Welcome home, Jim

Friday, August 26, 2011–Indians 2, Royals 1

As I have stated many times before, I pick the games for these trips weeks or even months in advance, so I have no way of knowing that a one-time icon of the Indians’ franchise would be returning the same day I picked for scheduling reasons.  The Tribe made a deal with the Twins to bring Jim Thome—the Indians’ all-time leader in home runs and a number of other offensive categories—back to Cleveland, probably while I was on the train from Pittsburgh.  That means that if I hadn’t come to Cleveland specifically to see a baseball game, I coulda sold my ticket (with this as my view) for about three times what I’d paid for it. I heard that before the trade was announced, there were 10,000 unsold tickets, but by the time first pitch rolled around, it was sold out. Here was a sign the Indians had printed up for fans to wave and greet him.

But I did come specifically to see a baseball game, so let’s get to it. Thome came up to bat for the first time to lead off the second inning. The fans were giving him a standing ovation from the moment the top of the first ended and he had stood in the on-deck circle waiting for the between-inning promotion to end. When he was announced, the cheer from the Cleveland faithful was the loudest I’ve ever heard, and when Thome hit a weak groundout to the pitcher on the very first pitch he saw, the noise scarcely subsided until he’d returned to the Indians’ dugout.

While Thome was the emotional story of the night, the baseball story was a tense pitcher’s duel between two guys who started the season in Colorado. Ubaldo Jimenez went 7, struck out ten, and only gave up one run, a homer by KC’s Eric Hosmer. And until the bottom of the 7th, it looked like Felipe Paulino would make that run hold up, the only threat the Indians mounted through the first six frames ended when Koske Fukudome was thrown out at the plate. In the seventh, with two batters on, Jack Hannahan hit an RBI single to tie it, and Paulino’s night was done when he walked the next batter to load the bases. Tim Collins, the new Royals hurler, then walked Ezequiel Carrera to force in another run. That would close out the scoring for the night.

Here’s the scorecard.


Rocky Mountain highlight reel

Sunday, April 29, 2007–Rockies 9, Braves 7 (11)

This was a bus-by-night operation. I went up to Denver on the overnight Greyhound, went to the game and came back on the overnight bus back. I couldn’t sleep on the bus, and because there wasn’t much to see, I wound up spending the entire trip up looking at the moon. About the time we got Las Vegas (New Mexico, that is), I felt a tickling at the back of my throat. By the time we got to Springer, I was talking to the moon. In Raton, I bought a roll of cough drops and found myself dizzy walking around.  By Colorado Springs, I was half expecting the moon to start talking back. It was just about the worst 24-hour flu I’ve ever had–I  belonged at home, in bed with a thermometer in my mouth and a cold compress on my forehead.

In Trinidad, the entire bus got a very important civics lesson. A gentleman who didn’t speak English wanted to get off the bus, not understanding that we weren’t scheduled to stop there. At first, the driver tried to explain to him that he’d have to go to Pueblo and change busses there, but then made an announcement over the PA, explaining the situation in succinct terms. “Who wants me to keep on schedule, and who wants me to turn around, let this guy off and possibly make you miss your connections?”
     “I don’t mind turning around,” I said.
     “Is that the consensus?” he asked.
     “That’s just me.” Nobody else said anything, so we turned around. Later, people who were trying to catch a connecting bus in Denver were grumbling about being late. A nice little fable about taking part in our great democratic process, two of them would have been able to outvote me.

I walked around Denver a bit in the early morning, but soon decided that if I couldn’t be in bed, I should be as inert as possible, so I went to the ballpark at 10:00 for a game that started at 1:30, and sat outside the gate. I swore I’d keep the cheering to a minimum because my throat was really bothering me. That proved to be problematic.

I know that usually when I see a team on its way to the World Series, I say that there was some sort of special buzz around the stadium. Not so here. It was April 29, and the Rox were still in single digits in the win column. In the sports section, there were suggestions from (those oh so erudite and refined) sports fans that the owners be fired, that the manager be fired, that the GM be fired, and my personal favorite: that the team change its name to the Pebbles. About a third of the announced attendance of 31,445 came dressed as empty seats, and another sixth were in Braves apparel. There was no buzz at all—until the seventh inning.

On my scorecards, I use exclamation marks to denote moments of great excitement. Usually, an outstanding defensive play or a walk off, but also occasionally a particularly high-tension strikeout or other moment when a pitcher wiggles his way out of a jam. I do not hand out exclamation marks liberally. A typical game gets one or two, and some don’t get any at all. This game has nine. Here’s the rundown:

  • 1) Chipper Jones robbed Troy Tulowitzki of a double down the line in the first (Remember that-Jones and Tulo, it comes up again). 
  • 2) In the third, Tulowitzki went deep into the hole to take a hit away from Edgar Rentaria.
  • 3, 4 & 5) In the seventh, Tulo was in the right place at the right time, snaring a sharp line drive off the bat of Chipper Jones on a hit-and-run. He then stepped on second to double off the runner there before tagging the guy coming in from first. An unassisted triple play¹, which gets three exclamation points. (Why three? Because it’s an Unassisted! Triple! Play!) That preserved the tie.
  • 6) On the other side of the stretch, Jeff Francouer got an exclamation point for hauling in what should have been an RBI double by Garret Atkins…
  • 7, 8) …and then picked up two more in the ninth with his diving, corkscrewing robbery of what would have been the game-winning hit, a little Texas-leaguer off the bat of Clint Barmes, to send the game into extra innings.
  • 9) In the eleventh came the cherry on top: one point inside the diamond representing Matt Holliday’s walk-off 2-run homer.

So much for not cheering. Because it was a 9-exclaimation-point game, and I found myself in a section with a large group of Braves fans doing their tomahawk chops, I took it as a point of pride that even though I am not a Rockies fan, I was able to drown them out on the line “Root, root, root for the ROCKIES…” In the ninth inning, a young boy in orange was having a grand time dancing in the aisles on the jumbotron. He had an even grander time in the eleventh when he was again on the big screen with the words “rally dancer” superimposed and the crowd going nuts for him.

I got home entertained, but feeling like I was gonna die. But I didn’t, and that’s what’s given me the opportunity to upload the scorecard.

¹ This is one of the rarest plays in the game. In the hundred-plus years that Major League baseball has been played, Tulowitzki’s unassisted TP was only the 13th to be turned in a regular season game, and the 14th overall.

Snakes alive (even when the fans aren’t)

Saturday, May 6, 2006–Diamondbacks 8, Reds 9

Dad and I went on an Arizona roadtrip in May of 2006. It’s a trip we wouldn’t be making this year. We went to a D’backs game, Flagstaff, el Cañon Grande, Meteor Crater and Walnut Canyon. Many of the places we visited (except the ballpark) had a bit of an astronomical flavor to them, the planetarium show at the science museum in Phoenix, Lowell Observatory and the Meteor Crater visitor center. This made me want to get out into a truly dark Arizona sky and do some serious stargazing. This was especially true as we were hearing a docent giving a sundown talk about how Flagstaff was the first “dark sky” city, with lighting fixtures to minimize light pollution. “But we can’t do anything about the biggest source of light pollution… The moon.” We were gone while the moon was waxing, so we’d’ve had to stay up way too late to get any dark skies. Drat.

I’ve been a bit surprised at how much my memory differs from what actually happened, and how arbitrary it seems which games I remember well and refer to the scorecard simply to check for accuracy, and which games I couldn’t tell you the starting pitchers of without the card. Common sense would say that the more exciting and entertaining games would be the ones to remember, and for the most part, that’s true. So why has my memory so spectacularly dropped the ball on this one?

Do you remember Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez spent some time with the D’backs in ’06? I sure don’t, which is remarkable, considering he was their starter that day. Memory doesn’t serve very well for the Reds’ starter either. Until I saw on the card that Dave Williams took the bump for Cincy, I could have sworn it was Aaron Harang again. The way the mind puts objects into categories seems to have failed me here. Looking at the scorecard, I see a high-scoring slugfest, with several lead changes, and a bottom-of-the-ninth comeback that came–literally–within inches of being a walk-off win for the D’backs, and yet I remember this game as being fairly dull and listless. What gives? I think it was the fans. The attendance is listed as 27,707, and it seems like there were more there, and yet for all the noise and enthusiasm they were generating, it may as well have been half that.

I remember vividly a discussion about patterns with my father. The Reds scored 4 in the third and the D’backs answered with 5 in the bottom half. When the Reds scored 4 in the sixth, Dad  proclaimed that the snakes would score 5 more, and then went on to say the 4-5 pattern would be repeated in the ninth, and the final score would be 12-15, D’backs. I disagreed, feeling that while such a score line would be very attractive and symmetrical:

004 004 004
005 005 005

this isn’t how baseball works. “Patterns rule the Universe, dude,” was his answer. I’m sure I must have been gloating when the first two Arizona batters were retired, and I guess he might have been ribbing me as they put together a rally for two runs, but the pattern did indeed break there to make it 8-7 Reds.

The only play I remember is the final play of the game. Arizona had the bases loaded with one out, and I was trying to get the fans in my section to make some noise. Just this in itself should tell me something’s funky about my memory, I must have thought the game was exciting at the time.  Nonetheless, the crowd’s apparent apathy–for a 1-out, bases-loaded, winning-run-in-scoring-position situation–had me back in my seat and sitting on my hands for the final pitch. Johnny Estrada hit a screaming line drive, right into the glove of Reds first basemen Scott Hatteberg, who then trotted over to first for the game-ending double play. Had it been hit a few inches to either side of Hatteberg, it would’ve scored two and delivered a win for the home team.

Here’s the scorecard.