Sunday, August 02, 2009

You Can't Go Home Again-Or On Road Trips, Either

For the first time in several years, I attended a sports event in person last night. There was entirely too much self-revelation involved.

The event was hardly a biggie. It was a Cape League game between Brewster and Chatham at Veterans Field in the latter town. The game was the capstone of a family outing to Chatham, where when our kids were younger, we rented a place each summer from about 2000-2004.

I love Chatham. If I was considerably wealthier, I'd retire right now and live there full-time. We had a magical day. Picnic lunch on the beach, trip to the Fish Pier to watch 'em unload today's catch, etc, nature walks, etc. After a superb dinner at the Squire, it was game time.

Cape League games are such concentrated doses of wholesome Americana they'd send Norman Rockwell's blood sugar off the charts. Between watching the always-impending four-alarm fire in the concession stand, checking out the elaborate manners through which teenage girls pretend not to be checking out the college-age ballplayers, and the maniacal swarms of small children racing for foul balls (free ice cream to whoever returns one), it is a festival for the senses.

Then there's the game.

Evan Longoria, who was a member of the Chatham team in 2005, had a little blurb of honor in the program. In my estimation, it will come as a considerable shock should any member of the team I saw last night have a similar blurb in the 2013 program. Chatham came into the game with a team batting average of .220 and nine homers in 41 games, and Brewster's team batting average was a lusty .218. These stats could not be attributed to the transition from college baseball's metal bats to the wood used in the Cape League, either. Breaking balls, and in particular, the change-up, were beyond the powers of both lineups. Hitters would front-foot themselves, lunge, and take cuts combining the worst of both aggressive and defensive swings. It's wonder none of 'em suffered a spine injury.

But I didn't go to the game expecting to see tomorrow's big leaguers today. I went to have fun. And I did, except for one thing-one thing's that still bothering me today-the pitchers and my reaction to them.

Chatham's pitcher (all names erased because I forgot 'em) had something pretty close to a major league fastball. He also had a bad habit. He is one of those twirlers who when a man gets on base, slows his pace down to that of a Congressional subcommittee marking up legislation. There were frequent consultations with the catcher, long stares at infielders, and what appeared to be yoga breathing exercises whenever the count reached two strikes. In style anyway, he was ready for American League middle relief. After the third inning, I didn't like this kid anymore.

And I HATED the Brewster pitcher. He began the tilt with 11 consecutive balls (Chatham's leadoff hitter stole second, third, and was out trying to score on a ball in the dirt with nobody otu, but I digress). After three innings pitched, the young man had the singular pitching line of 3IP, 0H, 0R, 6BB, 6K. By that time, the umpire's strike zone had widened to go from foul line to foul line in the hopes the game might end before dawn.

Under my breath, I muttered "God, how I loathe walks." I was overheard.

"Daddy," my daughter said. "I've been watching games with you for years. You say that every game."

Self-knowledge hurts. I am not a sportswriter anymore, and yet, I cannot escape the business. The habits of a career bred during many, many night baseball games are impossible to break. What did I care if the Brewster pitcher walked the ballpark? I had no deadline. I was there to have fun, which I was in many ways. But I wasn't having as much fun as the fans around me, because the wildness of young pitchers, an eternal fact of baseball they accepted as such, was driving me around the bend. Somewhere in my subconscious, there was an imaginary copy desk waiting for me to file, and those bases on balls were a threat to my identity.

That's nuts. All fans are nuts, of course, but I' m not a fan anymore. I'm not a sportswriter anymore. I'm in between. This has been a valuable experience in many ways. I think, among other things, it's made me a better writer.

But when pitchers can find the plate, I live in the worst of both worlds. And I always will.


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