Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Bull Webbly

I was away from home last evening and had time on my hands, so what else was a fella to do?
I went to a minor league baseball game.

The game was at the Single A ballpark in Everett, Washington where the visiting Salem-Keizer Volcanoes (a San Francisco farm) played the penultimate game against the home side, a Seattle affiliate. The game itself was something of a snoozer; a 7-nothing rout for the visitors capped by a disastrous (for Everett) four-run ninth where the Volcanoes pretty much pasted the Everett closer all over the park.

I learned to score ballgames from my pop, the Master Chief, who told me as a slip of a boy that "it will make you pay attention to the game" and, yes, pop, that it does. I still record the pitch count for each batter, the direction the ball was put in play, and I tend to make my own decisions as to hits and errors regardless of the official scorer. So it was on the Salem-Keizer run in the sixth inning, when, according the the linked story above...
"Salem-Keizer capitalized on a Little League-type mental error in the sixth inning to score a run. With one out in the inning, right fielder Heath Quinn advanced to third base on a fly out to right field. The AquaSox right fielder, Dimas Ojeda, thought there were three outs on the catch and did not throw the ball in. Third base coach and manager Kyle Davis waved Quinn home emphatically and Quinn scored to take a 3-0 lead in the game."
Yeah, well, you make a bonehead play like that, Gehrig, and I'm givin' you a freaking error. That might well have been the highlight of the evening.

The location, though...the Everett ballpark is in some sort of sports complex, with a ginormous empty football field and track to the west. The entrance is down a blacktop ramp and past some sort of play field where the Everett players were taking part in some sort of kid-event in the long summer evening before the game...
The open area south of the ballfield was full of...stuff. Kids, parents...
...bouncy-houses, picnic tables, more kids, more parents, and scattered here and there players, looking ridiculously young and unformed.

But this is Single A Short Season, the lowest form of professional baseball life; there's a reason for that. Most of these players ARE young. They're are the hopefuls, the aren't-yets and the never-weres. The only lived-in faces are on the heads of the handful of the useta-bes and pluggers still hoping for a shot at the Big Casino.
This level is all about "player development" so the game, that actual game on the field, was...if not actually meaningless as near as dammit. Even if I still followed pro baseball I wouldn't have know who these players were nor did I care.

That wasn't really the point; it was a lazy evening, the peanuts were salty, the beer was colder than the wind off Puget Sound, and it was a relaxing sort of finger-mantra to tick off the little squares with the symbols of the game unspooling before me.

G 6-3, backwards K (a swinging strikeout - he "went around", got it?), little diagonal line with a black base at the end and an arrow up the middle for a line shot single to center. Idle thoughts; who taught that kid the odd half-sidearm delivery? Why the hell didn't the shortstop make that play?

The entire business was revoltingly wholesome. Unattended kids gamboled thunderously in the metal bleachers, mom and dad doucely sipping their eight-dollar beers.

I thought the young woman at left was a salacious outlier, some sort of baseball annie looking to pick herself up a young stud, but instead she turned out to be another bit of the small-town-America wholesomeness, mommy of one of the kids involved in one of the family-friendly gimmicks; in this case, out on the field with the home team for the anthem.

In fact, it had been so long since I'd been to one of these low-minor games I'd forgotten the cornball carny atmosphere; the idiotic costumed mascot
(the "Webbly" of the title - why the hell an outfit called the "Aquasox" decided that some sort of Amazonian poison tree-frog was what they needed for a mascot I have NO idea, but there he is, hideous bulging eyes and all...)
the Prozac-cheerfulness of the team employees shepherding lucky fans through a variety of silly antics; catching pizza boxes in a dipnet, two schoolkids racing around the bases dressing in hugely oversized team uniforms.

Perhaps the ultimate moment in all this goofiness came between the fifth and sixth innings, when two anonymous fans were handed radio control sets and tasked with guiding toy trucks around the infield from the third base to the first base side.

Predictable chaos ensued, with one racer getting halfway to second before turning completely around while the second circled the bag cluelessly before ramming into second base and flopping over, tires spinning.

All the while the Everett infield was warming up, looking warily about at their feet in case a plastic pickup was about to slam into them at the ankles. Sweetbabyjesus, what a circus.

My sport of choice, as you know, is soccer. I love the game itself, I love learning about it, studying it, the beauties and ugliness of it. I love being part of a culture of deep emotion, of topgallant delights and keelson-deep despair. Of thundering out love and devotion along with thousands of others, part of a thunder of voices over the hammering drums.

Baseball, though...baseball was part of my growing-up. Jack Brickhouse announcing Cubs games on my mother's cheap plastic radio during the summer of 1969, the Year of Tragedy and the Mets. Slow afternoons at the old Civic Stadium, Lois the National Anthem Lady and the Portland Beavers of AAA
(and someday I should really tell you the story of Bernardo Brito, the Beavs slugger...though I notice that the Aquasox have a kid named "Brito"...I wonder if he's a relative..?)
and filling in scorecards with the names of the Minnesota players of the Nineties.

I was a little surprised, and a little pleased, to find that all the old skills returned; recognizing the motion of fastball and curveball and slider. Acknowledging the position of the fielders, knowing where to look on throws, following the quickness of the bat.
It was an evening full of slowness, almost sweetness, like turning time down to a near stop and just being, drifting, afloat on a slow-rolling sea of silly, kitschy Americana.

Sprawled in the chill bleachers south of the gritty Everett downtown jotting down the runs and hits, listening to the hollow sound of the calls from the crowd float out across the ballyard; like finding an old scorecard from a game played long ago, a distant record of a time, and a me, that I'd almost forgotten.

Game Called.

Across the field of play
the dusk has come, the hour is late.
The fight is done and lost or won,
the player files out through the gate.

The tumult dies, the cheer is hushed,
the stands are bare, the park is still.
But through the night there shines the light
of home, beyond the silent hill.

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