LOS ANGELES – Andre Ethier turned 30 this week, the eldest of his two sons is nearly 4 already, and he's been around long enough now to be on the doorstep of free agency.
It all passes so fast if you let it, too, if the last at-bat runs into the next one and the one after that, and then the last at-bat ruins your whole day, you know, if you happen to be wound that tight.
For a few years there's been a lot of that going around at Dodger Stadium, where the teams weren't very good, and the fans and the league were turning on the owner, and Ethier was gnawing off bat handles between base hits.
He's been great and he's been good and he's been something less than his expectations for himself, which sounds like a pretty typical big-league career, better than typical even. Except Ethier couldn't ever let the disappointing stuff die in the arms of the hopeful stuff, a stubbornness that might have served him well in the batting cage but could be hell on his general demeanor.
"Too much of that angst, that white-knuckle mentality, it can wear you out," he said Thursday afternoon while sitting on another white-hot start, through six games batting .348 and having driven in 10 runs.
The Dodgers were gliding right along with him and Matt Kemp, too. They'd won five of those six games, and while a broad and grateful perspective goes down easy when you're punishing every pitcher that comes along, Ethier is trying to remember that this doesn't have to be all bad luck and persecution, either.
There's enough of that in baseball even on the good days, if you go looking for it.
Some who know Ethier well say he's lightened up considerably, both on himself and that spiteful last at-bat. He'd dragged a sore knee through enough of last season, which ended in surgery but helped spawn a great appreciation for health and youth and the delights of the game. He'd arrived in spring training still without a contract for 2013 and beyond, but with a heart and mind open to the possibilities.
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In the meantime, his younger son, now 2, followed the basics "Mommy" and "Daddy" with a love for the exclamation, "Foul ball!" It's the sort of random, goofy, beautiful life development that turns the nastiest of two-strike, backdoor sliders into simply a day job, if still a reasonable obsession.
Who doesn't need a 2½-foot tall person running around the house screaming, "Foul ball!"?
Ethier, admittedly, had gone through the baseball part of his life assuming very few believed in him, in spite of all evidence otherwise. He had an everyday big-league job at 24. He was sixth in the National League MVP voting at 27, an All-Star at 28, and a Gold Glove winner at 29. This, despite a .243 career average against left-handed pitching (.220 in 2011), but maybe that was excusable in that it so tortured him.
But, then the boys came along, and then he learned that dragging a leg through the summer was a lot more miserable than popping up a hanging curveball, and then – wouldn't you know – another season came along, and with it a chance to do it all again, this time maybe better.
From a long way back, he was always the serious one, the responsible one, the earnest one. Now, maybe, he could be all those things and have a decent time doing it, too.
He was hitless in three at-bats Thursday night and took a very suspicious first-pitch fastball in the back in his other plate appearance. In the first inning, the Dodgers had runners at second and third with one out. Right-handed hitter Juan Rivera was on deck, and Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander Jeff Karstens had the option of pitching around Ethier or conserving his energy with a single pitch. That pitch struck Ethier on the "6" of his "16."
Ethier deliberately flipped his bat aside and coasted to first base on the boos that poured from the grandstands.
He was the last Dodger to score in a 3-2 win, pushing their record to 6-1 – all against the San Diego Padres and Pirates. It's their best record after seven games since 1981.
"You know what, it's the winning run," Ethier said later. "I guess that's the best revenge."
Fifteen minutes earlier he had met Kemp and Tony Gwynn Jr. in shallow center field, where they leapt and crashed into each other, celebrating again.
Ethier was hitless for the first time in six games, but this will pass.
"You learn," he said. "I look back, it's been seven years here, and I'm proud of what I've done. Sometimes, you pick your head up and find things along the way. You understand how precious the experience is."
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"Not as much," he said. "I still have some."
He'll still stew over stuff, for sure. It's his nature. He'll still drive home thinking about the middle-in fastball he should have hit into the bleachers, the one he just missed. He'll rue the mechanics of his swing, or wonder how he wasn't thinking fastball, or wish he'd get one more shot to keep that sucker fair.
Then he'll walk in the front door and hear the most random, goofiest, most beautiful words ever.
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