Spring. Renewal. It seems that with every passing year, replenishment of the spirit becomes a higher priority: this year, perhaps even more so, given the chaotic destruction of government, and the deterioration of civility.
One remaining constant is baseball, spring training, and the boys of summer gathering once again: the crack of the bat and the pounding of gloves in the bullpen.
The game has changed from the days of my own boyhood. Pitchers then generally went nine innings, maybe more. There were no designated hitters, few bullpen stoppers, salary arbitration, automatic walks, game clocks, ML baseball drafts, protective helmets (inside pitches were integral to the game), anti-spitball rules, instant replay challenges, and preposterous salaries (and ticket prices). “Hey, get your hot dog and cold beer, $10 each!”
Perhaps some of these adjustments are for the better. But, essentially, the game changed to remain the same and with spring, the clock is wound once again.
Our friends Cathy and John are Boston Red Sox fans, the archenemy of us New York Yankee devotees. When they asked whether I wanted to join them to see the Sox play the St. Louis Cardinals at our nearby Roger Dean Jupiter stadium, I said, sure, why not, an opportunity to scout the opposition and engage in some good-natured ribbing.
And scouting it was, as the Sox were traveling from FL’s west coast and only brought a handful of regulars. So, it was an opportunity to see some of their players of the future. It’s the same reason we have regular tickets to Class A+ minor league ball after spring training – to see the future.
The day before Cathy and John saw the Red Sox lose to the Houston Astros 10-5 at the neighboring Ball Park of the Palm Beaches in West Palm Beach. I jokingly predicted that the Red Sox might win against the Cards by the same score, and was almost right, winning 9-6. Well, at least I guessed the total number of runs correctly.
It was a sell-out, standing room only crowd. John and Cathy had obtained tickets several weeks before. When the Sox or the Yankees visit FL’s east coast from their west coast spring training facilities, which is rare, tickets are scarce. We had seats with a good view between third base and left field in the second tier. Best of all, these seats were in the shade.
It was strange to watch the two teams go through their warm up and batting practice exercises as both teams had red jerseys on. When play finally started it was hard to tell who was fielding behind a base or who was on base. I had to keep looking at the scoreboard to tell which team was at bat.
Two pitchers from their normal rotation started, Bud Norris of the St. Louis Cards and Drew Pomeranz of the Red Sox. Both left the games with injuries before they completed their allotted two or three innings, Norris because of a hamstring injury and Pomeranz because of a forearm tightness issue.
The righty Norris in action:
The lefty Pomeranz in action:
Norris got into trouble in the first inning giving up a well hit home run to one of the few Boston regulars who played, Andrew Benintendi. I managed to get a shot of Benintendi’s follow through swing as he hit that ball:
An inning later, Norris left the game after this conference on the mound:
So there were lots of hits, runs, errors in the game, making it interesting, even though it was only practice, but to see the boys of summer in the spring means some order and stability in the world. Doesn’t it?
As it is that time of year, and having loved The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, Ann bought me another “baseball novel” to read, selecting Bucky F*cking Dent by the very well known screen actor, David Duchovny. I first hesitated reading it, an actor writing a novel, perhaps just capitalizing on his fame. But, no, Duchovny is a good writer as well and I’ll give him credit for what I would describe as a “late coming of age” novel, a son confronting his father after years of estrangement.
Who knew, the dad and son are really very much alike. Problem is the dad is dying and as he’s an ardent Bosox fan, the son (ironically subsisting as the ace Peanut thrower vendor at Yankee stadium) moves in with his father and conspires (with his father’s friends) to keep him away from the fact that the Sox are slipping in the standings as the 1978 season comes to an end. They censor current newspapers and run VCR tapes of previous Red Sox wins over NY, Ted knowing his father, Marty, wouldn’t remember them. In the end there is the end, Bucky f*cking Dent winning the AL pennant for the NYY with his home run over the green wall in the final game of the season. By then, father and son have become reconciled.
It’s light reading, poignant and funny at times and a page turner, not that there is a lot of baseball therein, but I was very curious about how the novel would resolve and Duchovny writes good dialogue, almost like a screenplay, which, I recall, this novel started out as such. As a baseball novel and as a noteworthy piece of literature, it pales next to Harbach’s The Art of Fielding. Duchovny’s work is baseball “lite.”
But still, it’s my era and I’ll never forget that moment in Paris -- Ann and I happened to be there when the Sox and the Yankees faced off each other at Fenway on Oct 2, 1978. Back then, no Internet, and needless to say no coverage of American baseball anywhere and so we had to await the next day’s edition of the International Herald Tribune to learn the glorious news of the Dent’s unexpected heroism, and at Fenway no less. I remember Ann and I dancing in the streets of Paris, a strange sight, but Parisians take those things in stride: “ces Américains fous.”