Thursday, April 15, 2010

Talking baseball: Phil will wait

Years ago, my friend Todd and I were rushing to Atlanta for a Braves game, and we were late. To calm him down, I told him that Phil Niekro would hold the first pitch for us. It quickly became a game for us.

Phil will wait.


We drove about 80 miles from western South Carolina, got through Atlanta, paid our parking fee, rushed up and bought outfield tickets, and ran to our seats in centerfield.


Niekro, rubbing the ball in his glove, turned to us and appeared satisfied that we were there. Then he turned toward the plate to throw the game's first pitch.


Play ball!


(Not surprisingly, the first pitch was a knuckleball.)



*
The Orioles' season ended with a thud, as they lost to the Royals in four straight. In fact, my favorite National League team, the St. Louis Cardinals, lost to the eventual champions, the San Francisco Giants. Ironically, I went into the playoffs hoping the Orioles and Cards wouldn't play in the World Series. No chance of that.

It was a terrible end to a great season. Now I'm looking forward to March.


*
I've enjoyed the Baltimore Orioles' season immensely, as they recently swept the Detroit Tigers in the divisional round of the American League playoffs. They'll play the Royals in the AL championship series.

I was trying to remember the last time I enjoyed the Orioles this much. It had to be 1983, the last time they won the World Series. I was so happy then that I didn't know what to do.


I've rooted for the Orioles since they lost to the Mets in the 1969 World Series. They've been to the World Series four times since then, and I've come away happy twice (1970 and '83).



*
I was a big fan of Mickey Mantle when I was a kid; that was pretty common. All of the black kids who lived nearby swore by Willie Mays. We were both right, I guess. They were terrific baseball players.

There's a story in the NY Times today about Mantle. The writer had met Mantle years ago and was disillusioned by the man, who was nothing like the legend. She wound up writing a book about him, and I'm interested in reading it.

I can understand her feelings. As a former sports writer, I've met a few of my heroes, and they often weren't what I expected. Sadly.

*
Jim Kaat and Greg Maddux might have been the best defensive pitchers I've watched, but Mark Beurhle of the Chicago White Sox made one of the greatest plays of all time.

It appeared that a batted ball hit Beurhle on the leg and bounced toward foul territory. Beurhle ran past the Cleveland Indians baserunner, snagged the ball with his glove (on his right hand) and flipped it between his legs to the first baseman, who caught it with his bare hand.


It might have been the best play I've ever seen. It'll be hard to beat that on highlight reels.



*
I never realized there was so much to know about the on-deck circle until I read this story in the N.Y. Times. Some major leaguers stay in the on-deck circle, and others stray far from it.

I like the idea used by little leaguers; have the guy in the on-deck circle face the batter's back. Less chance of getting hurt.


I do wonder, though, how much advantage a hitter can get by moving closer to the catcher. If it weren't an advantage, they wouldn't do it.



*
If you're a baseball fan, you might check out the Baseball Almanac online. I didn't realize that someone hit 36 triples in a season (Chief Wilson) or 309 triples in a career (Sam Crawford). Wow! Two American Leaguers had 26 triples in a season, Crawford and "Shoeless" Joe Jackson.

By the way, I just found this quote about Jackson: "I copied (Shoeless JoeJackson's style because I thought he was the greatest hitter I had ever seen, the greatest natural hitter I ever saw. He's the guy who made me a hitter." - Babe Ruth



*
My friend Todd and I were sitting in centerfield at Fulton County Stadium, and we were rooting for the players we could see best, centerfielders Brett Butler of the Braves and George Hendrick of the Cardinals.

They were both good centerfielders, but Hendrick was slightly distracted.


At one point, Hendrick was leaning against the wall and talking to some girls in the outfield seats. Suddenly, we all heard the crack of the bat! Hendrick turned, said something we couldn't hear and raced toward the infield. He made a diving catch near the infield, turning a little flare to the outfield into an adventure.


Butler took a more traditional approach to playing the outfield.


According to Wikipedia, the 60-year-old Hendrick is a coach for the Tampa Bay Rays. In 1997, Butler released an autobiography called Field of Hope: An Inspiring Autobiography of a Lifetime of Overcoming Odds.



*
I saw a story the other day on the greatest centerfielders ever, and they listed Willie MaysJoe DiMaggioMickey MantleJunior Griffey and Jim Edmunds. Great defensive players all, but I'd add the Orioles' Paul Blair and the Cardinals' (and Orioles') Andy Van Slyke.

It's hard to name just five of anything when you're talking about baseball. Now, with catchers, I'd start with Johnny Bench and add...



*
In the 1970s, I was watching a baseball game in my room, and my mother came in and asked who was pitching. She wouldn't have known more than one or two pitchers, and they would have had to be Baltimore Orioles.

I'm an O's fan, but the Orioles weren't playing. I think it was the Astros and Reds.

"It's Joaquin Andujar and Santo Alcala," I said absentmindedly.

"You're kidding," she replied.

"Do you think I could make up names like Joaquin Andujar and Santo Alcala?"


*
I always knew that Bob Feller was a special baseball player, even though I never saw him pitch. Because of his age (92), I'd been expecting him to die for awhile; he finally did today.

I knew that Rapid Robert threw three no-hitters for the Cleveland Indians, but I learned today that he threw the only no-hitter on opening day.

EMAIL: tgilli52@gmail.com or nc3022@yahoo.com. TWITTER: EDITORatWORK.


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