SportsWhat Can We Learn From a Cat Charging Into...

What Can We Learn From a Cat Charging Into a Baseball Game?

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Early this month, a cat found its way onto the baseball diamond toward the end of a Yankees-Orioles game. This is a thing cats do, apparently. In April, a scruffy gray one ran onto Coors Field during a Dodgers-Rockies game. In 2017, a feral kitten darted onto the field at Busch Stadium during a game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Kansas City Royals, just before a grand slam gave the Cardinals a victory; it was dubbed Rally Cat and later embroiled in a custody battle. In 2016, a big yellow cat crashed a game between the Cardinals and the Angels. There was the infamous Attack of the Killer Kitten in 1984, in which a gate-crashing cat bit the finger of the Seattle Kingdome groundskeeper who caught it, and, before that, the legendary Cubs-Mets Black Cat Incident of 1969, in which a black cat paced in front of the Cubs’ dugout, leading (according to some) to the Cubs’ continuing their losing streak.

But none of that detracts from this month’s drama. In the television broadcast of the game, the cat is initially just a minor distraction. The camera spots it on the field, and eventually Kevin Brown, one of the announcers, gives it an off-the-cuff, “Ah, it is New York.” When the camera returns to the pitcher, though, there is confusion: They’re just going to keep playing?

The cat is an incredible athlete. Watching it is like watching an Olympic event.

Sometimes, in a crisis, the brain can’t believe what it’s seeing and proceeds as if everything is normal. This is called “the incredulity response.” It takes a moment after the cat is spotted for attention to shift away from the manufactured stakes of the game and toward the primal stakes for the animal. As the cat tries to get its bearings, the crowd begins to cheer. When the cat jumps up onto the outfield wall, the crowd roars. In just a few moments, the cat has commanded the attention of the fans in the stands, the fans at home, the camera operators, the groundskeepers, the players, the announcers. It darts past the Orioles bullpen to a door and waits to be let out, but the man sitting behind the door does nothing, and the cat walks away in frustration. It trots along as the crowd chants: “Go, cat, go!” Groundskeepers jog impotently alongside the animal, which jumps up onto the wall again, then propels itself into the air in great vertical leaps. The crowd goes wild.

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The thing about the cat: It’s so fast, so determined, so tenacious and tactical. It keeps trying different things in order to get what it wants, which is to get the hell out of this loud, crowded, confounding place. The cat is also an incredible athlete. Watching it is like watching an Olympic event. The cat is a sprinter. It’s a gravity-defying gymnast under stress. Unlike the cat at Coors Field in April, this cat doesn’t need to stop to catch its breath. Unlike the Killer Kitten, it doesn’t resort to violence. The crowd chants: “M.V.P., M.V.P.” People cheer as the cat evades the groundskeepers, even darting through one guy’s legs when cornered. Finally, someone opens a door, and the cat runs in, and the crowd boos, sad to see it go. “That was legitimately harrowing,” Brown says. “Amusing, but also harrowing. I don’t ever want to watch that again.”

But you do want to watch it again. Who wouldn’t want to watch this small creature, thrown into a situation so much bigger than itself, extricate itself with notably more grace, dignity and poise than its predecessors? It’s thrilling — more compelling than the game everyone gathered to watch in the first place. A creature as vulnerable and ordinary as this little cat has not only disrupted something as big and flatulent as a major-league baseball game but has everyone rallying around it in sympathy. On YouTube, some commenters argued that this was the best part of the game; one reported that at the bar in Maryland where he watched the game, everyone was rooting for the animal. Everybody loves an underdog, even when it’s a cat.

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Just as the cat video circulated online, so did a couple of other videos of normal situations being wildly disrupted. In one, a passenger on a Frontier Airlines flight, accused of drunkenly groping and assaulting flight attendants, wound up being duct-taped into his seat. In another, a woman had a meltdown at the Victoria’s Secret in a New Jersey mall after apparently trying to assault another shopper and then realizing she was being recorded. The Frontier passenger was seen on video yelling about his parents’ net worth; the lingerie shopper eventually collapsed to the floor, screaming and shaking. Notably, the people around her pretty much kept going about their business, quietly paying for their purchases.

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Neither of these situations was at all unprecedented, either. The belligerent passenger was not the first to be taped to his seat. Nor is the “Victoria’s Secret Karen” the first to mistake her victimizing for victimization. Each, however, appears in a moment when business owners and retail workers report customers’ becoming unusually abusive. It’s hard not to think some significant derangement may be happening — a rush of people, stuck in global crises that their brains apparently refuse to reckon with, acting out in all the usual ways. This theater of entitlement, confusion, unprocessed rage and emergent mental-health troubles will involve us all, if only as increasingly jaded spectators.

The cat has no sense of being disruptive, because it has no sense of living in a society.

Perhaps, in their own minds, these people see themselves as being like the cat — with its primal disregard for the game, the players, the fans, the announcers and the viewers. Maybe they would relate to the cat’s behavior under the circumstances, imagining themselves as individuals against the world, victimized by its rules, using agility and guile and the gifts of self-preservation to fight whichever groundskeepers may try to corral them. It’s true that when I saw the cat, my first thought was that we could all of us learn something from it and from its ability to show such grace even in the most baffling of circumstances. There is something beautiful about its motivation, its competence and self-determination.

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The cat, though, is pure subjectivity and unalloyed id. It has no sense of being disruptive, because it has no sense of living in a society. It does not conceive of itself as being hemmed in by or at odds with a system, just as it doesn’t conceive of the ways that system might support or protect it. It has no way to interpret the announcers’ expressions of concern. It is an animal notoriously wedded to controlling its environment, suddenly trapped inside the highly structured, rules-bound and socially interactive context of a baseball game.

The more I watched this cat’s ordeal, the more I became aware of another heartening thing: the crowd’s collective reaction. A stadium full of people good-​naturedly put aside its own plans to attend to something else, united in its concern and sympathy for one animal. The cat was amazing, but a whole stadium acting like a society, like a civilization? That may be the more beautiful part to watch.

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