The Baseball Desert

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Those Sweet Words

Mid-January here in The Baseball Desert usually sees me digging out the works of Roger Angell in an effort to remind myself that baseball is not that far away. This year I've started with the wonderful Season Ticket, which begins with a meandering reflection by Angell on baseball - not just the game, but what surrounds it, what Angell calls The Life: La Vida.
Baseball opens your eyes. Each new season, it takes me four or five games before I begin to see what's really happening on the field-how the pitcher is working to this particular batter; the little shifts in the infield defense, with men on base, as the count progresses; how bold or how cautious this manager will be with his fresh assemblages of hitters and base runners. Over the winter I also seem to forget another part of baseball-the stuff away from, or off to one side of, the teams and the standings and the vivid events on the diamond, which can reward the experienced and reawakened fan. But that, too, comes back in time.
Angell then goes on to recount a number of events off the field that come to him as he remembers seasons past, before coming back to the game itself:
Events on the field qualify in The Life as well; they only have to be a little special. In September 1986, during an unmomentous Giants-Braves game out at Candlestick Park, Bob Brenly, playing third base for the San Franciscos, made an error on a routine ground ball in the top of the fourth inning. Four batters later, he kicked away another chance and then, scrambling after the ball, threw wildly past home in an attempt to nail a runner there: two errors on the same play. A few moments after that, he managed another boot, thus becoming only the fourth player since the turn of the century to rack up four errors in one inning. In the bottom of the fifth, Brenly hit a solo home run. In the seventh, he rapped out a bases-loaded single, driving in two runs and tying the game at 6-6. The score stayed that way until the bottom of the ninth, when our man came up to bat again, with two out, ran the count to 3-2, and then sailed a massive home run deep into the left-field stands. Brenly's accountbook for the day came to three hits in five at-bats, two home runs, four errors, four Atlanta runs allowed, and four Giant runs driven in, including the game winner. A neater summary was delivered by his manager, Roger Craig, who said, "This man deserves the Comeback Player of the Year Award for this game alone." I wasn't at Candlestick that day, but I don't care; I have this one by heart.

Or consider an earlier concatenation that began when Phil Garner, a stalwart Pirate outfielder, struck a grand slam home run against the Cardinals at Three Rivers Stadium one evening in 1978. Every professional player can recall each grand slam in his career, but this one was a blue-plate special, because Garner, who is not overmuscled, had never hit a bases-loaded home run before-not in Little League play; not in Legion or high-school ball; not in four years with the University of Tennessee nine; not in five years in the minors; not in six hundred and fifty-one prior major-league games, over two leagues and five summers. Never.

We must now try to envisage-perhaps in playlet form-the events at the Garner place when Phil came home that evening:

P.G. (
enters left with a certain swing in his step): Hi, honey.

Mrs P.G.-or C.G. (her name is Carol): Hi. How'd it go?

P.G.: O.K. (pause) Well?

C.G.: Well, what?

P.G.: What! You mean...

C.G.: (
alarmed) What what? What's going on?

P.G.: I can't believe it. You missed it!

Yes, she had missed it, although Carol was and is a baseball fan and a fan of Phil's, as well as his wife, and was in the custom of attending most of the Pirates' home games and following the others by radio or television. When he told her the news, she was delighted but appalled.

C.G.: I can't get over not seeing it. You can't imagine how bad I feel.

P.G.: (
grandly) Oh, that's O.K., honey. I'll hit another one for you tomorrow.

And so he did.
Baseball: best game in the world, bar none.