Friday, August 26, 2011

Diamond-shaped temple: Borges, Ripken, Flanagan

Perhaps he was a god, breathing life into, animating, his various worlds and people.

"He sought a soul which would merit participation in the universe."

Wednesday was Jorge Luis Borges's birthday. He would have been 112 years old. He earned himself a Google Doodle with his worlds and people, his lifetime of creation. It was also Cal Ripken, Jr.'s birthday. He was 51. He's earned himself a household name that more people in America know than know Borges's. No Google Doodle, but Cal could run for and win any elected office in Maryland.

Reading Borges's story, "The Circular Ruins," all I can picture is a diamond shape. A baseball field. He says "the circle was a temple..., whose god no longer received the homage of men."

When I was seven, eight, ten, I breathed life into my baseball cards. Murray, Singleton, Bumbry, Dempsey, Palmer, Flanagan. I could recite statistics and characteristics and when I would watch them on TV, the Orioles and their diamond-shaped temple were more than images on a screen and somehow more than people--athletes--when we would go worship at Memorial Stadium.

I wasn't the only life-breather when it came to baseball and the Orioles. The diamond-shaped temple was full. And the breathing was dialectical: they, in turn, filled us with life, via home runs, strikeouts, a hometown pride and a cartoon bird.

Ripken earned himself a demigod status in Baltimore, perhaps in the wider baseball world. He was and still is baseball in Baltimore. The city's chosen son.

Flanagan was my favorite pitcher, and behind Murray, my favorite Oriole. 1979 was one of the first years I was quoting Orioles statistics and he went 23-9 and won the American League Cy Young Award, named the best pitcher for that year. Flanny and the O's went to the World Series, losing a heart-breaker to the Pirates. Perhaps we didn't pray hard enough at the temple until 1983.

Flanagan wore number 46. He was the only 46 I could think of my sophomore year of high school at Easton High, when I grabbed my jersey and became another number 46. The same black and orange colors, though I didn't have the cool mustache or long hair, and wasn't left-handed.

Wednesday, with Borges's Google Doodle and Ripken's birthday, the Orioles played baseball at a diamond-shaped temple. The Orioles have not been a good team for some time, and you might say their god, the cartoon bird no longer receives the homage of men, though the town wants to pray there. On Wednesday night, #46 was on the mound for the O's and pitched them to victory, not unlike Flanagan did so frequently in the 1970s and 80s. Maybe the temple was alive for a night.

But as Jim Palmer spoke after, the game faded into the background. We were no longer breathing life into Flanagan. At least not in a real sense.

But yesterday, driving to work and listening to people call into 105.7 The Fan, and tell Flanagan stories, there was no doubt: he was still breathing life into us.


Stephen G. Bardsley said...

MV, Was at the game last night. Bittersweet, nice to beat the crap out of the evil empire, but hard to look at the #46 tribute all game long on the out of town scoreboard. No running yet, but biking daily. Mid September will do a self created century ride that I am calling the "Bay to Breakers." Kent Island to Assateague state park in 1 day. Later, Bards

Michael Valliant said...

Must have been quite a scene at Camden Yards, Stephen. Most excellent on the bike journey. You are unparalleled in your Tour de Shore epic cycling adventures!