I can watch baseball with my hair on fire, and if you have seen me lately you would think I’ve done that a few times. There are few things more relaxing than being in a ball park on a warm summer evening or a sunny afternoon and experiencing a baseball game. I have enjoyed them from the time I was a wee lad when my dad would take us on a three hour trek up to Cincinnati for a Sunday double-header to watch the Reds, usually playing the Cardinals, in old Crosley Field.
As a right of passage, I have taken my son to many baseball games and they are some of the best days of my life. One particular weekend a few summers ago when my son was in high school, we headed out for Pittsburgh to watch his beloved Atlanta Braves play the Pirates.
There are some plays over the course of a baseball game that show the beauty and grace of the sport. One particular play is when the second basemen turns a double play, called the pivot. He takes a throw from the shortstop or the third baseman and has to coordinate his movements, by stepping on the second base bag at the same time he catches the ball and with the slight-of-hand resembling a marquis magician, he gets the ball out of his glove and throws across his body to the first baseman–all while the runner is baring down, wanting to knock him into left field. It is a marvelous thing when it all comes to fruition. The amazing thing is that this happens a countless number of times over the course of a season. On this particular play the second baseman is vulnerable to harm and the really good ones, knowing this is about to happen, still hang in there and make the play and suffer the consequences.
This photo is of one of these plays, the pivot, performed by Neil Walker. I like this shot because it shows the peak of the action of the play. I just happened to have a good seat in the stands that gave me this vantage point.
The baseball field can be a lonely place when you are having a bad game. Baseball is a unique team sport in that you are pretty much on your own on the field. Your teammates cannot bail you out if you goof up. YOU have to hit the ball, YOU have to field the ball, YOU have to make the throw and everyone sees your mistakes.
I had a game filled with those mistakes. It could have been the worst game ever by a high school baseball player, at least it felt that way. I was a junior in high school and after playing second base my sophomore year, I was moved to shortstop. This is the star position of the infield because the shortstop usually gets the most chances to make plays.
After a long two hour bus ride to Louisa, Kentucky we began a game that I would often think about some thirty eight years later. After committing four errors at shortstop, my coach moved me to left field, where I quickly misplayed a routine fly ball into error number five. Mercifully, my coach sent in a replacement and I walked off the field to the delight of the other eight players looking at me with both pity and contempt as if I were a leper being led out of the village .
We lost that game by a single run. I had a large contribution to the other team’s run production. I slowly walked to the bus feeling like Charlie Brown after one of his meltdowns. Being the last one to board the bus, I was looking for any solace or words of encouragement that would make me not want to sling the back emergency door open and take a swan dive into the grill of a following semi. Alas as I slowly lifted up my head and made eye contact with our crusty old bus driver, he uttered those words that kept me going to this day, “Son, who in the hell told you that you could play baseball?”
It was a long ride home.
If you like this photo, you can see more here.