"Baseball is a game to be savored, not gulped."
-- Former major league owner Bill Veeck
This is the true baseball weather, one of those nights before summer has declared breezes out of season. One of those nights to catch a game, even if it's alone. Just me and my latest copy of Chesterton. If the game has too many walks or pitching changes, why then it's me and Tremendous Trifles and all that prose that's so in love with itself you just got to like it a little bit. ...
It's the Zephyrs taking on the Fresno Grizzlies and being a weekend, there are plenty of empty seats to choose from. I decide on multiple choices, an inning or two down the first base line, the same behind home plate and the rest out toward left field.
There's a kid's team dressed in Pelican Park uniforms and they trot out to the field with the Z's for the national anthem. They are all so proud. The one jogging out to shortstop steps on his own heel, so his shoe comes off. Pride still goeth before a fall. ...
The Zephyr pitcher is Martinez, and the very first Fresno batter hits it back through the box. Martinez gets his glove on it, but the ball trickles away and the batter is safe.
And then Martinez does something that reminds you of how much of a kids' game this all is, no matter the size of the kid. He looks hard at his glove, he studies it, as if to say This Damn Glove Must Have a Hole In It.
Martinez walks a batter and hits two more. Because the crowd is so small, you can hear the sound the ball makes when its flight stops in human flesh. It's the part of stepping into a batter's box that most of us in the stands don't think about. Fresno gets two runs and leaves the bases loaded.
The innings advance leisurely, an unhurried game in a hurried time, played tonight away from the noises and multitudes of men. It gives you pause, though. With new games stepping lively in front of television cameras -- NASCAR anyone? Paintball anyone? -- is there room anymore for a game that doesn't really fit on TV?
No, it's like judging the scope of a hurricane solely by the images flashing across CNN. ... You don't really breathe baseball through a tube, you don't catch the lifeblood of a sport off a plasma TV. ...
In the bottom of the second, Zephyrs catcher Wiki Gonzalez singles with two out. Pint-sized shortstop Josh Labandiera slices the first pitch sharply to right. The Fresno outfielder runs, lays out, and spears the ball just off the ground. He gets up, dusts himself and jogs in. Every baseball player looks cool. No touchdown dances when he makes a good play. Making it look easy, not hard, is the baseball way.
There's a 9-year-old and his too-tattooed mom and dad sitting a few rows down. When Fresno's at bat, the kid yips at the hitters, from every windup through every pitch: batterbatterbatterbatterbatter. SWING!
After a few batters, I get up to find a beer and another seat. The game slows. I flip open Chesterton and read, "To love anything is to love its boundaries, thus children will always play on the edge of anything. They build castles on the edge of the sea and can only be restrained by public proclamation and private violence from walking on the edge of the grass. For when we have come to the end of a thing we have come to the beginning of it."
The guardian of the Z's third-base boundary line is a husky man named Harris. The Fresno batter scorches one down the line, a real worm-burner, and Harris gloves it. The stop is great, but the throw is not, and first baseman Broadway deftly scoops it up on the bounce. ...
The moon has come up over right field and looks like a moon pie with a bite missing as it goes in and out of bustling clouds. There's a kid with a glove on acting out catches in the aisle when a foul ball comes at him. He freezes and the ball bounces over his head, but the man who catches it beckons him and hands it over. There is a great commerce in balls in baseball, especially in half-empty stadiums. In what other sport does the fan get to keep the ball?
Harris walks, and then makes several feints to steal second. Stealing. That reach for a little bit more. Ernest Hemingway famously wrote that life was a game of unclear rules and then "they caught you off base and they killed you." The Fresno pitcher threw over to first a couple of times and looked flustered. With two strikes, Harris breaks for second. The ball is hit up the middle, and Harris makes an unbroken turn and steams into third. Seconds later, he chugs home on a fly ball right. What he did won't be in any statistics, and baseball loves statistics. But it got the Z's their first run.
Others follow. The father sitting in front of me is teaching his teenage son what he's seeing, "See how the shortstop coming across the bag drops his hands to get the runner to get down so he'll have a clear throw to first."
With two out and one on, the Fresno batters send one deep to center, some 400 feet deep. Centerfielder Kelly sprints and dives. There's a gasping moment when the ball disappears and you don't know if it's safely in the glove or visually camouflaged against the whiteness of the Tenet sight and about to bounce wide and free and far from home. No! Caught! Man, the ever-loving loveliness of intersecting lines, man and ball. If only Brother Cyril had used examples like this, I mighta passed geometry. ...
Kelly gets up and jogs in. His white uniform is painted with the colors of mud and grass. Remember how first-graders love to dig in the mud after rocks and worms? It's a phase baseball players hate to leave behind. ...
Zephyrs win, 6-2. The half-empty stands empty. The players shake hands. Just a half-hundred guys who don't want to know that plenty of Americans think the maddening game they mostly play so well is finished. They haven't gotten the word yet, and they're hoping you don't get it either.