after the game.

At 78 mph, the pitch made end-of-career Jered Weaver look like he was packing serious heat. It was, as Trout stated later that night “the juiciest meatball I have ever seen. Sorry, grandma.” The two-run dinger was the 907th of Trout’s career. His quest for 1,000 long balls is insatiable and, through proper nutrition, will be attained with relative ease.

Manager Jackie Bradley Jr. or, as the old-timers call him “JBJ,” immediately removed Pimbrel from the game, where he was greeted with flabbergasted faces from all walks of life. His dad has not spoken to him since.

It was not a mere demotion that awaited Sage Pimbrel, my dear reader, but an exile from baseball altogether.

The nostalgia had worn off, the illusion had been shattered. A simple memory had been exposed for what it  was: a memory. The guise had been revealed behind its misleading Sage Pimbrel curtain. The crowd tried so desperately to hold onto the past, they tricked themselves into distorting the present. They actually thought Sage Pimbrel was a quality pitcher. I think the worst part, though, was no one could lie to themselves any further. Truth appeared clearer and, depressingly, singular.

Our lives are built upon moments that inevitably fade away forever. It is scary to acknowledge, yes, because this puts are ability to control our lives into question. Even the moments, themselves, are out of our control, in a physical realm made up of sentient beings and conditions far out of reach, far out of management.

When we put this into perspective, however, we can appreciate our moments and, in turn, our lives differently, even more harmoniously. We can realize the moments are fleeting but they exist in us in our own infinity because they make up who we are. This is where we can exert control over our lives: our ability to react in whichever way we choose to any given situation. We can react with love, grace, appreciation, acceptance, adventure, etc., which are all part of the recipe for a happy, meaningful life. Or we can react with bitterness, intolerance, fear, anger etc., which are, you guessed, it all recipes for a somber, regretful existence.

Appreciating what is in front of you, the beauty and novelty of your blessings, is a prime example of not only our ability to choose, but to create lasting meaning in a finite world. The fact that we, as baseball fans, get to watch Craig Kimbrel, the pitcher and the man, is truly a gift. The same can be said for lots of other talented baseball players in this medium we choose to derive comfort and devote our time to.

Perspective is potent. I hope this is nothing monumental for a lot of people, rather, I hope it serves as a reminder to some who are led astray by the temptation of vices. If we dig, perhaps not deeper, but on a similar breadth, we will find that baseball is not everything and that more important things exist outside of the game we cherish so much.

Presently, which does not cease for the past, Craig Kimbrel’s daughter, Lydia, is in the hospital, recovering from the third heart surgery of the four-month-old’s life, according to the Boston Globe. Here’s how the Red Sox showed their support, via the Boston Globe.

“On Sunday, the Red Sox let the family know they remain very much in their thoughts. Before the game against Baltimore, every player and coach wore a red T-shirt that read, “We are #LydiaStrong,’’ across the front in white letters. Robby Scott came up with the idea and had enough shirts made for everybody. Manager Alex Cora immediately approved.”

A profound, supportive and loving gesture, the Red Sox are showing the world what truly matters by publicly donning #LydiaStrong t-shirts. No, obviously, it cannot change any of the medical matters at hand but it highlights a community of people who care about other people, who care about Lydia. We, here, at Red Sox Unfiltered want to do the same by writing this. Actually, I wanted to do a couple of things by writing this but it seemed the words wrote themselves.

Look, me writing a blog post is going to do nothing in the grand scheme of things but, as a person, it matters to me that I wrote these words. Lydia is in my thoughts and prayers, as is the entire Kimbrel family. Appreciating Craig Kimbrel, the person, and, the player, are different entities, but this is a man who, unknowingly, has given me plenty of joy over the past two years as a Red Sox fan. As a baseball fan, he has given me nearly a decade’s worth of joy. At the end of the day, that means something, even if it is a one-sided connection made possible by the commercialization of a child’s game.

I do not know Craig Kimbrel better than any of you, but yearn to actively appreciate what he has done for me while wishing the best for his little girl.

Red Sox Nation loves you, Craig, and, while I am not the king of Red Sox’ fans (yet), I think I speak for all of us when I say we all are thinking about you and Lydia in this difficult time.

Admittedly, this article has taken weird turns. It went from preaching of a life philosophy to a symbolic and satirical story about said life philosophy, which then turned back into a life philosophy and finished with a well wishes for Craig Kimbrel’s daughter, Lydia. It was hard to connect the dots, but hopefully it all made sense in the end. I knew I wanted to end this post supporting Kimbrel and his daughter, I just had no idea about the journey that would get me there.

Life is short and memory fallible, but along the way, I hope all of come to find/understand what really matters in life, which are the people and things we love.

Just wait until you hear the story of Cookie Metts, who debuted the day after Sage Pimbrel. You may learn how to deal with life when it throws you a curveball, or, more than likely, how to swing and miss at one way before it crosses the plate.

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