Posts tagged ‘Baseball’

April 5, 2015

Opening Day 2015

Tomorrow is Opening Day 2015, the first day games of the season. It won’t be the first games of the season, however, as the Cardinals and Cubs play tonight. The Cubs. The team which defines, and is defined by, the mantra Always next year, more than any other team. That includes my favorite team, the Minnesota Twins.

Despite the positive language which I regularly use – awesome, cool, baller – I am a pessimist at heart, particularly regarding my sports teams. I inherited this pessimism from my father, a Mets and Jets fan. The Twins dominated the AL Central during the 2000s, but were regularly cowed by the Yankees during their annual postseason series. Then retirements, injuries, and free agency drove them into the basement where they reside today. And where they’ll reside for a while. Their pitching staff is pathetic and the highly touted prospects don’t work from the mound.

But hope springs eternal in the spring and this could be always be the prophesied next year. This is particularly true for my softball teams. My employer has a company team in the local park district league. Each season we drop down a level, attempting to find more comparable talent after finding ourselves to be repeated victims of the slaughter rule. We don’t have the power to hit home runs. We might have the one of the fastest players in the league, but we also have a few who might contend for the slowest. We’ve got a centerfielder with a rocket launcher attached to his shoulder and one of the top shortstops in the league, but we regularly have one defensive inning which kills us.

But we somehow maintain a good attitude. The umps comment on how much fun we seem to have, how hard we play despite the talent discrepancy, and how little we disparage each other and the other team. We’re probably the one team that doesn’t scream our curses, instead limiting them to under our breath. We’ve got one outfielder who never shuts up, shouting indiscernible encouragements to his teammates. I’m pretty sure he only repeats the same four nondescript lines:

Aight, aight!

You got dis!

Do it again!

Eat him!

That outfielder might be me.

I work for a Christian company, so after every game, after we’ve finished the tried and true handshake line with the other team, we invite the other team to join us on the mound for prayer. Occasionally we get the whole team to join us. More often than not, we don’t get more than one. Every week, every game, my prayer, silent or vocal, is one of thanks for the body which enables me to play, for my company which sponsors the team, for the people willing to play with me, for the colleagues who spend their Thursday evenings watching our haplessness.

My other softball team with my church, in a league of other churches, hosted by a single church blessed with a fantastic property. The league is less official without set rosters or umpires. One of the two fields doesn’t have an outfield fence; the other is made of temporary orange construction fencing. Our roster is patchwork on a weekly basis, a core of regulars shored up by last minute phone calls. Consistency is difficult on such a team and last year’s record was evidence of that. We’re losing at least one regular player to a cross country move and probably others to despondency or apathy. I’m only on the fringe of core players as my work league takes priority on Thursday nights. But we always, at least every time I’m there, manage to scrounge together a team; I don’t believe we’ve ever forfeited.

There is a famous clip of an irate Herman Edwards screaming at a press conference, You play to win the game! I whole-heartedly believe him, because part of the game is determining a winner and a loser. But my preferred focus is the play, not the game, because the game is made up of plays. My philosophy leans towards You play to win the play to win the game. And I try to play every play as though it is the last play in the game. I have joked about giving up a late inning lead so that the game could continue into extras, that there might be more plays.

And that is the beauty of baseball: there can always be one more play. People complain that the games are too long, that the season is too many games, or that baseball is boring. But my retort is that every play contains immeasurable potential. Every pitch, ball or strike, can send you into fits. Every pitch could be the most blazing fastball, the most knee-buckling curve, or the longest home run you have ever seen. Every routine groundball might be the most ulcer-inducing error or Ozzie Smith inspired wizardry you’ve ever witnessed. Every foul tip could be just another pawn in a cat-and-mouse chess match between pitcher and batter, inducing nervous nausea in the invested spectator. And as a player, every pitch has the potential to send you into action.

Tomorrow is Opening Day 2015. I can’t wait.

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March 29, 2013

What I Talk About When I Talk About Hitting

Let’s go hit.

Everything we need is in the trunk.

We’ve got a bucket of balls. A bright orange Home Depot bucket filled with  two dozen balls. Balls layered like the earth; a red rubber inner core, a cork outer core, miles of twine wound tight, and two white leather continents bound with one hundred eight red stitches. Well, that leather used to be white; it’s now greenish brown.

None of that synthetic leather. Those balls are cold, slippery, and malleable. They end as oblong spheroids, not balls. Real leather is always warm and only slick when they’ve been polished by years of play. Real leather goes further, though that has more to do with what is inside. Those cores. The synthetics just have a single rubber cork composite.

We’ve got two bats, a maple and a metal. We’ll start with the maple. It sounds so sweet. It’s an instrument of destruction and a musical instrument. Those are holy, acoustic tones when you connect at the sweet spot. You know when you hit it right. The handle is taped; a homemade job. Our sweat and dirt and skin are massaged into that tape. It’s dirty just like the balls, just with less grass stains. It grips our hands, tearing at the skin as it twists in the swing. Those blisters will turn to callouses soon.

When we want to be strong we put down the maple and pick up the metal. If wood is Rite I, aluminum is Rite II. The sweet spot still sings, but now it’s contemporary, not resonant holiness. But we are okay with this; every connection with that sweet spot yields sweeter results. The language of power is brought down to our level.

The sweet spot is real.

Assemble the inventory at the car. Cleats in hand, socks in pocket, backwards cap on the head covered by the five fingered yarmulke. In the other pocket are sunflower seeds –no chewing tobacco here. Bats and balls. We walk towards the fence with the post noon sun drawing our sweat already. Sometimes we remember water.

Set the bucket on the mound and turn to the dugout; we would take care not to smudge the crisp foul line if there was one. Lose the peripherals not left in the car; the keys, the phones, the wallets. Pull on those socks and lace up the cleats. Take off the cap only long enough to remove the shirt. Pour that first cheekful of seeds and step back on to the field.

That cap. It isn’t a current logo, but it’s not old enough to be retro. You don’t wear it anywhere else. The dark blue crown is marred by the white salt stains. The interior band was white once; it’s now a very sickly yellow. The only thing out here that smells worse is the inside of your glove – pungent sweaty leather. But you’re not out here to smell sexxy.

Everyone ready? Start throwing. Start close and back it up; get those arms lose. The sparse conversation is peppered with purple language and my bads at errant throws. Shoulders loose? Okay, let’s do this.

But first, refill the cheek. How do you chew seeds? Some people just chew and swallow them up, shell and all; some people chew them up, suck out the salt and flavoring, and spit out residual paste. The practiced keep a handful lodged in one cheek; with their tongue pull out one seed at a time, crack the shell, eat the seed, and spit the cartridge. Chewing, spitting, standing in the field gauging the vectors of each pitch and swing.

Righty batter – Centerfielder, Leftfielder, Shortstop. Pitcher climbs to the rubber. Pitcher is a stretch, but he’s the most accurate of the least injured. He pulls one ball from the bucket and begins to whip it into that glove; the batter uses gloves and preens before stepping into the box. Picher is a column, facing Third. Then he turns his head and spreads. Like a net, a spider, a web.

No, he is trebuchet.

The first one bounces. He is still gauging the distance. More right leg; power comes from the legs. Next is just outside, but at the knees. Batter pokes it over the imaginary second baseman’s head. Where we have no fielders. Exercise for Center. Barehand scoop and a lob to the back of the mound.

Again from the stretch and the batter is brushed back. Range found, for now. Ten decent pitches; two grounders to Short, two flies that Center runs in to snag, three bloops in the gaps, two flies to Left, one line over his head. That line was the Sweet Spot. More than that, the Sweetest Spot.

Another errant pitch followed by another good one; we’re not real pitchers. We finish the bucket and collect the stray balls. Most have congregated near the mound after Outfield – Short relays, but there are strays. Pop fouls behind the backstop, whiffs and wild pitches, line drive fouls outside the fence. But no long balls this time.

Next batter. Next batter, next pitcher. This batter is lefty – well, a switch hitter with a better eye from left but more power from right – so we rearrange. Center, Right, Second. Next batter. Everyone has hit once so refill the cheek. And we rotate and rotate until we’ve all hit twice. And again, there were no homers.

We gather the balls one last time. The sun visibly caressed the skin on some of our backs; some have shirts that never come off. We drop onto the bench and remove our cleats and socks, slipping our sore, blistered feet into flip flops.

Everything is sore. Baseball is a series of explosions and sprints – instant acceleration. First step is everything in the field and our legs hurt. Sore hips from opening on every throw or swing; whole torsos hurt from twisting in those same motions. Shoulders ache from throw after throw after throw; fingers, from strangling the bat. And then there are the scrapes and bruises from diving for that fly ball or grounder up the middle, as well as the unintended bean balls. Everything will still be sore tomorrow, but it’s a good sore.

Baseballs

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This is the second post in a series leading up to MLB’s Opening Day. See the first post here. See my compatriot’s post here.

 

March 28, 2013

The New Seasonal Litany

It has been a hard winter in Chicago. But baseball is coming.

The team I bleed for is terrible. That doesn’t matter; Baseball is more than my team.

Most people don’t understand. They think I’m crazy. They think baseball is stupid or boring. Piteous people.

Baseball is huge. Baseball cannot be contained by time. There is no time limit, you play until you are done. The fundamentals remain unchanged over decades, over a century. Players are compared across eras because Baseball envelops itself and its mutations. Innovation never ceases, but it only leads back to Baseball.

Baseball is coming.

Baseball cannot be spatially contained. The whole world is merely where the home run lands. Play extends beyond the foul lines and outfield walls. The game is wide enough to be played in a pasture and narrow enough to fit into back alleys and city streets.

Baseball is coming

Baseball is constant potential. Every second has infinite results. Every routine grounder could be an error. Every benchwarmer could knock one out of the park. Every windup could buckle the knees. Any single can spark a rally; there is always hope.

Baseball is coming.

Baseball is paradoxical, both simple and complex. It can be boiled down to a rock and stick. Or, it can be described with complex mathematical formulas. It is game and it is business. It is historical and it is modern. It has meant absolutely nothing and it has meant absolutely everything.

Baseball is coming.

Baseball is versatile. A full game of nine innings can be played with eighteen players. Or with four friends I can go to the field and chew sunflower seeds and try to hit the ball over the fence. I can hone my switch hitting as though I’ll ever get called up. I can play in a parking lot with a broom handle and a tennis ball

Baseball is coming.

Baseball is language. A pervasive language. My family talks baseball. Talk of our loyalties, our hopes, our scars in baseball. We age against the backdrop of baseball; it is the pantry door against which we measure our growth.

Winter is waning. Baseball is coming.

baseball 1

 

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