Tuesday, December 22, 2020

My player: Riqui Puig


There is a running gag in The Peanuts where Charlie Brown's hero is a terrible professional baseball player named Joe Shlabotnik. And somehow his struggles as a Major Leaguer to hit .003 (he hit an unimportant bloop single with nothing on the line and no one on base once), and his resultant dropping to the Minor Leagues, reflect Charlie Brown's own relentless string of failures.

I have been thinking of this lately.

And then I was talking with a librarian yesterday about Daemons. In Philip Pullman's fantasy novel The Golden Compass, people have Daemons, which are a kind of animal companion that is a physical manifestation of their souls, intensely linked to them, physically and emotionally. Maybe they're a little like a spirit animal, but more direct and publicly tangible. The question came up around the idea that if we had them, what would our own Daemons be?

Some part of me might fancy having a Tiger or Wolf as a Daemon, but I know that that is not me. 

If I had a Daemon I think it would be something more like a crow.

A crow.

Eh, I can work with that.

But the thing that links these ruminations is something about how sometimes the things we identify with can shine a light on us, or even serve to define us.

I started following soccer because I was so taken with the borderline magical skill of Messi. And though I have, a couple times, with tongue in cheek, compared my library work style to how he plays soccer (walking the pitch, taking it all in, seemingly completely uninvolved in the game all around us, when, suddenly, bam, a flurry of game (library) changing brilliance!). And there have been a couple other players over the years I have made personal analogies to as well. 

But these are all tigers and wolves.

Now, finally, I have found my own Joe Shlabotnik.

Playing midfield for Messi's team, Barcelona, is a slight young man named Riqui Puig. 

Say it with me: Rickee Pooch. 

I guess that's how they pronounce names in Catalonia. 

Anyway, he is less than 5'6" tall, this young Riqui Puig (Pooch!). He is but 21 years old. He doesn't weigh much either. He is a clever dribbler and a person who can thread a pass through a field of moving people to meet a trajectory that a doctoral mathematician would need a few hours to work out. He may be tossed around by stronger, bigger men like there is nothing there, only to somehow appear on the other side of them and spirit the ball on a darting run up the field before they even know what happened. He's fun to watch. He always seems to play well and exuberantly, and to be an excellent influence on the game, even going so far as to be the finest player on the pitch at times.

Coaches hate him.

He rarely plays.

When the coaches have pregame and postgame press conferences the press always asks "Why don't you play Riqui Puig?" (It is nice that I'm not the only one who feels as I do about Riqui Puig).

And the coach, (there have been three so far, because besides not playing Riqui Puig, they also keep losing, so they keep getting fired), always answers something like "There are a lot of good players fighting for their position and it all depends on the best player and their attitude and blah blah blah."

But what the coach is always really saying is:

"I would rather die than play Riqui Puig. He looks like he's having fun!"

I've become his fan. I love to watch him not play in a kind of agony of frustration. Or, on special days, when he comes on for the last 20 minutes of the game and is indisputably great, to revel in the unrewarded triumph and to exult over the injustice of it all.

My crow, my own Joe Shlabotnick. My Riqui Puig.

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