Tuesday, August 07, 2007

My (In Some Ways) Greatest Hits


And tonight is the night of my maybe, possibly, could be final game or games. The way the weather looks right now, we'll probably play. Good. I'm as ready as I'm ever going to be. In the meantime, some short trips down muscle memory lane.

Time: 1977

Setting: A baseball field in Milton, Massachusetts

It’s the bottom of the ninth, two outs, nobody on. I’m up. My team is down – by one run.

The guy behind me in the line-up just plain cannot hit. He’s struck out five times, not even coming close to the ball. There’s nobody to send up as a pinch-hitter for him.

It’s a pick-up game. We’re playing without an umpire. No bases-on-balls are possible. The on-deck hitter is NOT going to get a bat on the ball. So far, he’s swung fifteen times and not even gotten a foul. Therefore, I have to hit a home run to extend the game.

The pitcher knows who’s on deck, too. He’s trying to be fine with it, keeping it low and outside. However, I don’t have to swing until he throws one I like.

I let eight or nine pitches go by. In the middle of this game, the other bench would have been jeering and yelling. Common courtesy applies in a game like this and you swing at the first good pitch, certainly no later than the second one. However, everybody knows what’s happening here. The game will be decided as soon as I swing. Either it’s over or we go into extra innings. Nobody is saying anything.

The pitcher unloads. It’s straight down the middle. I rear back and swing as hard as I can.

CRACK!

The ball goes high and deep, to straightaway center field. I stand at the plate watching it for a second, then start running. One guy on our bench jumps up and yells exultantly, “He did it!”

I thought so, too. It's probably the furthest I've ever hit a ball in my life, maybe 400 feet. Unfortunately, it's to dead center. The ball comes down, about three feet in front of the fence, and the center fielder catches it. We lose by one run.

It’s the only time in my life I ever tried to specifically hit a home run in a meaningful game situation. It’s the only time I knew for a fact that I had to try. I gave it my very best shot, but it didn’t happen. That’s the way it goes sometimes.

(And you thought these were all going to be stories about me being the game-winning hero. Nope.)

Time: 1973

Setting: A baseball diamond somewhere in Roxbury, a neighborhood of Boston

It’s tryouts for my high school baseball team. It’s my first try at making an organized team since I played CYO ball for Saint Gregory’s back when I was 13. I had already taken a turn in the field, at first base. I fielded everything cleanly. Now I’m at the plate.

The pitcher is one of the coaches. He’s throwing crappy pitches that are missing the plate in every way possible – high, low, outside, inside. Unlike everybody else who has been up to show the coaches what they can do with a bat, I’m not swinging. They’re BAD pitches.

Another coach - the head coach - yells at me. He says, “Sullivan! Are you going to swing at ANYTHING? We don’t have all fuckin’ day here for YOU.”

I take a step out of the box. I can’t believe that he doesn’t see I’m the smartest batter on the field. If somebody was pitching like this coach, in a real game situation, and everybody would do what I’m doing – nothing – then the team would never make an out. Instead, this fool is encouraging his prospects to swing at crap.

(Looking back, I realize he might have been embarrassed for his fellow coach. Too bad. I was still the only guy on the field doing the right thing.)

I step back in, geared up to swing at the next pitch no matter where it is.

The pitch sails high and outside. I flick at it and drop it about ten feet into right field, over the first baseman’s outstretched glove.

The head coach says, very loudly, “You look like you’re trying to hit a bull in the ass with a banjo. Next batter!”

Everybody on the field is laughing. Now I’m embarrassed and mad. It was a clean hit off of a lousy pitch that I was basically ordered to swing at. I go take a seat on the grass and watch other guys go up. They’re mostly lofting cans of corn to the outfield, swinging at every pitch that doesn’t bounce on the way to the plate. Every time somebody puts one deep, this idiot coach yells encouragement. It doesn’t matter that they’re mostly being caught. This guy likes big swingers, no matter what the result.

After the practice, he calls out names. These are the guys invited back to the next practice. My name isn’t called. As we’re walking off the field, I screw up enough courage to ask the coach why I wasn’t called. He says I don’t have enough power to play first base, and then he walks on ahead of me.

I just stop dead in my tracks, dumbfounded. What the fuck does power have to do with playing a fielding position? So far as this guy knows, I might never make an out. He never saw me make one. On the pitches I was thrown, I would have walked twice and then singled on my only swing. I fielded the position cleanly when I was on the field. How in hell do you get cut when you’re perfect?

It’s the last time I ever try out for an organized hardball team.

Time: 2003

Setting: Smith Field, Brighton, Massachusetts

Final game of the regular season. Going into the bottom of the seventh – the final inning - The Bombers are trailing by one run. We need to either tie or win this game to make the playoffs. A tie will get us fourth place because of the tiebreakers involved. I know this because I’m the manager and it’s my business to know it. The team we’re playing probably has no idea. They’ve already been eliminated from the playoffs.

(My current Bomber teammate, Ariel Monges, is the manager of The Rockies that year. Their games are over and his team’s fate is in our hands. If we don’t make it, his team does. I notice that he's watching the game from the left field foul line. So are a few guys from the Titans, the team that will face either the Rockies or us in the playoffs.)

As we come off the field and get ready to hit, I make sure that every player knows what’s happening.

“We need ONE run. Just ONE run. A tie and we’re in. Got it? ONE run. We don’t need to win, just tie. ONE run.”

I’m scheduled to bat fourth in the inning.

The first batter pops out to the second baseman. The second one grounds out, weakly, to first base. Sean Dykens is the third batter, our last hope.

Earlier in the game, Dykens had singled and was on first base with two outs. I hit a double to right center. After I slid, I looked up to find Dykens on third. I thought he might have scored, but he hadn’t. Not a big deal at the time. We were leading and a good batter – Jason Atton – was next up. We both ended up stranded, though.

Now Dykens laces one to left center. On the bench, everybody jumps up. It looks like it might have a chance to scoot through between fielders and send Dykens all the way. The left fielder gets to the ball, though, and Dykens has to stop at second. I step up to the plate.

Matt Widiger, my left fielder, yells from the bench, “Hey, coach, this is your team! Time to show us how to do it!”

I take a ball, then a strike. On the third pitch, I hit a line drive that falls in front of the center fielder. As I make my turn at first, I see the center fielder slightly bobble the ball. I decide to try for a double.

I figure the worst thing that can happen is this: The throw comes in to second base. If it has me beat, I’ll get into a rundown. In the meantime, Dykens has to score. We'll have the tie and that’s good enough to get us into the playoffs. If the throw goes to the plate, it’s a damned long throw and has to be perfect to nail Dykens. Either way, as manager I want us to go for it NOW.

I’m going into second and I see that the throw is coming into second, but not quickly enough to get me. I slide. Safe! I did it! We’re in the playoffs!

Except, I get up with a smile on my face and I see that Dykens is standing on third. He was on second to begin the play and I hit a double. Why the fuck is he on third? Why didn’t he score?

(Later on, one of my guys tells me that Dykens waited to see if my line drive would be caught before he took off. Two outs. TWO OUTS! Does nobody think in this game? With two outs, you’re running as soon as you see the ball off the bat. It’s four years later and it still pisses me off. Aaaaaarrrrgggghhhh!)

Well, all is not lost. Jason Atton is up and he’s been immense this year. And in this game, he’s already gone 3-for-4. Since my going to second took off the force, I fully expect them to walk Jason to get to Matt Stone. Matt has gone hitless in this game and not looked all that good doing so. But I know he’s an excellent hitter and I know – I really know, deep down in the core of my being – that if they walk Jason to get to him, we’re going to win. Matt will get the hit.

Surprisingly, they choose to pitch to Jason. I sit on second base and don’t leave the bag at all. My run does not matter in the least. I’m not taking any chances that Jason hits the ball and the ball hits me while I’m off the bag. I also don’t want to distract Jason in any way, shape or form by moving into his field of vision.

Jason swings. I don’t turn around to look at the flight of the ball. I heard him say, “Shit!” as soon as the ball left the bat. I know it’s a can of corn. Three outs. No playoffs.

Jason played his ass off. So did I. The guy standing on third base… well, he got the hit to give us hope, but then he killed us by not thinking.

The last thing I saw as I left second base was Ariel pumping his fist. He was going to the playoffs. I was going home.

Time: Tonight

Setting: Clemente Field in The Fens, a couple of blocks behind Fenway Park

I’ll do what I always do - whatever the situation dictates. I may not always get the desired result, but I almost never have any regrets concerning my choices. We’ll see what happens tonight. Wish me luck.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

2007

The Bombers lose in the last week of the regular season and barely miss the playoffs. The eighth place team sends 5 guys to the game and has to forfeit while the Bombers are home in bed.

Where's the justice???

Mushy said...

Great memories Sul and I know you are going to miss it like hell. It's not fun opening the gate and walking into the pasture...I know.

Suldog said...

Anonymous - Seriously? Bacon sent 5 guys? If that's true, I'm very pissed.

Mushy - Walking into the pasture... I kind of like that image. But only if I'm being put out to stud.

Anonymous said...

No, it was the Rockies.

David Sullivan said...

You aren't done until you are looking up at six feet of dirt.

Suldog said...

Anon - The Rockies? That pisses me off even more, in some ways. Hell, we beat them TWICE. We deserved to go in their place, if they just forfeited. Crap.

Cuz - In softball terms, I'm looking at 5' 11" right about now. Thanks for the encouragement, though :-)

Anonymous said...

Is your hair long or is that a tree behind your head in the picture?

Suldog said...

Ha-Ha.

That picture is from 10 or 12 years ago when I was still operating under the assumption that I had enough hair on the top of my head to make long hair on the sides and back not make me look like Ben Franklin when I took my cap off.

However, if you're going to come here and compare my lovely redlocks (which is what Irish guys have instead of dreadlocks) to shrubbery, I think it would be only fair if you give your name and let us see a photo of your own magnificent foliage.

Suldog said...

By the way, in case anyone is wondering about the outcome of last night, I'll be posting about it soon. You'll just have to hang on until then. In the meantime, maybe you can all try to figure out what other of my body parts might look like plants.

Sean said...

I am deeply ashamed of my mental lapse in that game. When i googled my name (cue your so vane) and saw a post from sul dog i was excited. Upon reading what has seemingly caused years of agony i hang my head in shame. What the hell was i thinking? I like to say i have a very high baseball/softball IQ, but with 2 outs and the playoffs on the line a corpse could of managed to crawl to home. Was the third base coach waiving me home? Was it the 9 bud lights the night before? Regardless even if i got clipped by someone on the grassy knoll i should of made it home. Hopefully some day my embarassing mistake will be forgiven....outside of that sul i hope you and any other former teammates are doing well. I hope its not true that you have hung up the cleats. If you are still able to walk on two legs, or 1 leg with the assistance of a crutch, you are able to play softball.

Remember some day you'll be 85 sitting on your favorite chair reminessing of the days of waking up at 8am to play 2 and i'm sure you'll miss it....more than that i'm sure you'll sit there and wish you kept playing till they had to drag you off the field kicken and screamin.

If you do decide to do it all over again next year look me up. I'm living in Winthrop, working in Southie now, a few years removed from college but still playing softball with all my spare time in the spring/summer. Hopefully if there is a next time i can leave a better memory than the one i just read....

-Dimaggio

SDykens@gmail.com

Suldog said...

Sean:

It is GREAT to hear from you!

For purposes of that little story, I turned you into more of a villain than you were. My time playing ball with you was always a pleasure, and you were a great guy to have on a team - especially as a manager, because you never complained.

I always wondered if you were held up at third or stopped on your own. Since I haven't seen you since that game, I never got a chance to ask you, really. Jack was notorious for waving guys home, so I always assumed you stopped, but if you didn't, then I owe you an apology.

Anyway, rest assured that I enjoyed playing with you and would take you on my team any day, any time. You were a gamer, big time.

(Also, in that game, you played second base, as I recall, which was totally NOT your position - and no complaints. You also got the two doubles I wrote about, and if you didn't get the second double, there's no story at all. Relax. I still love you.)