The Padded Cell: Jeff Keppinger Intentional Walk, Part One

I don't write many complete pieces, and have never had anything published, but I do take a ton of notes on what could be interesting topics. Often it's just wry, off-hand observations that lead nowhere and get quickly lost in one of many notebooks, old iPhone notes, emails to myself, or shared Google Drive documents. Often these notes come from thoughts while interacting with friends or the GenPop. Sometimes it's just the more lucid and limber state of mind that is more easily inhabited late at night. Alcohol can be involved, but not usually. Later, when in the mood to write but lacking a topic, I'll review old scribblings or typings, looking to throw a little new creativity into the snapshot of an individual experience or mindset. It's the process I use, and it's not a very good one, but once in a while a workable concept can be formed from the multitude of neglected discards.

And so, I came across the following note a few weeks back: "Jeff Keppinger was intentionally walked in 2013. Let that sink in." Clearly this required attention. Clearly.

That attention quickly spiraled out of control.

September 14, 2006. Mariners at Royals. Both teams in are in last place, and the pathetic ESPN post-game headline read "Royals lock for better finish than 56-106 in ‘05." Only 8,839 people showed up for heedless dose of Thursday night misery, and that's the official count. Bottom 8th, Eric O'Flaherty pitching, 7-6 Royals. One out, runner on third thanks to a wild pitch on an 0-1 count to Keppy. Eric O's last act in the game is to intentionally walk Keppinger, the first of the young infielder's major-league career. Jon Huber replaces O'Flaherty on the mound, and promptly gives up a fielder's choice to score the run and advance Jeff to 2nd. Huber draws a groundout, and our hero stands at 3rd before Esteban German triples, scoring two runs, including Keppy. For the first and last time, a GOK IBB, while not being the deciding factor in the game, is a run-scoring part of a winning effort, as the Royals win 10-8.

Keppinger would take an intentional walk eight more times over the next seven seasons as a part of three different teams. Let's not bullshit ourselves; these simple facts don't matter to you, reader.

And yet it mattered to me. It stuck with me, and I cannot explain why. The neurons in my brain continued to fire along pathways that made Jeff Keppinger and his previously-agreed-upon 90-foot free passes not only relevant but interesting. Since I take serious issue with the idea of free will, I was okay with this, mostly. Keppy occupied my thoughts in a literal way, strong-arming a position of grudging respectability in my everyday life. His stupid stance. His much-bald head. His part in the basement-level achievements of the baseball team of which I choose to associate myself. The idea that he was part of a true meritocracy, perhaps the toughest system in all of sports, and succeeded in attaining the highest realm of respectability has bugged me. Keppy stayed in the majors, and the disquieting feeling stayed in my gut.

Keppinger has been at the highest level for years. Most of us struggle and get by and have families and friends to talk to and events that we attend and at times we are sick or making changes or need help and eventually we are okay or even good in the roles we play in our everyday lives. We strive to do better on the whole, and often we succeed, we do, toward whatever goal we put forth as a destination. And yet our contribution to the overall good is, mostly, that we are content with the path that we chose. Even "the path we chose" is a statement I find problematic. How is any of this really okay? How can we live with ourselves, willingly blocking out others' pain, especially that of those closest to us, the only people we can really count on, in this enormous world in which we squirm around? How can we really make a difference, and not by mistake? How can Jeff Keppinger ever bat fourth and then be put on base by the opposing team on purpose?

But we are not Jeff Keppinger, and that's not his fault. We don't really know what he's been through to get to the position that he is in, and most of us can't even pretend to picture ourselves in Keppy's place, all internet machismo aside. We are also not a major-league manager, even collectively, batting him fourth. And we are not the people we intuitively feel we need to pretend to want to be, our minds having avoided all the practical pitfalls that may actually enhance our knowledge of the game we love so desperately in some dreamy scheme to obtain the status of Decision Maker. We are all abstractions of a self-identity few of us acknowledge and fewer still seek to escape outright, let alone deal with head-on. But that's all okay, because we know the obvious answers to everything: Black socks don't go with khaki pants and brown loafers. No, I wouldn't sign Keppinger. If I happened to do so, I wouldn't bat him fourth, ever. No, I wouldn't walk him intentionally. Of course not. That's dumb. Next question, because I'm positive I'll answer it in a way that is satisfying to you but mostly me.

This is my team. This is my life.

The right balance of removal from on-the-field and front-office activity is the beauty and simplicity and base attraction of baseball. I know about these activities, as viewed from afar. I can make better decisions than you can, and yet you're the one taking the heat for bad results, even if, statistically or rationally, the better choice was made. I would love your job. Yes, please. Sounds like a real treat. Oh, it's actually a lot of work. And I have to explain myself, daily, in front of my bosses and thousands of customers. I have to focus more intensely on something I've recently failed at, all under the public eye, in a business that doesn't react kindly to added outside pressure. Of course I know at least as well as you do, if not better. I am me, and you are stupid. Because you're not me. Us v. Them.

Sign me up.

It's improbable that you've ever given more than a passing thought to the following events, if you knew of them at all, or ever will again if you decide to spend the next few minutes commiserating with The Padded Cell in a state of irrational bewilderment.

April 10, 2008. Reds at Brewers, Top 7th, runners on 2nd and 3rd, with 1 out. Carlos Villanueva loses it, giving up a single, a homer, a double and two more singles to break a 1-1 tie. Brian Shouse comes in to pitch. Corey Patterson grounds into the first out of the inning, advancing the runners to 2nd and 3rd, setting up the GOK IBB in front of Ken Griffey, Jr. Griffey hits into a double play to end the inning. Keppinger didn't score. -.071 WPA in total for Good Ol' Keppy. 4-1 Reds, final.

In Texas, 416 children are placed in state custody after a raid on a Fundamentalist Mormon polygamist sect on suspicion of abuse and negligence.

July 3, 2008. Nationals at Reds, bottom 7, runners on 2nd and 3rd, 1 out. Game tied at 3. Jesus Colome pitching. Jerry Hairston singles to center, sending Patterson to 3rd, and advancing on the throw home. Keppy comes in and takes a four-pitch IBB before Colome hits the showers. Griffey pops it up off Charlie Manning before Phillips singles off Luis Ayala, driving in two. Encarnacion grounds out to end the threat. Keppinger does not score. 5-3 Reds, final. -.077 WPA for the game.

In Oregon, an American man, Thomas Beatie, gives birth to a baby girl, the first of its kind in history.

September 22, 2008. Marlins at Reds, Reds up in 5-4, bottom 7. With Encarnacion on 2nd and Votto on 3rd with 2 outs, Arthur Rhodes IBBs GOK. Andy Phillips, pinch hitting for Danny Richar, singles in two runs before Corey Patterson strikes out. No runs for Jeff. .028 WPA. 7-5 Reds, final.

On Wall Street, there is only uncertainty as the Fed allows Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley to become bank holding companies, giving them access to federally-insured deposits.

May 3, 2009. Astros at Braves,. Top of the 5th, Jo-Jo Reyes, on the mound game tied at 1. With Hunter Pence on second and two outs, the call comes to IBB GOK. It's the second walk in as many appearances for GOK. Wandy Rodriguez strikes out to end the threat. Did not score. -.001 WPA. 7-5 Astros.

Silvio Berlusconi's wife announces that she's filing for divorce.

May 26, 2009. Astros at Reds, game tied at 2 at the top of the 4th. With Micah Owings on the mound and runners at 2nd and 3rd, with 1 out, it's apparently prudent to give Keppy a free pass. Something named Edwin Maysonet hit a run-scoring single after the IBB, but Oswalt grounded into a double play to end the inning. Jeff did not score, but would later hit a solo homer. .127 WPA 6-4 Reds.

A Chicagoan dies of Swine Flu, the 12th person to die from the illness nationally.

July 24, 2009. Mets at Astros. Astros up 5-3 in the bottom of the 5th after a two-RBI double by Chris Coste. Johan Santana is the one to issue the IBB, the first walk of a two-walk game for Keppy, with a runner on 2nd and 2 outs. Mike Hampton strikes out swinging to end the inning. Nope, he didn't score. .037 WPA. 5-4 Astros.

The federal government releases the rules for its "Cash for Clunkers" program.

April 18, 2010. Astros at Cubs, Marmol gave up a run to make it a 2-2 game in the 9th, blowing the save. Sean Marshall comes out for the 10th. After a double and a sac bunt, GOK, already 2-4 with an RBI on the day, gets the IBB. Pedro Feliz hits a sac fly to center, driving in the winning run, but Carlos Lee flies out to right to end the inning. Keppy didn't score. .098 WPA. 3-2 Astros, final.

Lufthansa, Air France and KLM carry out test flights to demonstrate safety in the skies over Europe following the eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland, which has severely disrupted air travel for four days.

Let those intentional walks, those particular supposedly separate events connected by one name, wash over you, and through you. Then get on with your day, with your life. These blips represent nothing, really; it's an experience like any other, witnessed by many but minded by few, a ghost of a memory that shaped the future in a way so inconceivable that it's not even worth dwelling on for a minute. But they still shape your future. You are reading about Jeff Keppinger, still.

Now go hug your loved ones.

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