Game Preview: In Which The Authors predict a miracle
When I was young, on the odd occasion I was unable to sleep, my mother encouraged me just to picture myself playing baseball, a sport for which I had—and still have, thank you—great affection. And so it was that I would spend however long in my bed placing myself amongst major leaguers, alternately pitching and batting in a way that could only be described as superlative—turning, as it were, my proverbial lemons (preteen insomnia) into just as proverbial, but also incredibly tasty, lemonade (an active fantasy life). The result was that, even though I became little more than a scrappy, bespectacled high school bench player in what many would call “reality,” in my own personal fantasy league, in a career that has lasted some 20 years, I've compiled 1,750 career wins and an ERA of 0.27 as a starting pitcher and, as a batter, have set the record for consecutive time reaching base at ∞. That's infinity, for anyone who doesn't already know. Infinity times. That's definitely a record. The bottom line is, it's been a successful imaginary career, and I'll probably induct myself into an equally imaginary hall of fame someday, and give an imaginary speech that will, almost certainly, leave everyone in a pool of their own tears.
“Yes, Cistulli, but what could this possibly have to do with Spain's most deliriously thrilling football derby?”
Allow me to circumlocute on that.
Since having been seduced by football (i.e. soccer), I have, as they say, “given it up smooth” to a number of players and teams. Whatever the European equivalent of third base is, I have reached it—metaphorically, mind you—with players in most of that continent's top leagues, plus a few here in the various and sundry Americas. In short, I've become what the esteemed Galeano calls “a beggar for good football.” Like him, I don't care where it happens, or who performs it, but it has become a real concern.
And so, not caring where it happens or who performs it, I have taken to performing it myself in my own head. In the last year or so, when I've found myself unable to go gently into that good night, I've revisited my old habit of nocturnal fantasy sports, with two alterations: 1) it is now football and not baseball to which I turn, and 2) I am not playing at all.
Before I say what I'm about to say, I want to preface it with this: praise is a difficult thing to make very interesting. (Or, as Gregory Corso would say, “it's a tough baby”). And even though making it interesting is, at some level the very purpose of this publication, it is only because we recognize there is no reliable vocabulary for praise that we've decided to publish it — “to invent,” as patron saint Ray Hudson says, “a new language in English” capable of expressing a joy that has been, until now, largely ineffable. Hudson himself has contributed greatly to this field, but there is still a lot of work to be done here.
Back to the lecture at hand: my new fantasies, sans my own self. The reasons for my absence are many, I'm guessing, but two stick out immediately: 1) that I have never played soccer very well, and thus have no real sense of what excellence would even feel like, and 2) that I am past the age where pretending I, myself, am great provides any real satisfaction. Rather, I'm primarily concerned with greatness—that is, the flashes of brilliance which bring people to their feet—I'm primarily concerned with this sort of greatness existing at all, regardless of where at and who by.
So my fantasies now involve real live footballers playing fictional matches inside my head, doing all the step-overs and flip-flaps and backheels that make me want to high-five strangers indiscriminately. It's great fun. The crowds, speaking a patchwork of Romantic languages, go home happy, and I fall asleep steeped in the hottest wonderment around.
But it's all a slightly bittersweet type of fun. You see, no matter what game situation or individual skill I am able to conceive of, there is basically a 100% chance that El Gran Clasico (as this is known) will surpass anything I have imagined. Or, put in another way: I am unable, given all the tools of my mind, to conceive of a more exhilarating event with more startling performances than this match has already, and almost surely will again, deliver.