Author’s note: Today is the one year anniversary of both my marriage and the Edinson Volquez no-hitter. My wife and I are happy, enjoying the time we’ve had together, and imagining what the future might hold. We’re building our relationship as a base to last for the rest of our lives.
The Marlins are searching for a way to cultivate something along the same lines. A relationship with a city and a fanbase that hasn’t tangible or present for a long time. A front office built on trust and ethics. Players, spanning the bridge between the aforementioned two, that are clothed in skill, integrity, humility, and (hopefully) teal.
June 3rd, 2017 was a blisteringly hot day in Georgia. Sweat was dripping off my nose and pooling at the small of my back, so much that even a lenient homeowner’s association would demand that I encircle it with a safety fence.
I thought that I felt a sense of calm, somehow straddling the barrier between chaos and order, but in reality the insatiable price for my faux-chillness was constant action, movement, and conversation. I took my brother and one of my best friends on a five mile hike. I consumed close to a pound of fettuccine alfredo. I took two showers. I did push-ups, talked to my grandparents, tried to take a nap and got in some writing. No matter how much accelerant I poured into the engine of time, it rather seemed like time was actually a curmudgeonly old mailman that didn’t give a rip about how soon you need your package, priority shipping or not. I was a man at the mercy the unrelenting, obstinate ticking of the clock waiting for my wedding to begin.
Looking back, I think this was a macro version of the emotion that pitchers feel prior to a start. Nerves or anxiety doesn’t quite describe it. More like the full awareness that today is the day that a hive of cicadas have been waiting for with the sole purpose of coming alive inside of your chest cavity.
Everyone that’s watched a closely contested baseball game has seen it. A pitcher shakes his arm, punches the glove, and whistles some spit to the ground. They inflate their cheeks and exhale over clinched teeth. The first pitch always seems to be accompanied by one last shimmy of the shoulders and a nod at the catcher. At the core level, baseball has always been a combination of power, speed, awareness, and the ability to contain emotions until the time is right. You can see it in the first and last pitch Edinson Volquez throws on June 3rd during the only no-hitter of the 2017 MLB season.
For the first time in 2017, I had not once thought about my beloved Miami Marlins. That was okay with me; at that point in the season, they were 22-31. For me, the memorable points prior to June 3rd were J.T. Realmuto and Marcell Ozuna taking NL Player of the Week awards in the first two weeks of the season, Ichiro’s home run in Seattle, and once again Ozuna when he hit a home run that rocked Tampa Bay’s 2011 American League Wild Card banner. The team was 3-9 against eventual playoff teams. The Fish weren’t even able to muster much competition in those 12 games, as they were outscored 40-69. Giancarlo Stanton hadn’t yet completed his Herculean tasks that would result in him earning his
immortality Pinstripes. No one was sniffing at a shot for the playoffs like we would momentarily in August. Even the All-Star Game seemed like a distant, gleaming star in the night sky. The Marlins had me wrapped up for 364 days of 2017, but on this most special of days, I couldn’t have cared less.
Former MLB Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti wrote in his classic “Green Fields of the Mind” that in baseball he searches for “deep patterns, three strikes, three outs, three times three innings, and it’s deepest impulse, to go out and back, to leave and to return home, to set the order of the day and to organize the daylight.” This Homeric allusion to the archetypal story of the hero’s journey home is replayed for us hundreds of thousands of times, generation by generation, with each game holding strikingly similar outcomes. The ball is thrown, and someone either hits it or misses it, but when an anomaly occurs it stands out. What happens when no one hits the ball?
On my wedding day, expectations were designed to be surprising. Not in a shocking kind of way, but something that breaks the patina of the typical human condition. Something that makes people really, actually smile and feel that I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter® kind of warmth inside of themselves. Every human being I knew and deeply cared about was waiting for the climax of June 3rd via The Kiss or The First Dance or The Cake Cutting or something like that. We all dressed up in our finery and showed up at the venue, a special place that was hand-built during the Depression by some of my bygone fellow alumni. Everyone just patiently paused until the proceedings began. Just like fans at a ballpark, all the accumulated people waited until the excitement really started.
Even like a typical baseball game, weddings have their own way of being a really magical event, but we oftentimes lose sight of that. Players, people just like you and me, show up to the park to present the best of our human nature. They’re all so similar to the players that built our beautiful game a century and a half ago, but they still find ways to defy our expectations. We go to the ballpark like we go to weddings. We’re looking for both the normal and the abnormal. People are looking for talent at the ballpark like they’re looking for love at a wedding, but in the end aren’t those the best things life has to offer?
At some point, after all of the things it seems like my wedding is finally about to begin. I was left alone in a sort of forsaken holding room just waiting until it was finally my turn to finish it all. To seal the deal. I felt like a pitcher waiting to go out and make history. To win beyond winning to a point where people would talk about it all for years on end. Something memorable for myself and everyone I care about. No one talks to a pitcher in a dugout before he writes history. No one talks to groom before the wedding starts. In their own way, they don’t want to jinx these kind of things.
However, almost immediately before I walk out, before the song that is supposed to summon me starts, before my 9th inning begins, all the men in my family walk into the room. They hold my shirt collar, shoulder, sleeve, pants leg, and they start to pray. They send out universally echoing ripples of happiness and good wishes. They’re the child at the top of the 9th inning of a no-hitter looking up at the sky and holding their hat saying Thank you for all of this...but please just let it keep going.
After our wedding comes a party, a reception of us newly-weds into our novel world of togetherness. People celebrate each of their new family and friends. We dance and we cut the cake and try to just soak it all in. After a certain point, we lose some of the finery, men loosen their ties, and ladies take off their heels. We begin to dance less as individuals and more as a collective. Less Michael Bublé and more T-Pain. We’re all hugging and people are crying. It’s a team that is in the zenith of celebrating a no-hitter but just with a lot less dog piles, cleats, and chewing tobacco.
Finally, there’s a moment that I’m dancing with my new, beautiful wife, hugging my childhood friends, shaking hands with coworkers, and then a close friend grasps me by the lapel and pulls me close. He’s got this intensity that could be translated a thousand ways, a toss up of everything between benevolent and baleful. He shouts in my ear, but it sounds like a whisper with the music and boisterous crowd. EDINSON VOLQUEZ JUST THREW A NO-HITTER. My brain doesn’t translate it as another mundane notification of baseball news but just as something purely happy. Just another hearty smile for a day that I didn’t think could afford me any more.
Giamatti opens “Green Fields of the Mind” with “[Baseball] breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart.” Baseball, to him, has a soul that connects with that of summer itself, and when baseball dies it takes all that warmth, happiness, and joy along with it. Their dual passing leaves us longing for more during the cold and overcast days.
On December 13th, 34 year-old Edinson Vólquez was released by the Marlins after throwing the franchise’s sixth no-hitter in their history. It was only the 296th time it has happened in all of baseball since they started counting in 1876. In respect to his 13 year career, 2017 was actually slightly above average for Vólquez. He went 4-8 with a 4.19 ERA in 92 1/3 innings. Despite recovering from a serious fall in the first inning of one of the best nights of his career, he eventually fell to the all too familiar procedure known as Tommy John’s surgery. While there is still a possibility the Marlins may re-sign Vólquez, he will almost certainly never be the same player again.
There aren’t really appropriate words to describe the abject sadness of the inevitable passing of talent, but obviously there can’t be enough said about the joy that they bring while they’re still around. For Vólquez, I can’t say thank you enough in regards to the serendipitous joy he brought me on my wedding day. I think of that day as the perfect example of an overwhelming feeling of my cup overflowing. Everything seemed completely euphoric beyond belief and suddenly I was given one more minute facet of the day that just makes you want to raise up open palms. Those collection of life’s special anomalies — family, weddings, no-hitters — are the ones that ignite the embers, the joie de vivre, on my coldest and most overcast days. They’re moments that remind us all to cherish the good times and to endure the bad with a steadfast heart, waiting for new moments to raise our brows and take our breath away.