Sgt Stryker and baseball

The writer (notice I didn’t say mechanic) formerly known as Sgt Stryker is really on a tear lately. Some wonderful stuff over there the last few days; I won’t link to anything particular, because it’s all well worth perusing. One of the excellent posts is on the upcoming baseball strike, and I’ll use it for one of my patented miles-away digressions, if you’ll indulge me. In fact, just try and stop me.

I haven’t watched a Major League Baseball game since The Strike. The bastards didn’t play the World Series. Well Fuck You too, you greedy sons of bitches. A bunch of millionaires go on and on like they’re factory workers and the pigfucking owners, who are wallowing in the shit they created, thump their chests like the also-ran for the Samsonite commercials.

Well, I finally broke down and watched a Giants-A’s game on TV the other day. There wasn’t anything else on, not even Maury Povich with his paternity results. After a few minutes, it became clear I haven’t really missed all that much. Some guy hits a daisy cutter down the third base line, and the 3rd Baseman just kinda bends over like grandpa at the nursing home and sticks his glove out. He’s four frickin’ feet from the ball and he sticks his glove out! I was yelling at the guy to get in front of the damn ball! Jump, dive, whatever. Just get in front of the ball and stop it. What the hell is this lollygaggin’ over to the baseline? Fundamentals, man. Fundamentals.

Why am I seeing better play in the minors? I see guys charging and sliding into First in the off chance the defense fucks up the throw. I see outfielders running halfway across the park to catch a ball blooped just past the infield. Ninety-Nine times out of a Hundred they don’t get to the ball in time. But one time they do. That’s why you do it. To see a major leaguer automatically assume a certain situation is a lost cause violates the very spirit of baseball. At any moment, the totally unexpected can happen and turn the game. You never assume the throw will be made to First before you reach the base. You never assume the ball was hit too far from you. You never assume a ball is uncatchable. Yet these basic fundamentals are missing from the Majors.

Yep, I feel the same. I’ve never really been much of a sports fan, but I always loved baseball. Hate football, loathe basketball, NASCAR bores me unless I’m the one driving and ain’t really a sport anyway, and soccer is from Mars.

But baseball; man, baseball was always another matter. Baseball had magic and poetry and Objective Beauty. In baseball, there’s no clock. The pitcher can stand up on the mound and scratch his sack until next week, the batter can step out and spit until his saliva gives out, but sooner or later the man has to heave that pill and the other man has to either swing or not. The mano-a-mano confrontation can be delayed but never avoided. Sooner or later we’re all going to see who’s better.

I have watched the pageantry and ritual of the Series lump-throated and teary-eyed. The ’86 Mets were a wondrous thing, a perfect year for a perfect team of scraggly ne’er-do-wells and rejects. They won simply because they played harder than everybody else, no other reason. They were no way no how patrician pretty boys either. Every time chip-toothed Len Dykstra came to bat you half-expected to see his parole officer standing off to the side. Gary Carter was half-crippled. Mookie was a nobody. But Dykstra would run your ass over at any given base on any given day, whether it meant something or not, just like Ty Cobb – because he loved playing the game, and that’s how you’re supposed to play the game – like it means something every time.

The ’88 Series comes to mind too. I never liked the Dodgers (I grew up in the South, which means my default setting is Braves Fan), but I disliked the A’s even more, and the A’s were supposed to win this one in a complete romp. Game One, ninth inning, a runner on first, down to their last out – hell, their last strike – and up against the best reliever in baseball, aging and injured Kirk Gibson (who was the last possible pinch-hitter on the pines, and had literally limped to the plate – he had serious injuries to BOTH legs, and I remember the announcers being completely incredulous at Tommy LaSorda’s obvious desperation in using him) smacks one out of the park to win the game. He went hobbling around the bases pumping his fists, a perfect picture of pure child-like joy. It was the moment every little boy playing ball in the backyard in the dusk dreams of. I stayed up way later than I should’ve to watch that game, and even though I didn’t much care about the outcome, when that bat cracked I came up out of my chair yelling like someone had just ignited a rocket under me. It was the purest form of magic I can think of. The Fuckin’-A’s were so demoralized by it that they dropped all the rest of the Series games but one. Dodgers in a walk.

I still get choked up about that one.

But since the strike I haven’t watched much baseball, and in the last 2 or 3 years I haven’t watched any at all. Baseball used to be different from other sports; other sports became all about nothing but money a long time ago, or were never about anything else in the first place. Baseball used to be different. You can say that that difference was never more than just a romanticized illusion, but you’d be wrong. The difference was real. And the difference is now gone, swallowed up by greed and ego and star-quality. Baseball’s gift, its legacy, has been pissed on by small men who aren’t fit to carry the jockstraps of the giants who established the gift for them in the first place. I hate like hell to inject politics here where it doesn’t at all belong, but it reminds me of nothing more than what Clinton did to the Presidency.

There used to be a single-A park in the neighborhood I used to live in here in Charlotte. I could go out into my backyard and climb up into a certain tree by the garage, sit in the crook of one of the lower branches, and see the infield. Many’s the night I walked the two blocks to Crockett Park, grabbed a hotdog, and watched the Charlotte O’s play. It was one of the more fun things to do in a town not known for having a lot to do.

The park burned down years ago, under fairly suspicious circumstances. It was generally suspected that the Crocketts had the place torched for insurance dough; they eventually sold out to George Shinn, who wanted to build a park in Fort Mill 20 miles away and bump the team up to Triple-A. He did just that, and the new park is nice; I’ve been there a few times. But it ain’t the same, and Charlotte lost something rare and precious when the O’s became the Knights and moved away. And with every passing summer day, as baseball deteriorates and is shat upon, all of America loses something precious too. It makes me very sad.

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