The Next Hill Over
by Ken Arneson
2020-08-23 23:30

I had a conversation today with a neighbor’s mother, who had come here after fleeing her home that was near one of the major fires going on in California right now. From her house, she could see the flames on the next hill over from hers. She left not because she thought that she was in immediate danger, as the fire would have to work its way down that hill and back up and over hers, but that she knew she would not be able to sleep because of the uncertainty.

And I got to thinking that this is a pretty good metaphor everything that is going on in this country right now. Maybe we’re not the ones with our house burning down in wildfires, and maybe we’re not the ones who are sick with COVID-19, and maybe we’re not the ones who have lost our jobs in the pandemic, and maybe we’re not the ones who are being subject to police violence, and maybe we’re not the ones who are being rounded up and locked up for deportation, and maybe we’re not the ones suffering from any number of other indignities of American society in 2020, but any of those things and all of those things feel like they’re just one hill away from us, and could potentially strike us at any time. So how do we sleep at night?

When the A’s started their game with the Angels at 1pm, the Air Quality Index near the Coliseum read at 238, which is considered in the “Very Unhealthy” range.

Last year, when our wildfire problem first started, I played an “indoor” soccer game with the AQI at about 120. I put “indoor” in quotation marks because it was in an old airplane hangar under a roof, half the walls are just giant sliding doors, and so the building isn’t exactly sealed airtight from the elements. Just from that one game, I developed a cough that wouldn’t leave me until the rains came a couple weeks later and cleared out the smoke.

From my experience, I can’t fathom why anyone would play a baseball game when the AQI is almost twice as bad as the air I played in. But I guess not everybody has had my experience.

Some people need to make their own mistakes before they adjust their behavior. Some people take the risk and get lucky that nothing bad happened, and think they were right for taking the risk. But that’s not how risk works in the aggregate. And if there’s any team that should understand how risk works in the aggregate, it’s the Oakland A’s.

I’m baffled and embarrassed that they played that game at 1pm. I thought they should have waited a few hours. The pattern has been the last few days that the bad air peaks around 1pm, and then starts getting better around 4pm. That turned out to be the case again for this game. The AQI at 4pm ended up being 123.

When there’s danger lurking on the next hill over, you don’t march towards the hill. You get out of there, to somewhere you can live to play another day, to somewhere you can sleep at night.

The A’s and the Angels paid no attention to my admonishments on Twitter before the game, and played the game. The A’s won 5-4 in extra innings. It was one of the few games the A’s have won this year without hitting a home run. Instead, they did something they have rarely done all year: get some timely hits with runners in scoring position, and then, to win the game, hit a sacrifice fly with a runner on third and less than two outs. It would have been a fun game to talk about, if I wasn’t so outraged that they were playing it at all.

No word afterwards if anybody developed any respiratory problems from playing in the bad air.

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This is Ken Arneson's blog about baseball, brains, art, science, technology, philosophy, poetry, politics and whatever else Ken Arneson feels like writing about
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