Greetings everyone! Like I mentioned last week, I’m taking some time off over the holidays, trying to relax a little, catch up on some reading, do a little writing, and just get ready for still another new year.
The bad news is there’s no chapter this week, just this introduction to the rest of the story. The good news is that I’ll be back next week with a new chapter; at least I hope that’s good news. Whether you’ll end up liking the rest of the story is hard to say. Only time will tell, I suppose, but let’s try to stay positive for the moment and hope for the best.
There are a couple of things I want to mention about the last two sections of the story and the epilogue. The first has to do with time. Like I mentioned in my introduction to Part III, it’s easy to lose track of the timeframe in which a story takes place. Between the time Ethan got the news he was being promoted to the Columbia Crush at the end of Part II and the time we caught up with Hunter at the beginning of Part III, several years had passed and Hunter was about to start his senior year in college.
That will not be the case with Parts IV and V. We’ll pick up the story where we left off, with Ethan having just been traded to the Washington Warriors after years spent playing professional ball at the minor league level. From there the remainder of the story will quickly unfold over a brief period of time, roughly from mid-August to the beginning of November.
We’re talking less than three months for the remaining twenty chapters of the story, including the epilogue; and even though we’ll dip back in time to find out some of what happened between the time Ethan was promoted to the Crush and his major league call-up, most of the actual action will take place in this three month period. In other words, a lot is going to happen in a very short timeframe.
The second important thing to mention is the sub-title of Part IV, Winter. That may seem like a strange sub-title for a period of time that never even makes it to winter. Unlike the previous parts of the story, however, the sub-title of Part IV is metaphorical. It’s not really designed to describe a point in time, the season of winter. It’s a metaphor for what has become of Ethan since leaving Rehoboth Beach and Shoreham.
What I’m trying to do in Part IV is going to be difficult. I’m trying to describe what’s happened to Ethan emotionally and psychologically as a result of not being able to be himself and how that affects his behavior. One way for you to think about that is by contrasting Ethan and Hunter. In Part III, we saw a conflicted and confused Hunter finally acknowledge being gay and what effect his decision to come out had on him.
Liberated at last, Hunter blossomed into an awesome human being and coach. All the potential that Ethan had seen in him was finally unlocked and that was a wonderful thing to watch happen. Part IV will not be equally happy and that requires an explanation for those of you who are not familiar with professional baseball or professional sports more generally.
In the United States, professional sports tend to exist in their own little closed worlds, worlds insulated in significant ways from the currents of ordinary life swirling around them. That’s especially the case for team sports like baseball. While teams are made up of individuals and individuals may shine at times, it’s the team that’s central to everything and the team that endures long after individual stars come and go.
We’ve seen part of what a team is in Part III, the positive side. But there’s a darker side to teams as well. To be a member in good standing of a team you have to conform to its norms; and in American sports like baseball, the norm is one of hyper masculinity. At this time there are no gay men playing professional baseball at the highest level in the United States, at least not publicly. A gay man in a straight locker room really wouldn’t be welcome, at least mostly not welcome.
That’s not to say that all professional athletes are bigots. As with any profession, there are some. John Rocker is one example of a professional baseball player who made a living out of being a bigot. But, honestly, I don’t think most professional athletes are bigots, at least not in contemporary America.
In lots of ways the problem has less to do with the people who play on a team than with a traditional clubhouse culture that doesn’t value differences or appreciate distractions. Having a gay teammate would be a distraction, no doubt about it.
And then there are the fans, of course. Baseball is uniquely a sport played by fathers and sons in the United States. Fathers love taking their sons to games and gay players would force them to address things they would probably prefer to avoid talking about.
All of this is changing, of course. Zachary provides us with a glimpse of a more positive future, someone who plays sports and is accepted by his teammates even though he’s gay. But he and his teammates are still young.
At the highest level of professional sports, we’re not there yet and that has consequences for gay athletes like Ethan. Forced by the culture in which he works to remain closeted, people like Ethan don’t grow or blossom in the same way Hunter did in Part III. If anything, they tend to wither emotionally. It doesn’t happen all at once, of course, but being closeted takes a toll over time.
Trying to capture all of that in Part IV won’t be easy and I’m not at all sure I’ll succeed. But I’ll make the effort and let you decide. In the end, the main point you need to prepare yourself for is that Part IV will be sadder in many ways than Part III.
But Part IV isn’t the end of the story after all so it’s important to keep hope alive as you’re reading; because even now, years later, a flicker of hope still burns in the hearts of both Hunter and Ethan. And where hope still flickers, who knows what will happen.