Church of Baseball – Part Three

This post…to follow-on the last two and last evening’s crazy night of baseball…will be even shorter.

Joe Posnanski wrote one of the best columns about last evening’s games, baseball and life, that I’ve read in a long time.  Do yourself a favor – pull up a chair and read it.

It begins with this thought:

Baseball, like life, revolves around anticlimax. That, in many ways, is the beauty of it. I realize that’s a hard thing to explain to someone who doesn’t love baseball. No, more than hard, it’s an impossible thing to explain, because many people want sports to be more than life. They follow sports to jolt them out of the steady rhythms of the shriek of alarm clocks, the monotony of morning meetings, the rush to get the kids to soccer practice by 4 p.m. They want sports to be bigger than life. What’s the point, otherwise? There is nothing in baseball as jarring as a blind-side hit, as jaw-dropping as a perfect alley-oop, as tense and heart-pounding as a breakaway.

And the hard thing to explain, the impossible thing, is that many of us love baseball not in spite of these failings, but because of them.

Then Posnanski has one wonderful line, one wonderful thought, after another.  I’ll just pull out this one:

I never argue with people who say that baseball is boring, because baseball is boring. And then, suddenly, it isn’t. And that’s what makes it great.

And then his final paragraph:

The Braves failed to score. Papelbon blew the lead. Longoria homered in the 12th. Elation. Sadness. Mayhem. Champagne. Sleepless fury. Never been a night like it. Funny, if I was trying to explain baseball to someone who had never heard of it, I wouldn’t tell them about Wednesday night. No, it seems to me that Wednesday night isn’t what makes baseball great. It’s all the years you spend waiting for Wednesday night that makes baseball great.

More to come…


Church of Baseball – Part Two

The River Styx and one chance in 278 million.  Baseball writers are amazing, but they go to a whole ‘nother level when you have nights like last evening.

The baseball gods must have loved my last post, because we were all rewarded with the most improbable and dramatic final day of the season.  It was so incredible even Bud Selig couldn’t screw it up.  Three of the four games critical to the wild card races in each league were on our local cable system – conveniently located on channels 41, 42, and 43.  The only one we couldn’t watch was the least dramatic:  the Cards drubbing of the Astros.  But for five delicious hours, Candice and I sat by the television, switching between games almost on a pitch-by-pitch basis in the last two hours, to watch the monumental collapse of not one, but two proud franchises (Boston and Atlanta), and the incredible comeback of the Tampa Bay Rays from too many near-death experiences to count.

Baseball writers will opine about this evening for some time to come.  But out of the gate, I loved Tom Boswell who – in true Boswell form – went back to the classics:

Red Sox, report to the River Styx at dawn.

Then, as is appropriate in the week when the movie Moneyball hit the theatres, Nate Silver takes a break from politics to tell us that the odds of all the things happening that did happen were – well, just read below:

The following is not mathematically rigorous, since the events of yesterday evening were contingent upon one another in various ways. But just for fun, let’s put all of them together in sequence:

  • The Red Sox had just a 0.3 percent chance of failing to make the playoffs on Sept. 3.
  • The Rays had just a 0.3 percent chance of coming back after trailing 7-0 with two innings to play.
  • The Red Sox had only about a 2 percent chance of losing their game against Baltimore, when the Orioles were down to their last strike.
  • The Rays had about a 2 percent chance of winning in the bottom of the 9th, with Johnson also down to his last strike.

Multiply those four probabilities together, and you get a combined probability of about one chance in 278 million of all these events coming together in quite this way.

The Church of Baseball…it does feed the soul.

More to come…


The Church of Baseball

“I believe in the Church of Baseball.”

So begins Annie Savoy’s opening monologue in the movie Bull DurhamAnd after going through all the religions she has tried, comparing baseball to sex, and talking about bad trades (“Who can forget Frank Robinson for Milt Pappas for God’s sake”) she ends up with:

It’s a long season and you gotta trust. I’ve tried ’em all, I really have, and the only church that truly feeds the soul, day in, day out, is the Church of Baseball.

Today I needed the Church of Baseball, and it didn’t fail me.  Oh, I did get up and go to the 8 a.m. service at my other church…especially since we were meeting our new rector after an interminable period of transition.  But I’ll freely admit that I went to the cathedral at Nationals Park today to feed the soul.

The Nationals have been on a tear.  Heading in to the home finale, they had won 11 of 14, including sweeps on the road of the Mets and the Phillies.  Tom Boswell had a column in today’s paper warning readers “not to trust September baseball.”  But then he goes on to talk about why this is the most hopeful September in the short history of the franchise.

Today shows why.

Candice sent me off to the game with her blessing, saying, “Don’t think of my concussion or anything else…..just savor the game.”  I stepped off the train at 11:30 a.m. – a full two hours before game time – picked up a good seat, grabbed my free “Strasburg Strikes Again” t-shirt, and stopped to watch some batting practice.  I thought it might be a good omen when only two Braves were able to reach the seats.  I lingered over lunch watching the season’s highlights on the big screen and settled in to my seat about 15 minutes before the game began: just enough time to set up my score card.

Score cards are my prayer book in the Church of Baseball.  The historian Doris Kearns Goodwin once told my daughter and me at a book signing that scoring baseball – and then retelling the game each night to her father – was how she learned to be both a historian and a story-teller.  A fan saw my iPad today (I had brought it to read the New York Times while riding on the train) and asked if I was scoring the game there.  “Nope,” I replied.  “I do it the old-fashioned way – with paper and pencil.”

Today’s game was simply sublime – a fact I can recount by looking at my score card.  There was a big crowd – close to 40,000.  The Braves needed this game to hang on to their slim and diminishing lead in the wild card race.  The Nats were starting yet another of what now seems like an endless supply of good young pitchers:  Ross Detwiler.  It was the rubber game of the series.  The sky was overcast yet never threatened.  The crowd was “into it” right from the beginning.

Detwiler was untouchable until the third, when the Braves first hit rattled him and he proceeded to lose the plate.  When you throw four balls to the pitcher who is trying to give you an out by bunting, you’ve lost control.  But after filling up the bases, he got a short pop fly out in foul territory, a short fly to right where Jonny Gomes showed off his arm and kept the runner at third, and then he got future Hall-of-Famer Chipper Jones to bounce to his counterpart at third, Ryan Zimmerman, who tossed to second to get out of the inning.

I decided about this time that I needed some peanuts to go with my coke, and soon I had shells all over my score card.  But I cleared them off when Wilson Ramos – who will one day tell his kids that he replaced future Hall-of-Famer Pudge Rodriquez as the Nats starting catcher – hit a solo shot in the fourth that jumped over the left field fence (just to the right of where I’d been sitting for batting practice).  1-0 Nats.  I’d gone about 3 hours and was starting to breathe.

1-0 was all Detwiler would need.  He finished six strong innings and the bullpen was lights out.  Henry Rodriquez was the most electric, touching 100 and 101 on the radar gun with regularity, as he made short work of three Braves in a three-up, three-down inning featuring three strikeouts (one being by a fouled third strike bunt when David Ross realized he couldn’t get his bat around to keep up with that fastball.)  The bottom of the seventh featured more fireworks.  After a Zimmerman single, Michael “The Beast” Morse – who may be the cheapest steal in recent history when he was acquired for chump change from Seattle – hit a blast over the right center field scoreboard to make it 3-0.  The fans – in a classy “thank you” for Michael’s fabulous season – screamed for a curtain call.

The Braves looked over-matched all day,  but never so much as in those last three innings.  Rodriquez finished off his last victim with an 84 mph change up.  How do you deal with that after 101?!  Tyler Clipper came in for a very tidy 1-2-3 top of the 8th.  And then in the ninth, rookie closer Drew Storen did the same – with a little help from an incredible pick, turn, and throw by Zimmerman against Dan Uggla.  About time to give that guy another Gold Glove.

As Storen headed in from the bullpen to pitch the ninth, the sun came out.  I knew I was in church.

After Danny Espinosa threw to Chris Marrero (two more youngsters)  for the final out, we all reveled in what we’d just seen.  If the Nats can win their final series against the Marlins, they’ll finish with their first winning season since coming to DC.  And they are now playing consistently like a big-league club that’s on its way up.

I wanted the soul to take in all it could.  I stayed and finished filling out my score card (and another fan stopped by and said, “That was a fun game to score.”)   I talked to the usher for our section.  I watched about 10,000 kids run the bases in the last of that Sunday ritual for 2011.  I lingered.

And then I joined what was left of my fellow congregants on the metro, all of us dressed in our Sunday finest. (Mine is a red t-shirt with a curly “W” on the front and “Strasburg #37” on the back.)

I returned home to hear about Candice’s afternoon, where two sets of friends stopped by.  The Pearsons – our very good friends from Staunton – came by to check up on the patient.  And the Eucharistic minister from church came by to give Candice communion.  I know Candice enjoyed that, and I was pleased to be at a  hopeful St. Albans this morning.  But it is hard – day in and day out – to beat the Church of Baseball for at least some parts of my soul.  Today there was simply no comparison.

“Wait Till Next Year” indeed!

More to come…


So How Did Your Summer Go?

Shortly after Memorial Day I wrote a post entitled Got Plans for the Summer? where I outlined ten things I hoped to accomplish during the Summer of 2011.  Well, Labor Day is here – and we’ve reached the moment of reckoning.

While I was not a perfect ten-for-ten, I can explain.

1.  Play more music with friends – It is bad when you come up short right out of the box, but this was one item where I failed miserably.  We had a very busy summer, and this one just got away from me.  Luckily, playing music with friends isn’t bound by season…so I’ll try and schedule some fall play dates.

2.  Summer in New England – Technically, this was completed.  I did spend two days in Portland, Maine in early June and I’ve just spent 8 days in New England…but it wasn’t the vacation we planned.  To cut to the chase, Candice fell when we came here to Providence to drop Andrew off at school and she’s been in the hospital this week dealing with a severe concussion.  So I’ve had a great view of the water this week…but it is the Providence Bay as seen from her hospital room and not the view from a Nantucket deck that we envisioned.  Oh well, at least Candice is on her way to a full recovery and that trumps all plans!

3.  Savor the last year of summer swim team – This was a ten strike!  We had a great last year with the Gators, and Candice and I enjoyed being the parents of the older swimmers.  Claire and Andrew enjoyed their final year, Andrew swam on a relay team that set a new Gators record in the All-Star meet, and Candice and I were awarded one of the Volunteer of the Year medals at the swim team banquet.  It was great fun…and now Claire is continuing on by swimming for her college swim team.  (Andrew is at a Division I school where the competition is much harder, so he’s planning on swimming on club teams.)

4.  Take at least three friends to a wooden-bat baseball league game – I made it to a couple of wooden-bat league games, but unfortunately without friends in tow.  The good news:  the winner of our Cal Ripken League playoff – the Bethesda Big Train – was just named the #1 ranked summer league team for 2011.  The Big Train were an awesome team this year and they were  fun to watch.

5.  Reread The Last Best League and watch Bull Durham – Check and check!  As I’ve said before, I don’t believe in heavy reading over the summer when I can get away from it (work-related reading not included), so I also read These Guys Have All the Fun – an oral history of ESPN.  But to show that fall is just around the corner, I’m halfway through Nixonland.

6.  Ride my bike – This one didn’t get done.  Bummer.  No (real) excuses.

7.  Balance, balance, balance – I’d give myself about a 5 on a scale of 10 on this one.  Work has been pretty demanding, but I’ve tried to ensure that family also got its fair share of time.  One example:  Claire and I did get to see the last movie installment of the Harry Potter series this summer.  We loved it!  Last week, I also saw my favorite move – O Brother, Where Art Thou?on the big screen at AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring.  For someone who doesn’t watch movies regularly, this has the makings of a film festival.

8.  Connect with a friend every day – Here I was probably 75% successful.  It was great to be purposeful on this point, and I plan to continue into the fall.

9.  Learn how to play an alternating-bass pattern on the guitar – I’ve been working on this, but haven’t succeeded.  I’ll keep working to nail that pattern before Thanksgiving.

10.  Try not to cry when we drop Claire and Andrew off for college – I had a 50% success rate on this…but truth be told I probably will fail miserably when all is said and done.  Our college drop-offs all began as planned, as the four of us went to California two weeks ago for Claire’s launch.  We had a great couple of days, met and spent time with wonderful folks (students and parents – including a work colleague whose son is a freshman at the same school), and got Claire settled in to her dorm (see the picture below of her room – still a work in progress when this was taken).  I cried just a bit when we said our goodbyes, but I had a harder cry when we got home and I went up to her room and found the stuffed dog and baby blanket she slept with every night until leaving for college.  Andrew’s drop-off was not at all as planned, given Candice’s fall and our focus on making sure she was safe.  Andrew was a true champ and really helped me manage everything that was going on.  But that meant that he and I dropped all his stuff off in his dorm room, made his bed, and then left to go right back to the INCU.  But as you can see below, a week later Andrew is settled in and managed very well by himself.  Once I have the chance to reflect, I may shed a few more tears for Andrew’s departure into the next phase of his life as well.

All in all, a great final summer before college.  And now Candice and I get to explore the empty nest.

More to come…