Baseball - Why I Love the Game

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A personal love story about the national pastime

Submitted: January 18, 2020

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Submitted: January 18, 2020

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BASEBALL

WHY I LOVE THE GAME

By John Ross Hart

 

The Northside of Chicago.An afternoon in the bleachers of Wrigley Field watching the Cubs.A cold beer and a bag of peanuts.  Pat Hughes describing the action in front of me. Passionate to-the-point of insane fans surround me.The wind is blowing out.A perfect day for a ball game.

Clayton Kershaw is fidgeting on the mound.  His Dodgers hold an early 1 - 0 lead, but Javier Baez worked him for a walk.Anthony Rizzo was next.He would hit a hard grounder up the middle.But Kike Hernandez is in a position to grab it and get the lead runner at second.Rizzo is safe at first.

Enter Kris Bryant, hitting clean-up, but definitely in a slump.He was 0-for-5 last night and received some boos when he struck out with the bases loaded to end the game, a 4 - 2 Cubs loss.

Bryant never mentioned the word "slump" at the post-game news conference."I'm just not hitting," he said.A veteran reporter brought up the words once commented by the legendary catcher, Yogi Berra, a Hall-of-Famer if ever there was one, but truly a butcher of the English language.

"Slump?I ain't in no slump," said Berra."I just ain't hitting."

Kris Bryant could be a Hall-of-Famer some day.The fans behind third base are forgiving today.A big sign saying "WE LOVE YOU KRIS!" has been unfurled.Right behind me, a big bear of a man in a well-worn Cubs tee-shirt, well-oiled with beer, and wearing a team cap that doesn't fit, jumps up holding a sign that says "HIT IT HERE!" with a bullseye."Nice sign," yells someone in the crowd, sounding just as inebriated.

Kershaw shakes off his catcher, then shakes him off again.Yasmani Grandal comes out of his crouch and approaches the mound.There is discussion, but it's brief.Grandal goes back to his position and gives another sign.Kershaw nods in agreement."Fastball in!," yells a voice."No way!," yells another in the same neighborhood."Off-speed stuff.Bryant can't hit it right now," concludes the second voice.Knowing Kershaw, I figure this is exactly what's coming.

Instead, Kershaw fools everybody by sneaking a fastball.But it's Clayton Kershaw who gets fooled.Bryant may be down, but when the pitch comes on you like a pumpkin, you swing the bat.Which Bryant does, making contact solid and loud.  It' s headed for us in the bleachers.The guy with the sign jumps up, but the ball is way over his head.He loses his balance and falls on his butt.In fact, the ball is over the bleachers and into Waveland Avenue."I told you, I told you," screamed the one voice to no one in particular.Everybody's yelling, screaming, being obnoxious."He thought he could sneak a fastball," he continued."Bryant's no fool."

Cubs 2 Dodgers 1.

There are people who claim that baseball is dull, that it's too slow.But that is part of its charm.It's a thinking man's game. What is the situation?What does the manager have in mind to produce a run?What sign is the batter receiving from the third base coach?What type of pitch does the pitcher use to induce an out?Is it a hit-and-run?Does the batter swing away?  Can a patient batter work a walk?Where are the fielders being set?Do you go for the runner at third?Do you make a play at home?There is much to consider with each pitch.

Baseball is popular in more intelligent societies.Boston is a perfect example.This is a region of pioneering technologies and progressive ideas.They take their baseball seriously.Chicago Cubs fans are similar.California is blessed with five teams.

Baseball is idyllic.It was said to have been invented in a charming little lakeside town named Cooperstown, in upper New York State.The idea came from a young military officer named Abner Doubleday.But it really wasn't that simple.The game was already evolving when the two sides got together in Cooperstown.We were a rural society back then.There was plenty of open space to play the game.Three strikes, 90 feet, home plate, curve balls, all evolved with time.The designated hitter was not an original idea.

Baseball is an art form.I was blessed to watch Willie Mays when I was growing up.In my eyes, he's the greatest who ever played the game.Willie could do it all... hit for average, hit for power, drive in runs, steal bases, was flawless in the field, was blessed with great speed, and possessed a cannon for a throwing arm.Great players are described as five-tool players.Willie Mays had eight of them.Picasso in a baseball uniform.

Baseball has a legacy of heroes.If I mention Cobb, Babe, The Kid, Jackie, and Hammerin' Hank, a baseball fan knows what you're talking about.What comes to your mind when I say Joe Dimaggio?You would probably say his 56-game hitting streak.Rickey Henderson?130 stolen bases in a season.1,406 stolen bases for a career.Nolan Ryan?Seven no-hit games.How about Cal Ripkin Jr., who went out into the field for 2,632 consecutive games.These are records that will never be broken.

Baseball is also a game of character, and characters.It's Boots Day, Chili Davis, and The Spaceman.It's the Whiz Kids, the Amazin' Mets, and Dem' Bums.No need to explain further to a baseball fan, but to the rest of you they are the 1950 Philadelphia Phillies, the New York Mets of the 1960's, and until 1958, they were the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Were you there the night Sandy Koufax threw his perfect game against the Cubs?How effortless it seemed when Rod Carew had another 5-for-5 game while flirting with a .400 average.Did your mouth drop when Brook Robinson took away yet another base hit from the hot corner?In Toronto, they will never forget Joe Carter.

Baseball contains interesting architecture.Fenway Park in Boston has the Green Monster.Crosley Field in Cincinnati had the terrace.The original Yankee Stadium, the house that Babe Ruth built, accommodated all those home runs with a fence only 295 feet away, while left field was so distant it was nicknamed Death Valley.Forbes Field in Pittsburgh had Kiner's Corner, where Ralph hit all those home runs.

Finally, baseball gives us moments we never forget.There's the 1927 Yankees with its "Murderers Row," Lou Gehrig telling fans "Today, I am the luckiest man alive," Rapid Robert Feller throwing an opening day no-hitter with a 100-plus mile-per-hour fastball, Dimaggio's 56-game and Ted Williams hitting .401, in the same year, Brooklyn finally winning it all, the '62 Mets losing 120 games but winning the World Series seven years later.

It's watching Koufax blowing away hitters with a fastball impossible to hit, the memories of Henry Aaron hitting his record-breaking 715th home run, watching George Brett and Tony Gwynn flirt with .400, feeling amused as Earl Weaver argues with umpires showing great dramatics.

That's baseball.

It's the bottom of the ninth and Kenley Jansen is in to hold a 3-2 Dodgers lead. Javier Baez leads off with a base hit to right.

"What's your earned-run average?," questions a familiar voice from the bleachers.It's 3.76 but in his past three appearances, it's 10.33.

On the next pitch, Anthony Rizzo punches a slider that doesn't slide to the same spot in right.Baez holds at second as Yasiel Puig fields the grounder.

Bryant is up.Since homering in the first, he has struck out three times.Joe Maddon, the Cubs manager, calls time out while motioning Bryant back to the dugout.The talk is brief.Signals are passed to the third base coach.

There's a continuing cacophony in the bleachers."Take it!," screams a fan."Make him pitch to you!," shouts another. "Swing away!""Protect the plate!"I have my own theory what Bryant needs to do, but I'm keeping it to myself.

Kris Bryant takes the first pitch, right down the middle.

"Strike one!"

Seemingly, the whole ballpark groans.

Jansen looks in for the sign, gets into a set position, then fires.Bryant swings.The ball skips past Jansen and bounces over second baseman Brian Dozier into center field.Runners advance a base.Above the ivy, the fans are high-fiving.

Bases are loaded.No outs.Everybody is on their feet.Rick Honeycutt, the Dodger pitching coach, is out talking with Jansen along with Grandal and the infield.The slider is doing nothing.He's fooling nobody.

Enter the free-swinging Willson Contreras.  Jansen starts him with a four-seam fastball registering 96 MPH.Contreras swings through it.

"Strike one!"

There's a momentary calm.

Jansen gets his sign from Grandal then lets fly another 96 MPH "heater."Contreras swings and misses.

"Strike two!"

Like a big balloon, Wrigley Field seems fully deflated.

Jansen gets a new ball and rubs it up.He suddenly feels confident.He throws another four-seamer.Contreras lays off but the pitch hits the corner.

"Strike Three!"One out.

Jason Heyward is now the batter.The bases are still loaded.Jansen is depending exclusively on the four-seam fastball.His pitch jams the inside.

"Strike one!"

Heyward calls time out, walks around the batters box, stops to look at the third base coach, adjusts his cap and gloves, steps back into the box and is ready.

All is quiet, even in the bleachers.There is a nervous anticipation.Jansen throws another fastball inside.Heyward gets a piece but fouls it off.

"Strike two!"

"Gasp!"

Now, Jansen looks in for the sign but already knows what he's going to throw.But this four-seamer's trajectory is an inch-and-a-half outside.

Heyward swings.The ball heads upward over the head of shortstop Manny Machado before sinking into the depths of left field.By the time Joc Peterson fields the ball, two runs score.

Cubs win!

The guy with the bullseye sign is doing a jig.  "Yeah-yeah-yeah-yeah!'"He screams.A couple is kissing, and managing to hold their beers.A truck-driver-like dude' in no shape to drive, is bullying his way clumsily throw the crowd and giving high fives to anybody.

"Hey Chicago, whaddya' say?Cubs are gonna' win today.

As Harry Carey would say..."You can't beat fun at the old ballpark.

###


© Copyright 2020 John Ross Hart. All rights reserved.

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