As I continue on with the question - why do you love baseball? ...A few baseball bloggers decided to chime in.
It was July of 1979. I had a week off from my newspaper job in Vermont; saw that the Expos had three games scheduled at Wrigley Field and flew to Chicago by myself to take them in.
I found a couple of buses to take from O’Hare straight to the ball park, bought an upper deck ticket at the window and made it to my seat fifteen minutes before the first pitch.
This was ten years before the Cubs would play under lights and they had Dave Kingman in their lineup, who would go on to hit 48 homers that year (and naturally whiff 131 times). The Expos were in the thick of the NL east race, had Gary Carter, that great outfield of Andre Dawson, Warren Cromartie and Ellis Valentine and Steve Rogers on the hill.
Anyway, I believe the Expos won that first game, but as it was winding down I suddenly felt a bit anxious. Here I was in a city I’d never visited, having absolutely no clue where I was going to stay that night when it dawned on me that if the game just somehow went into extra innings; that if it went on and on forever (though it couldn’t without lights), I would never have to face the harsh unknown streets of Chicago.
Baseball fans often say that they’d choose to be sitting at a game than practically anywhere else. It’s certainly true for me. Staring at a vast green field under a gorgeous sky (and at Wrigley, with the bonus green ivy); can make you feel naturally relaxed and comfortable. At Wrigley that 1979 day, I was at least 1000 miles from home, but incredibly, it didn’t seem that way at all.
Play That Funky Baseball
Shelby Wyros was a Greek goddess. I think it was her AOL screen name at the time--"GrkGoddess232," so obviously it was true.
I was playing first base in my first All-Star year, holding a runner on, when out of the corner of my eye, I saw Shelby's billowing hair and smile that brought worlds to life wandering down the hill with a few of her friends.
Our coach saw them too. Anybody could have told you that a gaggle of giggling school girls meandering into the radius of 15-20 teenage dudes was a recipe for distraction, no matter what we were doing. We could have been putting out a fire at a children's hospital and still our focus would have been quite easily monopolized by Shelby and her posse. Those poor, poor sick kids. As if their hypothetical lives weren't tragic enough, now they were going to die in a fire.
Anyway, it was a close game--tied 1-1 in the late innings. I was holding on the other team's fastest runner and our coach knew what was coming.
"Justin," I heard him calmly say from the dugout, as if there was a poisonous snake slithering around my ankle that I wasn't aware of. "Stay cool."
Just then, as Shelby and pals entered everybody's undeniable vision, the batter ka-slammed a line drive into the right side of the infield. I reacted instantly--later, my father would tell me I looked like an ostrich who'd been shot in the neck--and, fully extended, made an awesome catch, tagging the runner in mid-air for an unassisted double play. The highlight of my season. With two down, victory was all the more assured.
I soaked up the cheers, only to turn and see Shelby smiling playfully at me and waving. Oh crap. Focus = evaporated.
And as I stood there, wallowing in Shelby's gaze, the distinct *PING* of a metal bat on ball caught my attention. The next batter was already up and swinging and a grounder was coming right at me. Not seeing it until literally the last second, it bounced and smacked me in the bottom jaw. It felt like my teeth were embedded in my brain. I dropped like a brick.
To me, that's baseball. One second, it is the source of endless joy and enthusiasm, and you wonder why the world would ever need to create anything else. And the next thing you know, you're lying on the ground wondering if Shelby Wyros will still go out with you after dental reconstructive surgery. I don't know of much else that can yank your emotions about so ruthlessly. And for that, I love the game. And hate it.
That Balls Outta Here
This past Thursday (Note: this is from Sept. 2009) I went to the Nationals-Phillies game in Washington with five friends – one Nat’s fan, two Phillies fans, and two that just wanted to watch some baseball. The two non-affiliated guys decided to cheer for the Nationals, so I went for the Phillies to balance things out.
The Phils took an early 2-0 lead off Livan Hernandez, but Washington came back – putting 8 up on Joe Blanton, including home runs by Adam Dunn and shortstop Ian Desmond (making his MLB debut). The Nationals led 8-2 at the end of the 8th inning, and the Phillies fans at the park (which at that point was probably the majority of people there) were a bit down.
It was Dunn’s 36th of the year, continuing his trek to 40. Right now he’s on pace for 41, which would be a big disappointment since he’s hit exactly 40 home runs – no more, no less – for the past four years in a row. That’s one of my favorite things in baseball.
With the Phillies down 6 runs and the bottom half of the order coming up, I turned to one of my friends – a Philadelphia fan – and asked him if Matt Stairs was the team’s top pinch-hitter, or if that job was held by Greg Dobbs. “Dobbs is on the DL,” he told me. No offense to Greg, but I took that as good news. Why would I be happy about that, you (and he) might ask?
Because I think of Matt Stairs as kind of a lumberjack. He’s a powerful, short, squat Canadian, and I imagine that after the season ends he puts on a plaid shirt and goes up to the Canadian forest to chop down trees and whittle them into bats for his use the following year.
Mind you, I’ve had this caricature for years. If I could see Matt Stairs bat, it would be worth the price of admission. This was obviously a ridiculous sentiment, even to people that know me.
Rookie pitcher Zach Segovia started the ninth for the Nationals. Raul Ibanez popped out. Jayson Werth reached on a throwing error by Desmond, though the youngster didn’t seem too concerned. Pedro Feliz singles off of Segovia’s glove. As the 8th place batter – Carlos Ruiz – came to the plate, by friend told me to look at the on deck circle. Matt Stairs had a bat in his hands. Ruiz drew a walk; the bases were loaded with one out, and the Lumberjack came to the plate.
Pitch one was a fastball well outside, taken for a ball. Matt Stairs does not swing at such rubbish (Unbeknown to me, Stairs actually hadn’t gotten a hit since July 11th – a streak of 30 at bats). Pitch two was an outside fastball much closer to the plate. The Lumberjack took a mighty swing and sent it deep into the cool Washington night. Matt Stairs had hit a grand slam.
After the game I mentioned to my friends a quote that I don’t remember which player said first, but it’s along the lines of “I always play hard, just in case there’s even one fan in the stands who came just to see me.”
On that night I was that fan. And that’s why baseball’s a great game – because even in a game in which the result made no difference and I didn't care about either of the teams, I still got to see everything I asked for and then some.
Camden Crazies – A blog about the Baltimore Orioles
The entire post (this was an excerpt) was Posted on Sept. 12, 2009
Thanks to Jeff, Justin and Daniel for their contributions. Please be sure to check out their respective blogs.
More to come... In the mean time, please keep sending in your stories.