I am a Royals fan living in New York City. If anyone wonders why I didn’t post anything in October, there’s your answer. The following entries detail the experience of watching the postseason far away from my hometown, in a much different place where fans from all over this huge country converge. Immigrants proudly display flags of their home countries in their windows and dwellings, but during the postseason, signs of national migrants’ provenance appear on heads and hearts in the form of caps and shirts. Giants fans scowl at Dodgers fans as Yankee stadium looms in the distance–it’s always looming, literally and figuratively. You can see it from the plane as you leave the city for wherever you’re from, and again when you come back. Meanwhile, in stretches of Brooklyn and Queens, and especially on the 7 train to Jackson Heights when you need to eat momos, you’re reminded that, hello, the Mets are here, too! I see lots of Orioles fans, Phillies fans, and yes, even Red Sox fans. There are not many Royals fans here, but the postseason as an expat is never a lonely experience, just a different one.*
*Disclaimer: These posts might contain cliche images of athletes. Writing about sports means I have to deal with levels of kitsch I am not used to accommodating. I’m sorry. Also, I’ll get back to my Craigslist stories after this.
I will remember this game as the one I watched on my first business trip, on the day my cat died.
I was in Binghamton, New York for the New York State Highway symposium. Most of the presenters and attendees were in law enforcement and I got to learn about all the newfangled ways kids are getting messed up these days. One guy shows a video of a man in a parking lot using a can of Reddi Whip to get high on nitrous oxide. Another guy showed us THC-infused gummies. A highway patrolman from Long Island showed us water bottles that had been refurbished with hidden compartments that were used to store packets of heroin. The packets themselves were on display for everyone to see.
After all this I had dinner on the town with a colleague. From what I could see there was a seventy percent vacancy rate in Binghamton’s downtown area. IBM used to have a headquarters there, but they pulled out in 2008 and now the only thing keeping the town alive was Binghamton University.
But there were good places to eat manned exclusively, it seemed, by college students. Despite the hard times, the downtown was not devoid of beauty. Binghamton is surrounded by hills, which were covered in autumn trees that held the sunset in their leaves. The downtown appeared as if it were held in a bowl of fire under a sky of cornflower blue.
I did not see a place to watch the game in town where I would not be the only female amidst a crowd of inebriated middle-aged men, so I decided to watch the game in my hotel room. I can’t say enough about my hotel room. It faced the Chenango River and the sunrises to the east. There were two whole queen beds, a television, a closet the size of a Manhattan kitchen, a bathroom the size of a Manhattan bedroom, and a coffee maker that I didn’t have to share with anyone.
On my first night in Binghamton my had dinner with my colleagues at an Italian place called Little Venice. There was no game that night so I curled up in the bed closest to the window and finished Middlesex in the blessed solitude of my room.
So I was happy to return to my room the following night to watch the game in complete social isolation. I took my coat off and checked my phone, which I had been ignoring. I had been filled with anticipation for this game the entire day, through lectures on pedestrian fatalities in traffic crashes in Queens County, on-the-job law enforcement deaths caused by driver distraction, what a slizzard is, and the true meaning of Like a G6. But a text from my mom, sent to my sisters and me, changed all that.
QiQi has died. I can’t talk about it.
QiQi was one of two cats my mom adopted after Gracie died. Gracie was the cat we got from Santa Claus when I was in second grade. She was the unwavering, undisputed protector of the realm: a cunning and generous hunter who laid gifts of mouse carcasses at our feet, a tireless brawler against felines who sat on the wrong side of the fence. She was street smart, aloof and independent, but always found a way to show her love to us, in her own time.
Gracie was irreplaceable but the house, and my mom, needed a cat.
So for Christmas a few years ago my mom got two of them from an animal shelter. The plan had been to get only one, but thing did not work out that way. Mom immediately warmed up to a black cat called Kenji and five minutes later a silky smooth tabby, whom we later christened Honey, forced herself on us with her unflappable friendliness and endless loving face-plants to our ankles and hands. According to the shelter Kenji had lived with dogs before, so he could co-habit the house with Tuck. Tuck spent most of his childhood bowing down to Gracie. He never forget how she greeted his first enthusiastic, tail-wagging salutation with a claws-out smack on his soft puppy snout.*
When Honey and Kenji first walked through our door Tuck didn’t know what to make of the duo, so similar to Gracie in appearance but altogether different. He offered his snout to Kenji to smell. Honey hissed meekly, but Kenji gingerly sniffed Tuck’s nose and licked is wiry dog whiskers with his bristled cat tongue. After over a decade of abuse from Gracie, Tuck snorted in surprise at Kenji’s amicable, pacifistic greeting. Kenji, for his part, allowed Tuck to get an obligatory whiff his behind, and they became fast friends. Honey lurked at a distance, always in someone’s lap.
Mom loved everything about Kenji but his name. She thought Kiki was a better fit.
“But Kiki is a girl’s name,” said one of her daughters.
But Kiki is the name my mom liked best. The spelling was altered because it was determined that Qiqi was somehow more masculine. Then it was altered again when it was decided that QiQi was more aesthetically pleasing than Qiqi. Don’t ask me to rationalize any of this because I wasn’t the daughter behind it.
For the next few years QiQi would build a reputation for himself as the peacemaker between Tuck and Honey’s conflicts and misunderstandings. Every time Honey cursed and swatted at Tuck, QiQi would hurry over and fuss over him, nuzzling his sloppy dog snout with his sleek cat snout, all the while staring fixedly at his co-cat.
“See, dogs are people too,” he seemed to be saying.
But QiQi only spent some of his time on the domestic front. He liked to go outside and range for hours, lurking in the yard and the back lot. If QiQi happened to be outside when Tuck and I went for jogs, he would sometimes try to follow. I would have to gather him, with his ears dangerously flat against his skull, and toss him inside where he would land with a ba-doomp on the hardwood floor. When the weather was nice and my sisters, Tuck and I would go to the park across the street to sunbathe. QiQi always put his ranging on hold to come to join us. It was a strange sight indeed to see young women in bathing suits and an old dog and a black cat all sharing the same blanket in the grass on a hot summer day.
Whenever one needed something from a dresser, cabinet, box, or anything else that opened or closed, QiQi would be there to help, hopping into the opened receptacle and walking on all your clothes, pots, Christmas ornaments to make sure what you were looking for was never found because you probably didn’t need it anyway.
Now when I go home I know I’ll be able to find my underwear in peace and the thought brings me to tears.
These thought of QiQi skittered across my mind like fragments of a broken vase. But mom’s memories of QiQi were much larger, and her grief could not be broken into more digestible chunks.
Watching the baseball game was unthinkable, disrespectful, even. I wasn’t sure what time it was, but it was well past start time. I tried calling Mom, but she did not answer. Having lost a pet was bad enough, and the grief is compounded when you have to deliver the news to each of your daughters, and then you have to try not to cry when you hear them sobbing on the other line.
This is what my Mom had to go through when Tuck died a couple years ago. She called us one by one, each of us in disparate parts of the country, and heard each of us keen and wail in our respective metropolises. Losing Tuck was like losing a strange, wonderful little brother and we mourned him as such. I don’t think mom wanted to go through that again with QiQi.
It was not even ten o’clock. It would have been extremely melodramatic of me to try to sleep, tucking myself in with a blanket of pity. Middlesex was done. Though it didn’t seem appropriate to watch the game, no appropriate course of action presented itself so I turned it on, but not before peeling off some layers and realizing that I wasn’t even wearing my Royals shirt.
It was the top of the of the fifth inning. The Royals were losing 9 – 2. Cueto had basically handed the game to the Blue Jays, allowing nine runs in the first three innings. Given the circumstances, the score made cosmic sense. I watched the game in resignation, exchanging frustrated texts to my sister Beanie, who works at a sports bar in Los Angeles.
We skirted the subject of QiQi and mostly discussed the game. The nature of our communique was such that almost all of the texts ended in ????, !!!! or ?!?! with Cueto’s name featuring largely.
There was also a flurry of texts in the fifth inning when Hosmer’s face took a beating from a ball that ricocheted off the bat, off the ground and then slammed into his mouth. I was certain a collective swoon could be heard from Booneville to Wichita as he winced his much-admired visage.
It was hard to see the score so lopsided, but hey, that’s what happens when you let Johnny Cueto’s imposter come in. I mean, really? Nine runs in three innings?
But the Royals keep chipping away and when the top of the fifth ended the score was 9 – 4. Beanie and I told ourselves there was still a chance for us to win—I mean, there were four whole innings left!
And the then the Blue Jays scored two more runs before the ninth inning, making it 11 – 4, and the hope snapped out of us. The game was as good as over, but I kept watching because that’s what true fans are supposed to do, and because wouldn’t it be cool if we happened to tie the game? Which was truly never going to happen, but what if? It seems like common practice for the Royals to see how far they can push themselves to the brink of losing before they actually win. How distant is that frontier for the Royals?
When the top of the ninth started with a single by Escobar and a double by Zobrist, I was gripped by an irrational optimism. Seven runs are a lot to catch up to, but John Teakettle Gibbons didn’t think it’s enough of a lead and had the Blue Jays closer warming up in the bullpen, which elicited baffled responses from the commentators.
Osuna’s getting loose in the bullpen.
I mean, look.
I mean, really?
I mean, I really can’t believe they got him up, really.
Could we really score seven runs in the ninth inning? It is only two more runs than five runs, which the Royals really have scored in a single inning…
My optimism was rewarded when Cain scored in Escobar on a sacrifice fly. Only one out, and a man on third. Was QiQi assisting this game from above?
I texted Beanie at 11:14.
Just six more runs!
And again at 11:15 when Hosmer singled in Zobrist.
Just five more runs!
After two runs there really was a pitching change, really. But then I had to text Beanie again, at 11:19 when Morales, incredibly, hit a homer.
Holy fuck only 3 runs to go!
At that point our optimism seemed like a rational thing. Some OMGs were exchanged, and the camera zoomed in to show the facial pores of distraught Blue Jays fans who thought as much as we did that there is a really real chance of the Royals tying it in the ninth.
And then the next two batters were retired.
The ninth inning came and went like a cat. But this is a story not really about the stealth of the cat, but the indiscretion of the mouse. The Royals were as good as dead, hemorrhaging from the fatal mistakes Johnny Cueto made in the early innings. It was said after the game that Cueto was too obviously flashing signs to Salvy. Did he forget he was dealing with Thor and company? Was there lingering cockiness from the shutdown of the Astros that made his nonchalance like that of a mouse who forgets he is a mouse? A mouse that sticks his whiskers a bit too far, tempting a battering ram of unsheathed claws that surge from the shadows?
After having delivered the fatal blows, the cat lurked in the darkness for the rest of the game, biding its time while its prey valiantly struggles back to its hole. The cat would pounce only a few more times—in the fifth and eighth inning, not because it was necessary, only because it was entertaining. In the ninth it looked like the mouse might miraculously succeed it making it home; it could even see a morsel of raw, aged cheddar glowing like a beacon in back reaches of his humble dwelling. That is when, at last, the mouse would feel his body go cold. He did not even see the pair of giant eyes that surveyed his final breath.
In the end the giant cheese was not a vision welcoming the mouse home, but a herald announcing his arrival on the doorstep of the heavens. In the distance among the clouds he sees the strangest sight his eyes would fall upon: a black cat and a rust colored dog cuddling together on a picnic blanket. He rushed to join them.
*I did not consult my mom or sisters about the exact chronological order of events or details of our visit to the animal shelter, the adoption of QiQi and Honey, and QiQi’s subsequent name change. Their recollection will likely not be entirely consistent with mine, but that’s what family is for.