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Opinion

Preserving dignity in baseball and politics

New York Mets centerfielder Yoenis Cespedes (52) hits

New York Mets centerfielder Yoenis Cespedes (52) hits a three-run homer in the bottom of the fourth inning of Game 3 of the NLDS against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Monday, Oct. 12, 2015. Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Like many Mets fans, on Monday morning I was fixated on the Chase Utley takeout slide that ended shortstop Ruben Tejada’s season.

So I spent the morning calling high school baseball coaches in Queens, asking what they would tell their players before Game 3. How do you protect your people, preserve your dignity, respect the game, do the right thing, and also (naturally) advance to the NLCS? 

Unfortunately, two things were going against me in the callback department—it was Columbus Day and also the Public School Athletic League’s Junior Showcase. I was left to stew about Utley on my own.

Then, that afternoon, I heard from a coach. We happily dissected the slide for a while. He said he was surprised at Utley. He talked about working on character building with his players, carrying themselves as gentlemen at all times, and the physical nature of the game, that it’s a tough game, the need to “play it right.” He didn’t wholly vilify or excuse — he saw both sides.

He seemed like a nice guy: loquacious, thoughtful, curious. We’d exhausted the play-by-play, and he asked me how I liked my job. Then we got to talking about politics. He didn’t like the way this country was headed. He said he was scared for me, and this seemed genuine. He was worried about the Islamic State. He thought that Trump seemed like a bright guy, an honest guy. He asked my opinion on gun control, and repeated the refrain about the car crash and whose fault it was.

Today we’re heading into more Mets playoffs and also the first Democratic presidential debate. I was going into both with the same mentality—our side vs. theirs, a win or a loss, take no prisoners. We repeated our prepared lines at each other, regular as a 3-0 fastball. Neither of us came away reformed or changed.

Last night the Mets got on with business as usual — no retaliation, just hits. It ended up being played “right,” like the coach said, in that wonderful vague and honorable baseball parlance that elides difficulty or specificity, welcomes compromise and multiple interpretations, not unlike democracy. At the end of the conversation he said it was nice talking. He loved talking about baseball and politics.

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