It's very easy to disassociate yourself from athletes who play major league sports. They look nothing like you, are in excellent physical shape, have more money than you ever will and are preternaturally gifted. So with this disassociation we are able to say horrible things about these athletes, sometimes nice things but mostly things that we just wouldn't say about other people. This is by no means bad or wrong, it's just that we expect a lot out of our highly paid professional athletes and again, it's not like we know them.
That all changed for me last night when my father called me around 8.
"Guess who's pitching for the Nationals tonight?"
"Pretty close. It's John Lannan."
"From Point Lookout?"
I didn't immediately remember John, and we had some disagreement as to whether I played on his team or against his team in Little League. But I was excited nonethless. When I turned on the game and saw John Lannan on camera, it came flooding back: I had homeroom with this guy in middle school. And now he was 6'5", 200 pounds and the proud owner of one more major league win than I would ever have. It even turns out he was the guy who broke Chase Utley's hand!
And that's where it gets odd. Will Leitch says, understandably, that he doesn't expect any great moments from John Lannan that night. Deadspin commenters who have crushes on Chase Utley say things like "I can't wait until he retires with a 4.97 ERA" and generally do not seem to be a fan of his. Yet all I can see when I'm watching this game is the kid I was in homeroom with every groggy morning in seventh and eighth grade. But confounding that image is Lannan himself, doing things that every pitcher does. Spitting. Peering in to the catcher over and over. Trying to put down sacrifice bunts. It was all so natural, you wonder if some people are just born to be pro baseball players.
I started out wanting John to give up 756, not because I didn't like him, but because I thought it would be cool if he had that place in history. Only one person on Earth can give up 756, and why shouldn't it be John Lannan of Long Beach, NY? But as the game went on and John kept hanging around, I decided, fuck it, I'd rather he had a long and prosperous major league career and retire with a 3.50 ERA. He pitched Bonds tough and watching him pump his fist after he struck out one of the greatest players of all time was thrilling.
So pitch, pitch on John Lannan. Hopefully one of these days we get to see you toeing the rubber at Shea.