Last night went to my third Northwest Arkansas Naturals’ ball game of the year, for the second time with friend Russell. His wife and mine both abhor baseball, or are bored to death with it, and like to see us go out and not get into too much mischief. (Hanging on the street corner, for example, with switchblades or guns.)
Another lovely evening, though awfully still. Until about the fifth inning there was hardly a breath of air. The flags hung limply on their center field poles, though the fans’ hopes quickened in the bottom of the first when the Naturals scored two runs to take the lead 2-1.
The final score was 7-4, Naturals, the highlight being a sixth-inning two-run homer by our catcher that hit the foul pole in left field. The home plate umpire ruled the ball foul at first, but was overridden or dissuaded by the other two umps … and the Naturals’ manager, who came charging out of the dugout at the call.
Russell and I didn’t keep score. (How many do these days?) Our eyes loped along, from our excellent perch behind home plate, taking in the slow and then quick spectacle. Our mouths took in beer as an antidote to the stillness of the air and the sometime slowness of the game.
In fact, though R’s wife Diane had fed us before the game, at their usual happy hour in the driveway (wine, beer, and in this case a gigantic pie, with sausage and spinach — a quiche on steroids), we snacked too during the game. R ordered nachos, and I thieved a bag of peanuts from under the seat of the fans just in front of us. (Well, hey, the bag was just lying there even before the game. When I saw four fans file back into their seats, I dropped the bag under the seats again; but no one touched it for five innings, so I grabbed it again and R and I gobbled a goodly number of goobers, scattering the shells around us.)
I had to leave two innings before the end to pick up another friend at the airport. But I entrusted Russ with the victory, and like a good reliever this fine guy and admirable baseball fan came through.
Three games attended this year, as I say, and three glorious victories!
Ho hum. What to do during the off season? How now can we reclaim the fluid rhythms, quick and slow, of life the pastoral?
So said the comic Bill Dana, in his role as José Jiménez, back in the 1960s, and so say I. José, you might remember, once upon a time, praised the friendliness of the American people towards Latino immigrants. José had gone to a baseball game, and though he could afford just a nosebleed seat out in center field, everyone stood up before the game began, looking his way, doffing their hats, and sang, “José, can you see?”
Last night I went to the Northwest Arkansas Naturals game in Springdale with my son Gabe. Because school has begun already, attendance was sparse, maybe 1,500 fans in the seats (out of a capacity of 6,500). We got excellent seats, behind home plate, and sat among a cadre of score-keepers and statisticians for both teams. These young men, some ball players, kept charts and used radar guns to measure the pitchers’ speed.
Our speed, Gabe’s and mine, was measured in beers rather than innings pitched, batters up, or balls and strikes called. We didn’t keep track of much of anything besides the score at the moment and the status of our beer cups. Ended up having three each (local craft beers) and one hot dog (mystery meat).
The game loped along, in no particular hurry, and the Naturals beat the Springfield team 5-3. (The Naturals are a AA affiliate of the KC Royals and the Cardinals of the St. Louis Cardinals.) Our seats afforded us a great view of hitter, umpire, and battery (pitcher and catcher). We could see balls and strikes almost as well as the umpire. I took a bunch of photos with my Fujifilm camera, the only hindrance the backstop netting between us and the action.
Sure, the team has Latino players, who may or may not have been welcomed as heartily to the US as José Jiménez, those many years ago. (The last game I attended, two weeks ago, was led off by two solo home runs on the part of two compact Latino infielders, Ramon Torres and Raul Mondesi. Last night, Torres had an RBI triple and scored on a throwing error after his hit. Jorgé Bonifacio, from the Dominican Republic, had a game-winning, two-RBI single in the bottom of the seventh.)
But the biggest impression made, on the field, was by Naturals’ third basement Hunter Dosier, who though he’s having a tough season at the plate, made two spectacular plays at the hot corner, snaring a wicked half-hop early in the game and throwing out the baserunner and, then, late in the game, helping to seal the victory, diving to his right and snagging a bullet, again throwing out the runner with his fast, accurate arm.
So why do I care about beisbol? How has it been good to me? So many people these days knock the game, saying it’s slow and boring. While these may not be the people who say the same thing about classical music, these knocks show a certain blindness to both sports. Those who don’t see the beauty of baseball are not looking very hard — the cat-and-mouse game between pitcher and batter; the chatter of batter and catcher, teammates, fans; the largo and then slap-bang allegretto of the innings; the idyllic pasture of the outfield, the hosed-down, swept-up neatness of the infield. (As for classical music, I’ll address that issue another day, saying for now only that those who pooh-pooh it most probably have hearing, and learning, disabilities.)
I grew up playing baseball, sure, in Little League and Babe Ruth. I might not have been a force of nature in the game, whether catching or playing third, but I enjoyed it. Have always enjoyed playing, and watching, organized ball.
And, way back in my childhood, playing an unorganized game called “fenceball” that my best friend Mark may have invented, where at the local park the batter stands between home plate and pitcher’s mound, facing the screen, and the opponent throws to him. The screen acted as a measurement for your hits, divided into three horizontal sections and three vertical. If you hit the bottom section, it was a single; the middle, a double; the top, a triple; and if you smacked any of the four vertical posts, or the fringe extending at the top, that counted as a home run.
Mark died young, at age 23, in a truck accident. And although he is buried long ago and far away now, on a hillside overlooking the Minnesota River, in a Catholic cemetery (Resurrection) maintained by a faith I no longer subscribe to, I do believe in the power of the game of baseball to soothe, smooth, and relieve our lives of stress and pain. To provide an idyll on a perfect summer day. (Though my son Gabriel Mark doesn’t play or enjoy baseball like his dad, he’s the perfect companion for watching the game and guzzling a few cool goodby-summer brews, toasting the fleeting season and proclaiming, “Hello, Brother Summer, and farewell.”)