Observations from the Road (Or the “While I Was Out of the Country” Edition)

Dolci Cafe

Dolci Cafe – a taste of Italy in Takoma Park

It turns out that the world continued while I was on sabbatical for six weeks.  We returned on Monday afternoon and caught up with chores on Tuesday, while simultaneously trying to keep our Italian buzz alive.  Pacci’s Pizzeria here in Silver Spring and Takoma Park’s Dolci Gelati Cafe certainly helped in that regard!

In checking the news here in the states, I also discovered a few things that caught my eye.

Baseball season has begun – When I left the country, spring training was underway.  As we returned, our Washington Nationals were jumping off to a 12-4 start and are currently in first place in the National League East.  I know, I know:  it is early.  I also know they have feasted on the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies.  But a win in April is as good as a win in September, and if they expect to do anything this year, the Nats will need to feast on the teams in their division who aren’t very good.  I have tickets for Sunday afternoon’s game, and can’t wait.

On the plane ride home from Rome, I was also able to catch my own personal spring training viewing of the movie Bull DurhamBest Baseball Movie. Ever.  I’ve watched it dozens of times, and the story of Crash, Nuke, and Annie never gets old.  Yes, I did laugh out loud at the quotes, including one of my favorite lines that Annie uses in describing the talented but clueless Nuke (which has the added advantage of being true):  “The world is made for people who aren’t cursed with self awareness.”

And this little piece is among my favorite scenes:

[Larry – the coach – jogs out to the mound to break up a players’ conference] Excuse me, but what the hell’s going on out here?

Crash Davis:  Well, Nuke’s scared because his eyelids are jammed and his old man’s here. We need a live… is it a live rooster?  [Jose nods]

Crash:  We need a live rooster to take the curse off Jose’s glove and nobody seems to know what to get Millie or Jimmy for their wedding present.  [to the players]

Crash: Is that about right?  [the players nod]

Crash:  We’re dealing with a lot of shit.

Larry:  Okay, well, uh… candlesticks always make a nice gift, and uh, maybe you could find out where she’s registered and maybe a place-setting or maybe a silverware pattern. Okay, let’s get two! Go get ’em.

Priceless!  Play ball!

My home state is in the running for the “What are These Guys Thinking?” award – Tennessee, which has NINE state songs, had a group of legislators pushing to name the Bible as the State book.  Jeez.  What, were they worried that Mississippi was going to run away with this year’s award?  Before the Governor vetoed this bill, Gail Collins wrote a classic column:

Amid all the truly awful things state legislatures do, one of the rare bright spots has been the naming of official symbols. Who was ever made unhappy by the designation of a state rock?

Tennessee, alas, is screwing up the record. The governor is currently trying to decide whether to sign a piece of legislation that would put the Bible on the list of State Things, alongside the salamander (amphibian), milk (beverage), honeybee (agricultural insect), raccoon (wild animal), several variations on the theme of state tree and flower, and nine — nine! — official state songs. The last of which, adopted in 2011, was “Tennessee.”

The next question you’re probably asking is why it took nine tries for Tennessee to get a song named “Tennessee,” and the answer is that it actually has two. You have to admit that’s pretty inclusive. On the other hand, picking the Christian holy book as a state symbol seems simultaneously divisive and unnecessary. Not to mention sort of disrespectful to the Bible, which doesn’t usually get included on the same list as the salamander and the smallmouth bass.

My father’s work on earth is not yet done.  He needs to fire off another of his classic letters to the editor to the local newspaper reminding his fellow citizens that Baptists (and they are all some type of Baptist in Tennessee) practically invented the separation of church and state (before they decided in the 1980s that they kind of liked bossing around other people who perhaps had different religious beliefs from them).

The endless Presidential campaign continues – No, the election didn’t magically end while we were gone.  They are talking about the same things they were when we left.  I could write a lot about the campaign, but I’ll just quote from one of my favorite websites:  Margaret and Helen – Best Friends for 60 years and counting.

I saw an interview with a gay, black Republican congressman from Georgia who is supporting Rubio. I think that makes him a unicorn.  But anyway…  The reporter pointed out that Rubio doesn’t recognize the congressman’s relationship with his same-sex partner. The congressman responded by saying that was ok because neither did his mother.  Now if that ain’t the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.  Well it was, at least until I watched that debate.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Roots music is alive and well, if a bit quirky – I really missed playing guitar when I was in Rome, but I was glad to at least see a couple of articles about roots music while I was there.  Upon my return, the New York Times had a nice appreciation for singer/songrwriter John Prine that I recommend.  Prine – who turns 70 this year – has an amazing facility for finding just the right words, on topics serious and not-so-serious.  Such as “Jesus:  The Missing Years.”

It was raining, it was cold, West Bethlehem was no place for a 12-year-old…”

The world is a strange place, and we depend on writers like Prine to help us through.

More to come…


My Own Personal Spring Training

Racing Presidents

The “Racing Presidents” with a “Spring Training Countdown” mug by their side

As I post this, the clock on Spring Training Countdown (motto:  Winter Bad. Baseball Good.) reads:  4 days, 7 hours, 37 minutes, 7 seconds.  It is clear I don’t have much time to get in shape for the season!

My own personal spring training generally consists of reading a new baseball book and re-watching Bull Durham (best baseball movie ever).  However, our tape/CD player is broken (I know, we’re old school), and so I had to improvise and instead read two baseball books.  It is tough duty, but sometimes you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to get into shape.

I began with 2015’s Big Data Baseball: Math, Miracles, and the End of a 20-year Losing Streak by Pittsburgh writer Travis Sawchik.

Big Data Baseball

Big Data Baseball

This is a terrific book about how the 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates, stumbling along in a 20-year losing streak (remember Sid Bream and Barry Bonds and Skip Carey’s classic 1992 “They may have to hospitalize Sid Bream” call) turned around their fortune as a baseball club.  The Pirates did it using big-data strategies, undervalued players, a leadership team willing to try new things, and an organization-wide commitment to integration of old-style and new-style insights to make the playoffs.

This book will most often be compared to Moneyball – which is a terrific book and a good baseball movie.  But it is different in a number of ways and well worth the read.

Sawchik happened to take on the Pirates beat for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review in 2013, and so he doesn’t have the tone of a long-time homer.  He says that he didn’t get the idea for the book until late in the season, so while he was on the beat every day, he went back and had to research the real reasons for the ballclub’s turnaround.  He includes a nice epilogue about the 2014 season, when the Pirates returned to the playoffs.  And while Moneyball focuses on Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane, the real story of Big Data Baseball and the turnaround in Pittsburgh is the way that the GM and data analysts were welcomed by old-style manager Clint Hurdle and completely integrated into the overall organization.

PNC Park

Pirates fans celebrate the turn in their team’s fortunes in 2013

We happened to attend a Pirates game in 2013 in the middle of the pennant race, and it was a magical day of baseball.  Big Data Baseball brought back those memories.

PNC in 2013

Packed PNC Park in 2013

There are so many parts of this book to recognize.  The pressure on Hurdle as the season began.  The ability of the data gurus to turn their analysis into understandable and visual graphics that helped sell their findings to the old-school guys.  Wonderful sections on pitch-framing and the undervalued skill of catcher Russell Martin.  The use of big data to develop secretive preventive medical practices that resulted in the fewest days lost to injuries in 2014.  (Are you paying attention, Washington Nationals?)  But I’ll focus on two.

The “Magic Act” chapter has a great section on the 2013 Wild Card play-in game.  Here’s where Sawchik’s baseball writing skills are clearly evident.

In the bottom of the 2nd inning, Cueto made the first mistake of the game.  He left a pitch out over the plate that late-season acquisition Marlon Byrd belted for a home run.  The crowd noise picked up in ferocity as the ball was swallowed by the crowd and Byrd began his trot around the bases.  A new chant originated at some ground zero somewhere in PNC Park and grew in volume to a tidal wave.  In a taunting, haunting crescendo, forty thousand chanted, “Kwaaaaayyyy-toe…Kwaaaayyyy-toe,” toward the center of the diamond.  Under this avalanche of noise, with the misfortune of having a two-syllable perfect-for-chanting surname, Cueto was thrown a new game ball by the home-plate umpire.  Cueto literally dropped the ball.  Seeing this, the crowd went into a frenzy, believing the dropped ball signaled that they had got inside the head of the Reds starting pitcher.  On the very next pitch, Cueto allowed a fastball to leak out over the plate.  Waiting for it was Martin, who smashed the ball into the left-field bleachers for another homer.  The crowd was euphoric.  Twenty years of pent-up misery was released that night, manifesting itself in a sound that felt like being at the bottom of a waterfall.

In “A Perfect Circle” Sawchik recaps the 2014 season, which again saw the Pirates make the playoffs.  And here, he focuses on a key insight:  the “continued focus on marrying their new-school and old-school personnel….The Pirates always wanted to have an (data) analyst in the clubhouse to counsel, making them the first known major league team to have a quantitative analyst among its traveling party.”

On that celebratory night in Atlanta, as the party wound down and the champagne was exhausted, Pirates second baseman Neil Walker found Mike Fitzgerald standing quietly in the corner of the clubhouse away from the epicenter of the celebration, where the players and coaches were massed.  Walker took a Budweiser from an ice-filled bin and walked toward Fitzgerald, dousing the analyst with beer.  Fitzgerald, the math genius who had never played professionally, and Walker, drafted out of high school and having spent years in the minors before emerging as an everyday major league player, laughed and celebrated together.  The dichotomy between them and yet their acceptance of each other was a snapshot of how far the Pirates had come in creating a culture of respect, a culture that would allow important data to be embraced.

This book will delight baseball fans (of all teams) as well as those looking to understand how important corporate culture, communication, and values are to success.  Highly recommended!

Life in the Minor Leagues

Where Nobody Knows Your Name

The second book – by a better known writer – is interesting,  but to my mind not as appealing to a broad audience.  Where Nobody Knows Your Name:  Life in the Minor Leagues of Baseball by John Feinstein is an account of the 2012 International League season – one of baseball’s two AAA minor leagues.

Feinstein is a good storyteller, and this book is full of good stories.  By focusing on seven players, an umpire, and a manager, Feinstein shows that being at a level just below the majors can have a variety of effects on different people. Some seem to know they are just going to be called up for a cup of coffee in the show, while others have tasted big league glory (Nate McLouth) only to lose it and then find it again.  Feinstein talks about the Durham Bulls of Bull Durham movie fame, and the current team – which was managed in 2012 by Charlie Montoyo playing in a state-of-the-art minor league stadium that didn’t bear any resemblance to the ramshackle yet lovable field of the 1980s.  He also sprinkles in cameos by players on the way up (Bryce Harper) and players on the way down (Mark Prior).

“Skip wants to see you,” can be the best words a AAA minor-leaguer hears, or the worst…depending on whether a player is being called up or released.  This book is full of “Skip wants to see you” moments.

Here’s how the book ends.

“I know I’m going to walk into the clubhouse and there will be a locker with my name on it and a uniform,” Elarton said just before heading south and east once again.  “I’m still a baseball player.  Honestly, I can’t think of anything much better than that.”…Before they take off their uniforms for the final time, they find out a truth that was eloquently captured in the words of longtime pitcher Jim Bouton in the closing words of his seminal book, Ball Four.

“You see,” Bouton wrote, “you spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.”

Truer words were never written.

Let’s play ball!

More to come…



Nats Forget Basics and Lose a Season

Baseball/BasketballCrash Davis said it best.

Baseball is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball…

Last evening and early this morning as they faced an elimination game, the Nats forgot how to throw the ball, catch the ball, and hit the ball. And so – no surprise – their season ended.

Throw the ball.  A simple task.  Unless you are Gio Gonzalez and can’t throw a strike with the bases loaded. Unless you are Aaron Barrett, and can’t find your catcher on two consecutive tosses (including an intentional Ball 4). Unless you are Adam LaRoche and you throw home when no one is actually coming home.

Catch the ball.  Another simple task.  Unless you are Gio (there he is again), and you do your best Billy Buckner impersonation and can’t pick up a gift of a double play ball that dribbles through your legs.  Unless you are Gio, Anthony Rendon, and Wilson Ramos who converge on a sacrifice bunt – a gift of an out – and no one catches the ball.

Hit the ball.  A not so simple task, but something that professional baseball players are paid to do. Unless you are…oh, hell, unless you are everybody in the lineup not named Bryce Harper (and Anthony Rendon earlier in the series).

The Nats lost a series they should have won, because they didn’t do the basics while the San Francisco Giants did.  Their by-the-book manager tempted the baseball gods in Game 2 and lost that bet, and then last night he stuck by “what we’ve done all year” and got beat in the 7th with less than our best pitchers on the mound.  Ryan Zimmerman was 1 for 4 as a pinch hitter, but he stayed in the dugout the entire series instead of coming in for the totally ineffective LaRoche at first base. It was pretty clear by Game 2 that LaRoche was not swinging the bat, but Matt stayed with him throughout the series. The Nats got very good pitching from their starters, but a couple of brain-dead plays in Games 1 and 4 negated that effort. (See LaRoche and Gio.) However, Matt Williams’ pitching decisions were questionable from the beginning, as Gio became the 4th starter over Tanner Roark – in spite of a so-so year and Gio’s tendency to (how shall I say this delicately) get “excited and do stupid things” in the playoffs.

Three Nats showed the type of smarts and resiliency in this series that the entire team will need to find to win. Jordan Zimmermann deserved a much better fate in Game 2 than the horrible no-decision he received after 8 2/3s innings of lights-out pitching.  Doug Fister demonstrated a professionalism in his task during Game 3 that other Nats pitchers (I’m looking at you Gio) can only dream about.

And Bryce Harper finally arrived.  Last night he hit McCovey Cove after barely missing in Game 3, but more than that he had professional at-bats and played sparkling defense in left field.  When he hits his 22nd birthday in a few weeks, Harper will be looking at the brightest of futures.  Would anyone have taken Mike Trout’s 2014 postseason over Harper’s?  I don’t think so.

In a couple of days I’ll write a post of appreciation to these guys for the great 2014 season they gave us.  Right now – less than 4 hours after the stinging loss that means the party is over – I have to agree with Tom Boswell that it should be.

The quote from the movie Bull Durham that I mention at the top comes from Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh, quoting Crash Davis.  And the full quote goes like this:

A good friend of mine used to say, “This is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.” Think about that for a while.

Last night and this morning, while it was raining here in Washington, the Nats lost a game and a season.

More to come…


Opening Day Finally Arrives!

Nats Opening Day 2013A quick lunch break shout-out for the arrival of opening day!  Let’s go Nats!!

I’m part of a season ticket group, so the “coordinator” of the group gets – as it should be – the opening and closing games of the season.  Tom’s photo from 20 minutes ago is at the top of the post.  But come Wednesday night, for game #2 of 162 (and more!) this year, Candice and I will be in these same seats ready to cheer on Gio and the rest of the boys of summer.

I know that the first day of the season was actually yesterday when the Astros played the Rangers, but it was just weird to see the Astros as an American League team. I was glad to see former Nat Rick Ankiel get the key home run.  Maybe when a recent N.L. doormat roughs up a recent perennial A.L. playoff contender, it just shows that the N.L. has passed the A.L. in playing quality baseball.  But I digress.

It has been a long winter since our season ended much too soon last year…but expectations are high and we’re ready for another great year of baseball.  For as Annie Savoy once famously said,

I believe in the Church of Baseball. I’ve tried all the major religions and most of the minor ones. And the only church that truly feeds the soul, day-in day-out, is the Church of Baseball.

Play ball!

More to come…


My Personal Preseason

BaseballThis is my second installment of the things I do to get ready for the baseball season…which is necessary because pitchers and catchers report tomorrow.

Why’s he calling me meat?  I’m the one driving a Porsche.

Relax, all right? Don’t try to strike everybody out. Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they’re fascist. Throw some ground balls – it’s more democratic.

The world is made for people who aren’t cursed with self awareness.

You just got lesson number one: don’t think; it can only hurt the ball club.

You’re gonna have to learn your clichés. You’re gonna have to study them, you’re gonna have to know them. They’re your friends. Write this down: “We gotta play it one day at a time.”

Man that ball got outta here in a hurry. I mean anything travels that far oughta have a damn stewardess on it, don’t you think?

(Nuke) I ain’t pissing nothing away. I got a Porsche already; a 911 with a quadrophonic Blaupunkt. (Crash) Christ, you don’t need a quadrophonic Blaupunkt! What you need is a curveball! In the show, everyone can hit heat.

(Larry) Excuse me, but what the hell’s going on out here?  (Crash) Well, Nuke’s scared because his eyelids are jammed and his old man’s here. We need a live… is it a live rooster? We need a live rooster to take the curse off Jose’s glove and nobody seems to know what to get Millie or Jimmy for their wedding present. Is that about right? We’re dealing with a lot of shit. (Larry) Okay, well, uh… candlesticks always make a nice gift, and uh, maybe you could find out where she’s registered and maybe a place-setting or maybe a silverware pattern. Okay, let’s get two! Go get ’em.

(Skip) Eight… and sixteen. How’d we ever win eight? (Larry) It’s a miracle.

Yep, friends.  The yearly preseason viewing of the best baseball movie ever, Bull Durham

A good friend of mine used to say, “This is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.” Think about that for a while.

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…


Playing Favorites

I picked up Top of the Order:  25 Writers Pick Their Favorite Baseball Player during the Politics & Prose sale a couple of weeks ago.  Only a handful of the writers were familiar and the inclusion of Michael Jordan (yes, that MJ) and the fictional Crash Davis in the list of favorites indicated this anthology was going to take a different tack from the typical list of baseball’s greatest hits.

Top of the Order is, at best, uneven.  I couldn’t wait to get through some of the self-indulgent essays (see Pat Jordan on Tom Seaver) which were more about the author than I cared to read.  At their best, some of the essays captured the special nature of fandom (see the obsessive Darin Strauss on Mariano Rivera) where you didn’t mind the intrusion of the writer.  Steve Almond leads off with a strong piece on Rickey Henderson that hooks the reader into this quirky collection.  Neal Pollack writes a terrific essay on Greg Maddux that demonstrates how dominant Mad Dog was through so many years in the 1990s.

But then Sean Manning’s piece on Michael Jordan and John Albert’s essay on Jeff Kent’s mustache almost made me want to put the book down.  So readers beware…you will probably find Top of the Order satisfying and frustrating at the same time.

One aspect of the book I found very appealing:  more than a handful of the essays were written by women.  And the best essay – not just by a woman but in the entire anthology – was by Carrie Rickey, film critic of the Philadelphia Inquirer, on Kevin Costner’s Crash Davis from the best baseball film ever – Bull Durham. First of all, she has the good sense to admit that she watches Bull Durham often.  So do I.  Rickey writes,

“Bull Durham” is one of the few (baseball films) to capture fully that catcher/pitcher conspiracy.  “Bang the Drum Slowly” and “A League of Their Own”are others, but they’re not so much about what happens on the field as about what happens in the heart.  “Bull Durham” is about what happens in both places – and why both places matter.

In just a few short pages, Rickey touches on many of the key scenes from the movie.  She opens with her own take of Crash’s “I believe…” soliloquy (including a terrific “I believe that the dramas of Kevin Costner are self-indulgent dreck”), recounts the evergreen of Crash teaching rookie Nuke LaLoosh his baseball clichés (“they are your friends”),  and notes that when we first meet Crash he shows the switch-hitter’s ability to digest, process, and adjust (going from denial, to anger, to acceptance in three sentences that end with “Who we play tomorrow?”)

Rickey’s essay reminds me that some of my favorite writing about baseball has been by women.  In the 2008 anthology Anatomy of Baseball, Elizabeth Bobrick’s “Oriole Magic” is worth the price of the book.  (Click on the link to read some excerpts.)

So on this Father’s Day, when so many baseball fans wax eloquently about how their fathers introduced them to the game, remember that a great many women (including my late mom) understand the game at a level many men miss.  As Rickey writes about Annie Savoy in Bull Durham,

Here is a woman who knows as much about the game as Crash.  Here is a woman for whom baseball is a religion, who sees the ballplayer who loves the game more than it does in return, and who loves him in a way that finally puts Crash’s life into balance.  And he’s evolved enough not to be intimidated by her.

Catch a game of baseball this week…and perhaps if you’re a guy, take a woman with you to help explain what’s going on with the action on the field.

More to come…