21 November 2011
The next year, we got a little taste. Halman played twenty-six games in the Arizona League, and while the numbers weren't all there, it was enough to where some of us were complaining in the offseason that the scouts had been underestimating him based on his numbers alone. The following season, I was up in Everett on assignment every now and then and had a few opportunities to see him. It was strange in that, before I got there, my mind had already built him up to a kind of legendary status, like I was only there to see the first inklings of what history might write about later. I remember his presence in the batter's box, how as an athlete he seemed like so much more of an athlete than even his fellow professionals. And I remember sitting there, some tens of feet away in the press box, watching as whoever was on the mound at the time threw a few pitches low and outside and Halman swung right through them. It was anticlimactic, certainly. Like a lot of the kids I came to see there in the following years, it seemed like Halman was trying to do too much with any given pitch, which is one of those traits we come to look on as a flaw. Every ball that was coming at him, in his mind was a home run in the making. And it was a good show nonetheless because we knew he was young and on the field and in the dugout, Halman was all smiles. There was some hope that he'd figure it out in time.
The next spring, Halman got his expected shot in Wisconsin. And he didn't do with it what we had all hoped he would and got sent back to Arizona partway through the spring. As usual, I made my way up to Everett for the season opener expecting to see certain things. It was the year in which all the starting outfielders were built like football players, Joe Dunigan in left, Halman in center, and some combination of Wellington Dotel and Kalian Sams in right. I remember looking over the lineup card and seeing Halman high in the order and figured I'd pull out my legal pad and start scratching down some notes comparing what I was seeing now to what I had seen before. Given that he was coming off a pretty sad Midwest League campaign, I don't know that I was expecting to see all that much, but as that first at-bat went down, I stopped writing and started to really watching what was happening. The outcome was nothing special. Halman got jammed and popped out to the shortstop. But I remember the process, and I remember turning to media intern in the booth and telling her "I just saw three pitches in that at-bat that last year's Halman would have swung through. He didn't bite this time." Halman, when I first saw him in 2006, went 0-for-4 with a couple of Ks. This time, he was 2-for-4 with a run scored. I don't know that anyone else in the booth was excited as I was to see all this, but by the time the season was over, everyone else knew. Even through the extreme highs and lows of the following seasons, when all hopes were pinned on him or his future seemed to look like a backup outfielder's, I remembered those four at-bats, June 19th 2007.
My mornings are pretty basic. I'm not much of a coffee drinker, so it starts slow for me and I usually go downstairs and turn on my computer, catching up on the news in brief before I do much of anything else. I sit down, and the news is going through its usual crawl, there's news on the congress debt deal, people are talking about Thanksgiving, or the latest spin on yesterday's football games and how much they affect the rest of the season. About page six through the crawl, a familiar face shows up with the caption "Mariners Player Stabbed to Death", and I pause it.
I know what I'm seeing is real, though it doesn't seem that way. My mind starts running through a list of elegies I've read over the course of my life and the one that sticks, for whatever reason, is Frank O'Hara's "The Day Lady Died". I don't like O'Hara all that much, but it seems to fit. Five minutes prior, I was looking through the fridge for something to eat and getting a glass of water so I could take an antibiotic. I was thinking about my day and all the things I needed to do and what order to go about them and in a few seconds all of that is irrelevant because Greg Halman is dead. Everything else has stopped.
I spend some time on the websites and see how other people are responding. I read stories about how Halman was just coming off a European tour by a group of MLB players and how, at a stop in the Czech Republic (regarded by some as the next country over there where baseball will break out), Halman got the biggest cheers of anyone outside of Prince Fielder. Halman, after all, was the guy who made it. Sometime after that, I start typing. I think of all the things we typically say when someone dies too early, about how our thoughts and prayers are with the family, how the death is "tragic" and so many other things, how he'll be missed. I know how much we mean in these things that we say, and how while we all know them to be true, it's hard to think of how these words can do so little to allay the visceral shock of the experience, how we will go on through our days and meet the people that we meet and there may not be any way of relating these things we learned this morning.
Much more will be said in the coming days, by people close to Halman or by others who saw him come up the minor league ladder. Whether or not it's enough, I don't know that it matters because so much of the time, the most important thing we can do is remember. And I know I've read this a couple of times on a couple of different blogs already, but I hope those kids on the European tour that cheered Halman, that took their photos with him, and were in awe that someone from their backyard could make it to the big leagues, I hope that some of them get to the majors some day and have the kind of career that Greg Halman wasn't able to have, and that years down the line we're able to talk about him and remember him, not for all of the tragedy of what could have been, but for the example he served in his time here and all that he was able to accomplish for European baseball.
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