The Baseball Desert

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Raise Your Hand

As expected, real life - tying up the loose ends at the old job and jumping in at the deep end and trying to swim in the new one - had pushed baseball out of the frame these past two weeks. All I managed to see were parts of a couple of games, and the end of the regular season was pretty much experienced second-hand, via the keyboards Red Sox Nation.

Despite being dead tired (I'd forgotten that this 'work' thing could be so exhausting), I've decided that I'll try to see as much of the playoffs as possible. The results so far are:
Talk about coming back just in time...

Whereas Wednesday's game never looked in doubt, last night's game (which finished at the distinctly fan-unfriendly time of 6:50am here on the Old Continent) was one of those Red Sox classics which have you tearing your hair out by the third inning, biting your nails by the sixth and jumping on the sofa by the bottom of the ninth.

The two-run lead was a nice way to get things going, but when Daisuke gave it back almost immediately - with interest - it looked like it was going to be one of those nights. Despite clawing a run back and throwing the best of the bullpen at the Angels, it still looked like it was going to be one of those nights, even going into the ninth. With Manny up at the plate and two men on, I was sure that we were going to get one of his patented picture-perfect-but-six-inches-below-the-ball swings, and then lose in the tenth on an infield hit-stolen base-sac bunt-sac fly Anaheim special.

I was wrong:

(Photo: Reuters /

If you want to know what being a sports fan means, that picture says it all: nine innings of frayed nerves and frustration released in the time in took for the ball to clear the Green Monster.
If there’s something you need
That you just don’t have
Well just don’t sit there
Feeling bad
Come on now get up
Try and understand
Just raise your hand
(Bruce Springsteen)
The game itself has been commented on and written about all over the Nation, so I'd like to focus in on one thing: that photograph. I love how, although Manny is in the foreground, the photographer has focused on the crowd and on the Sox players leaving the dugout. Manny has set things in motion, but the ball (nowhere to be seen) and the bat (already falling to the ground) are almost irrelevant at that point in time. Manny's moment has become his teammates' moment, his manager's moment, the crowd's moment. The picture captures only a small part of Fenway, but almost every single fan in the shot has their hands in the air in an unconscious imitation of Manny. Or, possibly, Manny has his hands in the air in an unconscious - and un-self-conscious - imitation of the 37,000 people in the ballpark.

After being a staunch Manny defender for a good while, I've started giving him a hard time this season for all those things people always bring up - his lack of hustle, his average defense, his 'no worries' attitude - but last night went a long way to getting me back on the Manny supporters' bus. Seeing him stand there with his hands in the air reminded me that this is a guy who loves to play the game of baseball and plays it with a childlike enthusiasm that is rare at that level. There are those who will see that picture and say he's grandstanding, but they'd be wrong. He's like the little kid playing baseball in the back yard with his dad, swinging and missing dozens of times until he suddenly connects with the ball and sends it over his dad's head. The hands raised are not "Look how good I am", but "Holy shit! Did I just do that?", a reminder that, whatever else baseball may be, when it comes down to the crunch, it's still just a simple bat-and-ball game.


Since I'm feeling magnanimous (or maybe that's magMannnymous...) and focusing on the little things, I'd also like to give a tip of the Baseball Desert cap to K-Rod. Not for serving up the game-winning hit to Manny, but for that split-second pause he had as he left the field to allow Manny to finish his home run trot. It's not like he was going to run into him or anything, and he didn't exactly stop to shake Manny's hand, but to me that pause in his step said "I gave it my best shot and you beat me." Warm fuzzies all round...


Hmmmm, feeling good about Manny and K-Rod, both of whom have the ability to annoy the everlasting crap out of me without even really trying? I think fatigue has finally caught up with me...