Be kind to your eyes. See him. See him if you're already keenly aware of him or if you're only sort of vaguely aware of him or if you, like many Americans, draw a blank on the name Lionel Messi. See him if you appreciate soccer or if you feel only vaguely curious about soccer or even if you hate soccer. See him on YouTube or on a televised match or, if you're lucky enough, in one of the world's great cities (Barcelona) and one of the world's great stadia (Camp Nou).
See him because he's the best, most momentous athletic show on Earth, and maybe darned-near the best artistic show on Earth.
If you happen to see him and see not much for a time, just hang on, because eventually you will see him do something that your eyes just did not think they would see. For one thing, you will see him provide the most prized sporting commodity on this planet -- soccer goals -- because he scores them so much that he just scored more than anybody ever scored in a calendar year.
Ever looked at the rapturous reactions of people who score goals and wondered how it might feel to score just one? Well, Messi scored two on Sunday, and that made it 86 in the calendar year 2012, 74 for his Barcelona club and 12 for his Argentina homeland, surpassing the record of Gerd Müller that had held up for 40 years of mass human soccer toil. Apparently Messi has scored every 63 minutes of play, which is marvelous and ludicrous, and does not count the other years of this eight-year wonder sequence starting for Barcelona at age 17 in 2004, the first of his 197 other goals.
"Leo," said teammate Gerard Piqué, "is supernatural." You know the best thing about the accounts of his record-breaking match on Sunday in Seville? The best thing was this numeral that jumped out: "25." Sometimes, an athlete's age can get lost in the deluge when he starts young and gets going, so you might stop to wonder about Messi being perhaps 26 or, please no, 27.
Twenty-five. Thank goodness it's only that.
There should be ample time remaining to see him, to see him at his utmost in Spanish league matches, in European Champions League matches, in Argentina matches, to see him for the goals but also for his constant and rollicking promise of them. So do see him. See him rampaging up the pitch with his trademark searing directness, dribbling the ball while looking straight ahead, and realize that's the most fearsome sight in the world's game. See him come upon goalkeepers with a maddening patience that suggests he has more time than he really does, so as to make them flail first in the split-second chess. See him, if you're lucky, in one of those gasping sequences when he courses through plural defenders as if they're trees or lampposts, as against Real Madrid in the 2011 European Champions League semifinal.
And when you do see him, if you haven't seen him, you might begin by wondering if that's him. He looks unimposing, and that has little to do with his height, which is 5-foot-7. He doesn't resonate with the don't-mess-with-me thickness of his countryman and predecessor Diego Maradona, even if Messi is plenty strong and capable of absorbing world-class bullying. He doesn't have the dashing movie-star figure of Cristiano Ronaldo across Spain in Madrid. He doesn't look like he could hit full speed in five yards, create hope from hopeless thickets, ransack your defense with havoc until the whole place seems to quake.
He does not even look all that much like an athlete.
Then he gets going, and you start to see things you did not think you could see, crazy things, gorgeous things, things your eyes are glad they've seen, that they could not imagine they'd see. You might see the masterly ease that makes you realize why an Argentinian national manager, Carlos Bilardo, once said an x-ray of Messi would reveal a ball at the end of his left foot.
So see him because, in some beautiful way, all of it doesn't make sense. The leading athlete of this world had a growth-hormone deficiency as a child, but that would abet his game by setting him against larger opponents, even before he spent his teens up and across the hemispheres at Barcelona's academy. Of all the footballers born in all the places in a world consumed by a sport, there really was something different when a working-class family with a factory-worker father welcomed this one in Rosario, the third-largest city in Argentina.
That happened on Wednesday, June 24, 1987. What luck it was so recent.