NEW YORK – Not all great insights come in the back of a New York City cab, but not all of them don’t either. So on a Wednesday morning when the U.N. business has fouled traffic and making a left turn is a test of your commitment to life ever after, the gentleman at the wheel lays off the horn and says, “Kids?”
Two, I say.
“Three,” he says. “I wish I had 10.”
“Ten. At least.”
He likes kids, he says. Their innocence. The way they wander through their days so happy. So dedicated they are to where their feet are. Mostly, though, he said, it’s him he misses. The him from back then, when they were them.
“A year was so long then,” he says. “It’s the time. Time never came. Now, it’s gone.”
He waves his hand, this 66-year-old man from Bogota, Colombia, his kids grown and off to their own lives too soon, him pushing a cab up FDR Drive. He gestures to the passenger-side window, to a park named after a former mayor here, and a small ball field. A little girl dressed in pink sits where the pitcher’s mound would be. She’s making dirt tepees with her hands. A woman, her mother probably, runs slow laps along the fence.
“Ah,” he says. “Remember?”
The black airport car behind him blows its horn.
“All right, all right,” he says, not really mad.
Up ahead a few miles, the New York Yankees are going to try to catch the Boston Red Sox, and the Minnesota Twins are going to try to stay clear of the Los Angeles Angels, and Bartolo Colon is going to pitch against a man nearly 21 years his junior, and time is an 87-mph sinkerball with an airy wheeze, a fun little Afro and a fire-engine-red baseball glove.
Maybe that’s why Bart walks so slowly. Because, really, what’s the rush? In fact, when Paul Molitor comes for the ball in the fourth inning, ol’ Bart looks like he’d be content just to sit on the mound and make dirt tepees for a little while longer. He hands over the ball and shrugs and bears a posture that says, well, that didn’t go so well again. He’s 44 years old and supposedly helping the Twins do something nobody saw coming, and yet in his last 11 innings he’s given up 16 runs, and Wednesday’s loss was his fourth in four September starts. He’s capable and barely holding on at the same time, which is what the game looks like after a couple decades and a few thousand innings.
The final days of September arrive in the Bronx. For an afternoon, the measure of a young club – Luis Severino pitching, Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez coming to bat – will be Colon, old enough to be their father’s cool brother and who, heck yeah, will play catch and maybe sneak you a PBR tallboy to share.
Colon has said he’d pitch until he’s 45, a promise he said he made to his mother. That would get him to next May. He’ll almost certainly be in somebody’s camp come spring, no matter how many bats he hits between now and then.
It’s not great right now, and this is a problem for the Twins, along with a problem for Bart. Giving away a generation is one thing, giving up six runs in 3 1/3 innings on Sept. 20 is another, just as it was giving up four runs in six innings five days before, and another six in 1 2/3 innings five days before that. There’s hardly any shame in allowing a home run to Judge (which he did, in the third inning, Judge’s 45th) or to Sanchez (which he did, a few pitches later, Sanchez’s 32nd) or, for that matter, a triple to Jacoby Ellsbury or a double to Greg Bird, except that right in the middle of the party that’s only just getting going in the Bronx it dawns on you it’s at the expense of the 44-year-old.
All’s fair, of course. Colon is a marvel in what is his time, which he’s drawn over so many pitching lives and reincarnations. The Twins were his option and he theirs, so here they are, together, packing for Detroit, 10 games to play, the bus idling and their wild-card lead a single game. He can still be the guy who threw a complete game in August against the Rangers, who the next time threw seven shutout innings in Milwaukee. But, given enough opportunity, enough fastball counts, enough corners, Wednesday afternoon can happen. Judge, Sanchez, Bird can happen.
“The important thing,” he says later, after the Yankees won 11-3, “is thanks to God I feel good. I feel strong. You can tell by how hard I’m throwing the ball.”
It was true, too, that when he rose up against Judge, when he wanted to finish him at 0-and-2, Colon threw a 94-mph fastball. Also, Judge hit that into the right-field bleachers.
“What happened happened,” he says. “There’s nothing we can do about it now.”
Not all great insights come from a baseball diamond. Or from a baseball clubhouse. Except the game does stay young. And time does come.
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