The Campbell River Tyees were winners at the recent 11U AAA Tier 2 Baseball Championships – no mean feat. It’s hard to win at any level, but beating the rest of the field at a provincial competition is impressive. It’s certainly never predictable.
There is something odd about baseball. Comedian George Carlin had a famous routine depicting baseball as how America likes to see itself, whereas football is closer to what it really is.
Some hate baseball, some treat it with religious fervour, even with steroid scandals. It’s a sport that could inspire W.P. Kinsella to write tales of wonder or evoke poetic essays from a former commissioner, Bart Giamatti (father of actor Paul). It can be deadly slow and seems like it will never end.
I’m a Cards’ fan, but, man, could former manager Tony La Russa ever drag out an inning with his endless pitching changes!
I’ve watched baseball in Cuba, sat in the confines of Nat Bailey, hidden in the concourse of Safeco to stay cool during a blazing afternoon and huddled up in the Wrigley bleachers on a drizzly night when the wind can guarantee no one is hitting any homers. It can punish fans with the elements, or unending tedium, or crushed hopes.
Ask any Red Sox fan about that last one, at least prior to 2004 when the Bosox finally ended the Curse of the Bambino – otherwise known as most of the 20th century.
Sometimes, baseball can astonish. Case in point: the end of 2012 World Series. To the uninitiated, the way the series ended – on a called third strike – seems humdrum. In that final game, the San Francisco Giants and Detroit Tigers were tied going into extra innings.
The Giants took a one-run lead in the top of the 10th, and in the bottom, they sent out Sergio Romo, their makeshift closer, for the save. I never pitched, but over the years, I’ve learned pitching is almost a sport in itself.
Romo got the first two batters and had to face Miguel Cabrera, the game’s most feared hitter at that time. I should point Romo, unlike most closers, lived on breaking balls and had no blazing fastball in his arsenal.
Anyway, Romo got out ahead 2-0, so logic dictates that he, as a rare closer with looping curves and sliders rather than fastballs, should throw a pitch anywhere but the centre of the plate, where one of the greatest hitters of the modern era could tie up the game again with one swing. Cabrera had already hit one that game.
What should’ve happened is not what happened though. Finally, on a 2-2 count, catcher Buster Posey called for another slider, Romo’s best pitch, but the closer shook off the signal and threw a “fastball” right down Main Street. The ball sailing straight into the catcher’s mitt, and all Cabrera could do was stand there stunned, along with everyone not wearing Romo’s jersey, at the audacity of what the closer had pulled off.
As a New York Times article said of Romo, “He believed that he might be able to catch the slugger by surprise.”
That’s an understatement because, as I’ve said, the last pitch you’d expect was a sub-90 mph “fastball” in the centre of the plate. Out of sheer surprise, I think I uttered some expletive I can’t repeat here, which was probably the same phrase going through Cabrera’s mind, though en español.
If the moment lacked the majesty of a Joe Carter series-winning homer, it underscored the strange beauty of a sport in which so much time can pass between plays that it seems like the game might only exist as some figment of people’s imaginations.
It’s no wonder then it can inspire myth and poetry, as much as it can inspire a group of Campbell River kids stepping up to the plate at the provincials.