So I went to the Red Sox ‘event’ at the mall.  I saw that Ryan Lavarnway was going to be the player attending so I dug out some old Yale stuff for him to sign.  I didn’t go to Yale, but grew up in the area and figured I could use some local knowledge to soften him up to the more important questions of allegiance and large market corruption.

The University Mall was hosting two events last Saturday: the Red Sox ‘event’ and a piano recital.  I walked through the Kohl’s end of the mall (I needed a shirt) and happened upon the piano recital.  There was a youngish girl playing some pleasant music in front of 50 people or so.  It was weird (the mall?!), but nice.  Clearly she’d worked hard to prepare and was doing a great job.  With an old Yale pennant tucked into my jacket I kept going – looking for any sign of the Red Sox ‘event’. 

A couple minutes later- there was Wally!  WALLY!  Some adults were getting their pictures taken with Wally in front of a cell phone kiosk – the Red Sox must be close!  I kept walking around the corner and found the ‘event’.  There were about 1,000 square feet roped off for ‘event’ tables blocking pedestrian traffic to Sears.  Once inside (I circled once to find a way in) there were two forms to fill out for a chance to win free tickets, a table with ‘Red Sox Nation’ membership forms, and a table with a World Series trophy, a Yaz-used bat, a few old documents, and the ’14’ scoreboard plate from that game against Florida in 2003.  There were only about 12-15 fans looking at this stuff.  A local radio station was trying to drum up interest which may have sounded exciting over the radio but was, in reality, just loud, exaggerated hype for a bush league promo.

Ryan Lavarnway wasn’t there.  I asked about him and was told he’d be back in 9 minutes.  So I took a seat and watched the ‘crowd’.  It was pretty boring until a grizzled old coot (who was standing in the same spot outside the rope the whole time) said, ‘Hey Miss…  Hey MISS!’  (A woman at the pay-for-your-fandom table responded with a timid, ‘yes?’)  Old man, ‘Who pays you?’  Woman, ‘Excuse me?’ Old Man, ‘Who PAYS you?!’  Woman (with a hint of indigance), ‘The Boston, Red Sox.’  Old man, ‘Not the mall?’  The woman said no and turned her back.  The old man continued to stand in his spot until I left.

Then Ryan Lavarnway showed up.  I’ll admit, I didn’t immediately know it was him.  I had the chance to be first in line, but figured the family with the kid should go ahead of me.  That’s because I’m a humble and noble human being.  The family got autographs on the photocopied ‘I Met Ryan Lavarnway’ 1/2-sheets and took some pictures with the kid.  Then it was my turn.  I laid out the Yale pennant much to the delight of Mr. Lavarnway.  I asked the age-old New Haven question, ‘Pepe’s or Sally’s’?  Ryan responded coyly with ‘Louis Lunch’.  Touche, my friend…

Then I launched into my awkwardness.  ‘So, uh, how do you see your future, your long-term future, in Boston?’  Ryan (still with a smile), ‘Very bright!’  Me, ‘So you’ll be backing up Salty this year?’  Ryan, ‘Well, I’ll be up.  I don’t know if it’ll be right at the start, but I’ll be up.’  (Larger question for Sox fans- if Ryan Lavarnway is not the back-up catcher in April, who is?)  Then I started to make my point.  ‘Don’t you think a place like, say, Pittsburgh would be a better fit for you at this point?  I mean you’d have platoon time at first, behind an older catcher?’  <Blank stare.> ‘Well, I do.  I think it’d be great if there was a move that put you in Pittsburgh.  I’d love to see you there.’ <Pause… Stare…> Feeling the tension, I remembered that I had a utility knife in my pocket that wouldn’t be appreciated if found by mall security.  I started to turn and walk away, feeling the eyes of the 4 other people in line when Ryan broke the silence.  ‘But I’m not going to Pittsburgh.’ 

That was it.  For a split second I thought he said he didn’t want to go to Pittsburgh, which would have changed the tone of this story to corporate brainwashing and elitist identity formation.  But no, he simply stated the obvious.  It didn’t go the way I’d planned.  I hoped that he would have offered a few bland, positive remarks about his appreciation for the Red Sox and his desire to play baseball, etc.  That would have opened the door to a questions or two about the economics of baseball and and open-ended statement about Sox ownership (to which he would respond with something/anything, allowing me to interpret his thoughts in any way that would further my agenda…)  But he didn’t play to my script.  I felt a little empty (and a bit like a dirtbag…)  As Nietzsche said, ‘If you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.’

Lavarnway was a philosophy major at Yale and, by all accounts, took his studies seriously.  His blunt take on the concrete reality made obvious his existential leanings.  He’s a smart guy.  I don’t think he lacks the imagination to consider hypothetical realities.  But it might be a good use of his time and energy to do so. 

The decisions one makes in the present reality shape the future- Ryan know’s that, Kierkegaard told him so.  It appears that Ryan Lavarnway is making the decision to be a foot solider for the team – to travel the New England mall circuit to improve the team image and sell more stuff.  His assumption must be that his willingness to do the unpopular populist sales job will help him gain favor with the higher ups.  Lavarnway may think he is shaping his own future, but he’s wrong about that.   He is not at fault; he seems to be a genuinely good guy (Big Brother mentor, charity events, and the like…)  But he is misguided. 

Bronson Arroyo was the player that toted the ’04 trophy through the backwoods of the northeast to celebrate the end of the savagely marketed ‘Curse’.  Bronson Arroyo was the player that took the team discount contract and was promptly traded to Cincinnati.  He took less money to retain a job in the high-profile market only to be dealt to the smaller market that would’ve have likely needed to overpay for his services if left to negotiate their own deal.  Bronson got the small check and the small market at the hands of the organization that had him parading around like a trained monkey with a shiny new toy.  It might be worth exerting your individualism with less naivitee, Mr. Lavarnway. 

A player of Lavarneay’s status obviously can’t orchestrate his own trade to a team that would offer more playing time (and more dignity).   But to walk the party line for a small group of radical capitalists (only interested in milking baseball talent for as much fan-love as possible) is dehumanizing.  David Ortiz wasn’t at the mall.  Neither was Kevin Youkilis.  The real faces of this team were at home, living their lives.  They know what the games is.  They know this organization.  They know to use their star leverage to escape the embarrassment of whoring for the Man. 

The Pirates, merely a hypothetical construct in Ryan Lavarnway’s reality, recently showcased guys like Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker, Joel Hanrahan, Jose Tabata, and Pedro Alvarez at their fan outreach events.   The Pirates are clearly an oganization that has created a culture of fan appreciation and respect.  Sure that’s a form of marketing, too.  But it’s marketing human connection, not blind monetary allegiance and brand-name zealotry.  Beware Ryan Lavarnway.  You’re a pawn in an international marketing war against the Yankees.  And remember what Sartre made clear, ‘When the rich wage war, it is the poor who die.’

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