Down on the Farm: Opening day
Another baseball season begins with nobody, including myself, expecting much of our Minnesota Twins.
The satellite dish company sends a nice letter every three days urging me to hook the dish back up for a reduced rate. If they had given me the same reduced rate last August, I might have made it through the Twins dismal season without disconnecting. But two dollars a day to watch a team that wins once every three days? Not a bargain.
This year, I am going to wait until the Twins put together a winning streak before reconnecting. I have been duped too many times before.
When I tell my fellow Twins fans, mostly retired, my plans, they look a bit disappointed. These hardy fans take baseball seriously only as a way to pass time. The games are a part of their rhythm of life, win or lose.
I admire the devoted fan’s ability to find baseball useful, even beautiful, even if their team’s starting pitching has been the worst in the league for two straight years—or if their team hasn’t won a title in a century.
I watch baseball, not to pass time, but to see a slice of excellence, to watch a story unfold, to see athletes triumph over adversity.
If your starting pitchers routinely give up six runs in five innings, there is no story there. No excellence.
True, Joe Mauer comes up to bat every three innings and does his act: He watches strike one pass with boredom, sniffs at strike two as if it is of minor interest, then takes strike three right down the middle––only to have it called a ball because if the great Joe Mauer takes a third strike, the umpire figures it must have been a ball.
Finally, Mauer picks a fastball out of the catcher’s mitt and strokes it to left field to go two-for-three. Again.
Yet, even Mauer’s fussy cat act at bat seems without purpose if you’re down by five in the eighth without any power hitters down the line-up to knock him home.
Older Twins’ fans like myself watched elegant Rod Carew win batting titles for all those years in the 1970s on losing teams. Carew, like Mauer, was what they call a “pure hitter,” somebody who makes an art out of the brute act of whacking a baseball with a club.
Loquacious 1970s umpire Ron Luciano told a story about Carew. With Luciano behind the plate, Carew, like Mauer so often does, watched two strikes pass without showing interest. A third pitch came in, a high fastball. Luciano thought it would break down like the first two and started to call a strike before the ball sailed past Carew chin-high.
Luciano knew he blew the call as his arm raised into the air. But courtly Sir Rodney didn’t argue. He just turned and walked back to the dugout, deep in thought. Two innings later, Carew came to bat again.
“Sorry about that third strike, Rodney,” said the ever-friendly Luciano as Carew settled into the batter’s box. “I blew that one.”
“Oh, don’t worry about it!” Carew said. “I misjudged the first two pitches.”
Yet, for all his excellence, elegance and dignity, Rod Carew never played on a team that won a World Series.
The question arises: Is it really important to win a World Series? Or is baseball all about the daily grind, the ups and downs of a long season, the fleeting moments of excellence, the great catch, the fluke no-hitter, the massive home run by an aging slugger, the two-week hitting binge by some young buck just up from the minors?
I don’t understand the game of cricket, but I do know that “test matches,” as cricketers call their games, last for three days. Players play eight hours per day, with several breaks for tea, and after the twenty-four hours the whole thing is usually declared a draw.
Yet fans eat it up, feast on the statistics, watch the match on TV in massive numbers, and even riot if something, perhaps a “sticky wicket,” happens that “is not cricket.”
These are fans of a game who look beyond winning and losing to the poetry of the game.
Unlike many of my neighbors here in the northland, I haven’t reached that Zen state with our hapless Minnesota Twins. When I do, I’ll hook up the dish.