It was thought, back in those much simpler days of winter, that the Cubs suspected they could unlock something when they signed Tyler Chatwood to a three-year deal. That perhaps with a new voice in his ear, a new park to call home, and a different team behind, him, something would “click,” and they would have unearthed a bargain. Now I begin to wonder if the Cubs front office, always on the cutting edge but always looking out for a good time as well, didn’t seek to prove you can alter the perception of millions simply through one pitcher and no narcotics.
When you first begin watching a Chatwood start, you can’t help but wonder if this wouldn’t be what it was like if Dr. Weird from Aqua Teen Hunger Force had come to life and been signed by a major league team. Every pitch might as well start with this exchange between Chatwood and whoever drew the short straw, is looking forlornly to the heavens for answers that won’t come, and is catching him that day:
Chatwood: “GENTLEMEN! I am throwing…THIS PITCH!”
Catcher: “Uh great, what does it do?
Chatwood: “I DON’T KNOW!
Catcher: “Ok? Where’s it going to go, then?
Chatwood: “I SAID I DON’T KNOW! SQUAT OVER THERE!”
While the game of baseball is filled with strangeness and curiosity at almost every turn, it is centered on the idea that the man in the center of it all, the pitcher, exerts complete control. The game obviously cannot begin or continue unitl the pitcher decrees it so by putting the ball into action. Hence, we put an assumption of certainty, confidence, and authority on the pitcher. We might not know what’s going to happen, and certainly have no control over it, but the conductor in the middle of the diamond at least has a blueprint for where things should go if properly executed. He is the pivot-point, the fulcrum, of it all. And hence he should have a modicum of assurance.
But with Chatwood, we know there is no blueprint. There is no control. Not only do we not know what the next delivery will bring, he does not either. The simplest exchange of the game, pitcher-to-catcher, is no guarantee. Which means this game that had only one axis and questions surrounding it, now only has questions. It can feel if the whole enterprise has become untethered. When the Earth unhinges from its axis some day, we here in Chicago will tell you it’s a familiar feeling. For every fifth day, we have been spinning off into the unknown with nothing to center us.
And yet with that overwhelming feeling of being unmoored, of floating helplessly from a one point to another and neither can we identify, there is remarkable stillness to it. Because really not much happens. There isn’t much action. We may be hurling through a storm with no instrumentation, but here in the eye all is calm. The fielders look on, surely feeling the volatile nature of the surroundings and yet are never stirred from their position. They are stationary, and yet nothing is where it seems. Is this real? How can it be both at once? The complete lack of control is simultaneously strangely inert.
With Chatwood starts, the other halves of the innings never take as long as when Chatwood is out there, so you look up and there he is again, essentially trying to bottle a noxious gas on the mound. Tyler Chatwood is gaslighting you, the baseball fan. You have always been watching a Chatwood start. Tyler Chatwood has never not been pitching tonight, or this week, or ever. You didn’t ever see anyone else on the mound.
And sometimes it spreads to the other pitcher. Stranded in the dugout for so long, or perhaps the aura never leaves the mound. Was it always this way, they wonder? Do I not have control? Do I not have a concept of what happens here? Am I the beginning and the end as I have been taught my whole life? Or am I just another cog hurling into the abyss with no pull or force? And farther into the cosmos we spin.
And yet, when it’s all over, Chatwood has usually given the Cubs five innings and kept them in it, which is basically all a fifth starter is ever asked to do. That massive journey, the chaos, the perspective-changing questions, the mystery of what it all meant, and yet we end up right where we started, and where we meant to. We have expanded and contracted and ended up where we started. It is the universe in a marble. It is the Chatwood Experience.