RSBS Podcast regular and Second City performer, Mark “Pie” Piebenga shares with us his thoughts:
Brennan Boesch made his major league debut last season at the Ballpark at Arlington on April 23, 2010. On my sketchy MLB.TV feed I heard Rod Allen’s sing-song voiceover on a shot of him sticking his head out of the visitor dugout, for the first time examining an empty big league park in all it’s vastness, no doubt dumbstruck by the thought, “I’m going to be playing in this joint tonight.” That night Boesch went 2 for 4 with a double (albeit in a Tigers loss), a prescient harbinger for his strong season and 5th place in rookie of the year voting (which honestly I remembered as better than his .256/.320/.416, 14 HR, 67 RBI line). Early days though it may be, he’s putting up even better numbers offensively (.300/.359/.485, 10 HR, 38 RBI) and similarly adequate defensive ones (RF 1.91 in ’10, 2.00) this year.
This improvement was epitomized in his return to Arlington with the Tigers on June 6 this year, a game in which he went 5-5 with 2 HR and 5 RBI. Clearly the 97° degree weather made for a lively ball, belied by the 13-7 Tiger win. You can’t expect that kind of an outing every time from the young man, but there’s something so exciting about production out of young players.
Last Tuesday afternoon (6/21) Tiger Don Kelly knocked in his second home run of the year, off Matt Guerrier, at Chavez Ravine against the Dodgers. (Until this week Guerrier owned a sub-3.00 lifetime ERA against the Tigers, owing to seven years tendered with the Twinkies.) At 31, Kelly is five years older than Boesch, and lacks his pedigree (not to his body type – Kelly has a thin-necked way about him. And at what point can any of us say that the name “Don” has inspired much in the way of terror in the hearts of men? “Save us! The heathen hordes are approach the city gates, at the helm of their curs-ed onslaught is the much-feared chief and leader, Don! AHHHH! Flee for the caves!”).
Kelly’s season home run total is now two, a bit behind last year’s mark of nine (incidentally the number Ty Cobb hit in 1909). Don Kelly is my age, and it pains me to think that he has passed the years by which baseball players tend to have proved themselves. Can I equate any meaningful life lessons based on Don Kelly’s baseball career? It’s a lifetime, to this point, where four of the last five years have seen him make it to baseball’s biggest stage. Among minor league players he would be considered a flying success. He’s earned the major league minimum wage in four of the last five seasons. That’s many hundreds of thousands of dollars more than his minor league contemporaries will ever make.
But when you put him in the context of a rookie like Brennan Boesch, whose success this year and last year, while perhaps not wildly unbelievable, dwarfs kelly’s achievements. His thin neck and his name of Don combine to make me feel an amiability towards him, a sadness, and a certain feeling of doom.
Don Kelly hit .244 last year. That’s not great. This year he’s up to .260, which is sure as hell a lot better than Ryan Raburn (or Brandon Inge, who he recently covered for at 3B). Why am I so transfixed by this guy? Is it because he is achieving his dream, and yet is markedly below the figures who capture our imaginations, even in the fairly low-stratosphere Detroit Tigers?
My fascination with the poor bastard seems to come from the fact that I identify with him. I believe I could achieve nominally in a given field, and even surpass a number of my contemporaries. But deep down I feel that I hold a limited ceiling on my potential, that I am, within myself, capable of only so much achievement – good, but not great. Don Kelly is the mediocre but by all accounts successful prototype which I fear myself to be. And it is only human to know that sometimes you are going to have people surpass your accomplishment if you hang around long enough to get shown up. Kurt Vonnegut offers us this advice in Timequake: “If you do something long enough, even if you’re really good at it, eventually you’re going to come across someone who is going to cut you a new a**hole. What I tell young people is: stay home, stay home stay home.”
Eventually you’re going to find someone who’s going to be so much better at what you do, you’re going to “feel like something the cat dragged in,” to borrow another quip Vonnegut loves. Does this mean that we should perhaps not try at all? Of course not. Don Kelly has done nothing but try. He’s displayed a level of commitment that I in my personal life would very much aspire to, and to which I honestly must conclude I have come up short.
I dated a girl once whose parents never told her that she could be anything she wanted to be when she grew up. But she’s the only person who I’ve ever met like that. Everyone else I know had parents who said, “you can be anything you put your mind to.” I was raised in a best-of-all-possible-worlds-Candide-type home. Unfortunately, much like Candide, I have grown up to find that it’s not entirely true. I can be pretty good, but I don’t think I can be anything.
So here we are, back at Don Kelly. As I said, I feel an ambivalence for him, animosity at watching him flair in failure at so many pitches, and affection when he cranks a triple like he did the other week, or a long fly like he did the other day. Perhaps I can’t achieve even to the level he has. But I take some solace in that even if I can’t be the best, maybe I can still be pretty good. Hell, somebody’s got to back up Brandon Inge* when he’s got mono.
On an unrelated note, Jose Valverde’s homepage, un-updated from his days as an Astro, is a must-see. I mean, the URL is www.josevalverde47.com for chrissakes. Courtesy to my roommate Thomas on that one.
*My old roommate Ben insists that from a distance (ie., in most shots on TV), Inge’s forearm tattoos look like they say “Coca-Cola” (rather than the names of his sons, which is the truth). I would have to say I agree with him.