Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Ides of April: Philip Humber and the Unsinkable Truth

December 21, 2012. I was at a bar in Chicago, aptly named The Elbo Room. I had been asked by a friend to play a couple songs to open his set. My girlfriend came up from Indiana to see me play. Some people thought the world would end that night. I felt like I was on top of it, even if I only played to a handful of friends and a half-dozen barflies. It was nearly the end of a year that had brought a lot of change into my life. I had moved to Chicago with some friends that summer. That night, somewhere across the vast expanse between our borders, Philip Humber turned thirty. It was a big year for the Texas native as well. He was, and still is, a rather mediocre pitcher. But from time to time, we are reminded that with a little luck, average can become legendary.

Eight months prior to that night, I was in the process of packing up all of my worldly possessions in preparation for my move. Taking a break for lunch, I sat on the couch in my mom's living room, and flipped on the TV. There were the White Sox. As a Cubs fan, I would rather watch soccer. As a baseball fan, I took what I could get. So I sat through inning after inning, procrastinating on my responsibilities as I tend to do, not letting the reality of unfolding history overtake my easily seduced sensationalist attitude. Humber hadn't allowed a base runner through seven innings. No walks. No hits. No errors.

I'll be honest, I had no idea who Philip Humber was. All I knew was that he brought up the tail end of a decent Chicago pitching staff. To this day I still fight with pronunciation- is it HUM-burr or UM-burr? He was just an average pitcher who gave up four runs every start. But that day was different. His command was remarkable. Still, I was pretty certain even the lackluster Seattle Mariners lineup could get a hit off this guy. 

My life was changing. I was going from living in an Indiana town of 35,000 people to the third largest city in America. I was living a dream of moving into the city that had inspired me for years. I hadn't been this happy in a long time. In Seattle, as the last out was recorded, his teammates rushed the pitching mound and embraced the greatness he had achieved. Philip Humber had pitched the 21st perfect game in Major League history. A turning point in his life. Something that can never be taken away from him. Club allegiances were cast aside. I cheered as if I was wearing the silver and black. When it was all over, he had only thrown ninety-six pitches.

Fairy tales always end with a 'riding off into the sunset.' Of course we all realize the story can never end there, and what goes up must surely fall. For Humber, it was the humbling season that followed his perfect game. A return to the mediocre knock-down pitcher he had always been. Humber gave up 20 runs in his next three starts. He spent some time on the disabled list. He would be removed from the starting rotation upon the White Sox acquisition of Francisco Liriano. Ultimately, the man who pitched a perfect game in April would be claimed via waiver by the Houston Astros in November. I became financially strained by my then employer cutting hours. Bills piled up. I spoke with debt collectors more than I talked to my own mother. In the end, I had to make the tough decision to move back to Indiana and find a steady job to get back on my feet.

That night in December, I felt like a king. It was not even my best set, but it felt perfect to me. Valleys follow the peaks just as much as they precede them. I make a decent living wage and have much more free time, some of which I spend writing about baseball. I'm in good health and have great people around me. My perspective of happiness has changed quite drastically in the past year.

Philip Humber is a starting pitcher. He has a son, born shortly after his perfect game, on the first of May. It is overwhelmingly likely Philip will never reach the summit of pitching glory again. Still, he has to take stock in the idea that someday his son is going to find out that ten days before he was born, his father became legendary.

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