On the eve of baseball in MMPUS, I find myself at a loss for words. Not the words that comprise the rubbish I dump in the TZ on a regular basis, of course, that I can still do. But for the words that comprise the more expansive, grandiloquent rubbish that I serve up as an excuse for an ego column. Much like “The Daily Show” suffering an identity crisis this week when they had Richard Clark in studio: “Are we still a fake news program?”, I find myself with a yen to write a pre-OD column yet I have nothing to say. Does that make me like all the other, allegedly legitimate, online sports journalists? Am I no longer a fake columnist? It’s enough to drive one to drink!
Is this is what Spring Training is like for YankeeFan every year? A roster that’s virtually set? Boringly consistent good play? A comfy execution of the motions required to start the campaign proper? Timely and positive roster moves? I hope that this is merely the product of a spectacularly good off-season by the team’s management, rather than an unspeakable April Fool being shat upon us by the BBGs. To set us up like this, only to rip the rug out would be cruelty beyond reason.
Strangely, I am reminded of a moment from my youth (Warning: rambling, self-aggrandising, allegorical stretch to follow).
At 16, I was awarded a scholarship by the RAF to learn how to fly. One has to be 17 to fly solo in a powered aircraft, so at that age I was packed off to Gliding School . These particular, tandem-seated flying bricks purporting to be unpowered aircraft were winch-launched. This meant that a mile of cable was laid out along the ground, one end attached to the glider while at the other was a mighty diesel-powered winch. The winch reeled in the cable at a vicious rate; the glider was dragged forwards and then upwards until as much “air” had been gained (usually about 1,000 feet), at which time the cable was released. The job then was to execute a circuit and land safely.
As with most flying-related activity, the vast majority of training relates to safety procedures in the event of something going tits up. In the case of winch-launched gliding, the mother of all tits uppedness, as it is in sex, is premature release. If the cable pulls free of the clasp early, or the cable’s weak link goes, you will find yourself staring straight at the sky with no forward motion and a very hard ground somewhere behind you. We were instructed on the appropriate response to this event, which depended on how much height had been gained before the cable broke.
I am getting to the point, honest. So, here I am, 16 years old, 23 launches into my flying career, and my instructor wants to run me through some stalls on the next flight. “We need as much height as we can get on this one,” he tells me. I’m pumped. This is going to be fun. I jam the stick as far back into my belly as it will go as we begin to roll. I need to use both hands to hold the ridiculous climb angle. I’m smiling because at this rate we’ll top out at somewhere around 1,200 feet – a big launch off the winch…
And then silence.
No comforting wind rush. No creaking of the airframe. No more back-pressure on the stick. Just a dead calm, and a moment in time that is burned on my memory. The cable was, of course, gone.
Perhaps it is because this was a very personal experience for me, but my fear is that this season will be like that launch. The promise of greatness, only to have such thoughts shattered by an event that kills the momentum. Such power lies in the hands of the BBG’s, and this is why we should fear and love them.
Meanwhile, I’m hanging momentarily in mid-air with the glider at very ill-advised nose-up angle, the ground an unknown distance below me and no power source.
Somehow, training took over. I jammed the stick forward in an attempt to get some – any – flight out of this thing to give us a chance at crashing without dying. Without airflow, the control surfaces don’t work. Without control surfaces, you cannot control the aircraft. If you cannot control the aircraft, you’ll fall out of the sky and probably die.
I pound on the instrument panel to get an accurate altitude reading. Just over 100 feet. Shit! No options here, just dive straight ahead and hope that there’s enough lift to be able to flare just before hitting the ground. The wind noise returns, but it’s muted compared to normal flight, let alone the howl during launch. This is going to be very tight.
We hit hard. But not so hard that the airframe couldn’t absorb the impact. I’d held the dive long enough so that I had enough airflow over the wings to pull us out at the last moment. We at least hit with the landing gear first. We bounced, but I kept the wings level and we came to a blessed stop. Pilot, instructor, aircraft and, amazingly, underwear all unscathed.
We were towed back to the launch point and I began to un-strap myself as usual to hand the glider over to the next student in the rotation. But my instructor taps me on the shoulder and tells me that I’m taking the next cable. Only then did it occur to me that he was outside the aircraft and not in the rear seat. “Take this one on your own,” he said with a grin.
Confused, I protested. What about the stall drills? We just had a horribly aborted launch, don’t we need to run that one again? My protestations failed, and I took the next cable for my first solo flight. It was somewhat well executed, but I did overshoot the landing zone a little – the thing stays airborne a lot better when you’ve taken 200lbs of instructor out of the back seat.
I’ll never forget his words to me that calmed me after the busted launch and gave me the motivation to go out and do a good solo. “You were great on that last one,” he said. “You did it all yourself. I never touched anything…except the cable release.”