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Requiem for a Fly Ball

We gather today to mourn the passing of our spherical brother Rawlings Official Major League Baseball, or as he was known to those who watched him in action, Rawly.

In many ways, Rawly was just like you and me, stitched together from the same materials that comprise us all. His most basic chemistry was standard-issue. Science tells us Rawly had an inner core made of rubber-coated cork that was surrounded by three layers of wool yarn and a winding of cotton.

But if you weren’t close to Rawly, you couldn’t really tell what was on the inside.

To the world at large, Rawly didn’t appear remarkable. Spectators saw his cowhide cover, his 108 raised red cotton double-stitches and the Delaware River mud in which he was rubbed, and they thought they knew Rawly. Yet Rawly was about more than what he was made of. Rawly lived his too-short life in search of what he wanted to be.

And what Rawly wanted to be more than anything else was a fly ball.

Rawly grew up idolizing fly balls. Fly balls that landed in the gap for a double. Fly balls that scooted into one corner or another for a triple. Fly balls that climbed over the fence for a home run.

Rawly was raised on legends. The Homer in the Gloamin’. The Shot Heard ’Round the World. Mazeroski…Fisk…Joe Carter [1]Todd Pratt [2]. Rawly spoke often of the autumn night in 2011 when he and his young teammates gathered in front of the television in Costa Rica and watched one of their own fly off the bat of David Freese [3] to create yet another chapter of indelible history.

That was the kind of history Rawly was determined to make when he got the call to the majors. That was the kind of history likely on Rawly’s mind that fateful Tuesday evening in New York [4] when he took flight.

Thrown by Dillon Gee [5]. Hit by Alex Wood [6]. Yes, the pitcher. It was the National League, the league where Rawly always wanted to be. He didn’t have to come into contact with the lumber of Jason Heyward [7] or Emilio Bonifacio [8]. He knew any player with a bat in his hand was capable of turning him into the ball he was born to be.

That was what the wood of Wood did. It’s all right to chuckle at the irony. Rawly would have wanted you to. I suspect Rawly wouldn’t have even minded that when he met Wood’s bat in the third inning of his final plate appearance, he didn’t soar through the clouds as he had in his dreams, but rather line-drove his way toward the outfield grass. Rawly wasn’t judgmental. He would have embraced becoming a single or, perhaps with a little luck, a double that bounded to the wall.

Alas, luck wasn’t on Rawly’s side, for his fate was to be that which was the fate of too many of his comrades. He was headed for the place where fly balls go to die.

It had happened to the balls struck a mere two innings earlier by Heyward and Bonifacio. Those seemed destined to be something more than outs, but they met their demise in the glove of Juan Lagares [9].

Juan Lagares’s glove — where fly balls go to die.

Brothers, sisters…please. Rawly would ask you to refrain from booing Juan Lagares’s glove. Jeers were offensive to him; deeply offensive. We all have our purpose in this game, and Juan Lagares’s glove, not unlike the gloves of a few special fielders before him [10], was put among us for a reason. Perhaps as a cautionary sign to each of us as we attempt to go as far as we can in life. Perhaps as the natural run-saving yang to our run-producing yin. Philosophers east and west have tried to understand why gloves like those belonging to Juan Lagares exist and have yet to figure it out. We must accept that there is a mystery to all this.

How could Rawly sink so rapidly yet not hit the ground? How could Lagares’s glove appear from as if out of nowhere [11] and snatch Rawly from the hit column of the box score? Why is it that at a time when so many bloops fall in front of so many fielders, this one didn’t or couldn’t? What kind of Commissioner allows a creature so insatiable as Lagares’s glove to snare from this mortal coil so many good and decent fly balls?

We don’t know the answer…any more than we can comprehend how Juan Lagares’s bat can create a long fly ball that goes for four bases in the very same contest that Juan Lagares’s glove ends the life of fly balls long, short and everywhere in between.

We mustn’t hate Juan Lagares’s glove for being the final resting place of a fly ball like Rawly. We must instead remember Rawly as he wished to be known: elevating unencumbered; descending safely; elusive to all manner of leather; the signature of Allen H. Selig visible to thousands amid the luminescence of the Citi Field floodlights.

Rawly lived as he died, in a baseball game defined by the 360-degree brilliance of Juan Lagares [12]. We can all take comfort from that.