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Mental Ward: Bartolo Colon and everything good about baseball

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This is another article about Bartolo Colon.

Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

In case you missed it, because you decided to avoid the internet, sports news networks, your local news affiliate, and those text messages from your friends, Bartolo Colon hit his first career home run yesterday.

There are numerous reasons why this is such a monumental thing. For starters, Colon is forty-two years old. He was born in 1974, also known as George Brett's rookie season. He made his big league debut in 1997, nearly two decades ago. His first full season came the following year, when he made his first All-Star game.

In 2005, he won the American League Cy Young Award (though it should have gone to Johan Santana), and his home run was still eleven years away. He spent every season of his career in the AL, save for a few months in Montreal in 2002. After four seasons plagued by arm problems and injuries, people thought he was out of baseball for good when he missed all of 2010. Instead, he came back and had his best season since his Cy Young campaign.

He followed that up with a pair of good seasons in Oakland, moving on to the New York Mets in 2014. That's when baseball fell in love with a different sort of Bartolo.

The amount of ink that has been concerned with the Cult of Bartolo over the past two calendar years is staggering. From Deadspin alone, there have been no less than a dozen articles about the growing fondness for the oddity that was this Latter-Day Colon. He's affable, goofy, clumsy, over the hill in a young man's game, and takes it all in stride as only the best niche sports figures can. And now he's a bona fide folk hero, the oldest pitcher in the Modern Era to go yard (so long Tim Hudson), and did so against one of the more successful pitchers of the past decade in James Shields*.

*Regardless of what James Shields has done and what he has yet to do, nothing he does will be remembered by more people for a longer time than giving up a home run to Bartolo Colon.

It's more than just the home run, though. He also pitched the longest at-bat of record, going twenty deep against Ricky Gutierrez in the eighth inning of a June ballgame back in 1998:

*          *          *

This is the stuff of life. The small bits, the nuance, the nooks of memory and the fractured details that shape and reshape our own existence. There's a concept of existence that states that there are no states of being, only the state of becoming: that what is and what was can never be reached, that a person's life floats on as a trajectory—displacing, rewriting, reworking, and affecting other trajectories.

Whether or not you ascribe to such beliefs, the patterning is inviolable. The trajectory of Bartolo Colon, from flame-throwing Cy Young winner to injured hero to resurgent feel good story and now folk legend has been two decades in the making. And it keeps going, until it is snuffed out, expelled from this world, the curtain lowered, the game called in the dying of the light. But for now, for one glimpse in a forty-two year journey, it has become the essence of life.

Baseball's narrative is inherently cyclical. You start at one location, set forth on a journey, only to hope for a return. Of the major American sports, it is the only one that does not exist on a set of explicit binaries. There is no home half, no possession, the line of scrimmage does not divide the teams into warring factions, fighting for inch and foot and yard. It doesn't discern between your basket and theirs, our goal and yours. There is only the journey and its repetition.

Baseball is stories of failure, where the heroes lose seventy percent of the time and the heels lose seventy-five percent. It is the prospect with promise unfulfilled, the decayed body of a once-great pitcher. Baseball confronts us with our own mortality, how time moves unceasing from one moment to the next, makes no quarter for our favored sons and daughters, and inexplicably but inevitably dashes us all upon the rocks of the eternal shore.

And yet, in that confrontation there is defiance. A limping slugger punches a one-handed home run off of baseball's best closer. An aging speedster refuses to retire, playing until he is forty-five years old (and only once, his rookie season, with a negative fWAR). The Ageless Wonder, scoffing wildly, becomes the oldest player to hit a home run, aged forty-nine. Another pitches until he is fifty, when his body gives up long before his spirit ever would.

To circle the bases is to circle the whole of your existence, at once begun and now ending, only to begin anew.

First. Second. Third. Home.
Birth. Life. Death. Baseball.