Posted by: Ryan | January 17, 2010

That’s Boring! Yet Strangely Compelling…

A couple of years back, we took a trip to Ontario to visit some good friends, and I lobbied to add to my Life List of ballparks by staying overnight in Toronto and seeing a Blue Jays game at Skydome. (Not “The Skydome.” “Skydome.”)

During an otherwise unremarkable game, I saw one of the more amusing and strange things I ever hope to see on a diamond. One of the Blue Jays pitchers – I think it was Jesse Carlson – caught a cleat as he threw a pitch. He fell off the mound into a full cartwheel, and the ball catapulted into the crowd, about a third of the way up the third base stands. It was quite possibly the most errant pitch in the history of the game.

There was a beat of stunned silence – what just happened? – and then the guffaws and titters began to roll around the half-empty park, reaching the level where the game couldn’t continue. The infielders, trying gamely not to show up their teammate, put their hands on their knees and stared at the AstroTurf, shoulders rocking with laughter.

Carlson – or Jesse Litch, or Shawn Marcum, or Jason Frasor – signaled for a new ball, which was a touch late coming from the grinning umpire, then stalked behind the mound, rubbing down the ball and looking into the far distance above the center field wall.

He waited for the laughter to die down, took a deep breath, and tugged his cap down hard over his forehead. He then stepped to the rubber, and threw a 96-mile-per-hour fastball for strike three. As he walked off the mound to a standing ovation, I was reminded how the difference between playing in the minors and pitching at Skydome can be the quality of one’s concentration.

This winter, while waiting for Pitchers and Catchers (a month away), I took a quick cruise around YouTube trying to find a clip of that errant pitch. I didn’t find it – the incident may now only be remembered by Carlson, his teammates, and obsessives like myself who were at the game – but I did find this:

In just under two minutes, the guy zooms in on the runner on third base, the third base coach (Juan Samuel; yet another 1980s Phillies reference), then directs his camera’s gaze up and down the CN Tower as we hear a play being completed. Another Orioles batter comes to the plate, adjusts his stance, takes a pitch, spits, steps out of the box, resets himself, gets out in front of the following pitch and grounds out to end the inning. The Jays begin to jog back to their dugout for their turn at bat.

Yes, it’s incredibly boring; nothing much happens. But it lifted my spirits on a chilly day. Not because of the action, certainly: if I wanted that, I could watch a game from the DVD series I got for Christmas, replaying the Red Sox’ come-from-behind playoff victories against the Yankees in 2004.

The video lifted my spirits because it’s just like being at a ballgame: slow, rhythmic, with time to look at concrete towers and third-base coaches between pitches. There is space aplenty for your thoughts to wander, to remember the first time you saw Juan Samuel play on the black-and-white TV in the basement of your childhood house, a day game from Candlestick Park, how he went three for four or four for five and everyone thought he was going to be the next Larry Bowa, Garry Maddox, and Manny Trillo rolled into one, but he flamed out the way those other post-1983 Phillies flamed out, everything going downhill after they traded Lonnie Smith, and you experimented with becoming a Yankee fan (since your parents lived in New York as missionaries for over a dozen years), and then you were introduced to the Red Sox when your dad had a sabbatical outside of Boston when you were 17, and you started listening to radio baseball when you moved to the woods of Vermont when you were 24, and the Red Sox were bad then, the only reason to listen was for the rhythm of the games, the space between the pitches, and wait, here comes the two-and-two offering. Fouled back. The count remains two-and-two.

It’s so tempting for me to gripe about baseball on television, how it works hard to make what is essentially a quiet and slow game into Monday Night Football. How it peppers you with slo-mo replays between pitches – complete with zooming sounds as the clip flies into and then out of your screen – instead of letting you think, and absorb, and calm down, for once. So I’ll stop here in my old-man diatribe (radio baseball is better!) and say, watch this boring YouTube clip – as empty of hype as can be – and see if it doesn’t get you just a little bit excited for summer.

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