RECAP: Hundreds of fans of all ages, including “Professor Baseball” my eleven year-old baseball guru, his unstinting grandmother and myself, are waiting patiently by the rail before a Spring Training outing in Phoenix to procure the autographs of the arriving ballplayers. It is hot. And to date, the awaited ballplayers have yet to arrive.
This section should have probably gone in yesterday. You can “Cut” and “Paste” it if you want. Insert after the “Where we waited for the ballplayers” paragraph. Or enjoy it belatedly where it is.
Before locating “The Professor” and his grandma amongst the autograph-seeking throng, I stepped into the stadium’s Souvenir Emporium to purchase a commemorative t-shirt to supplement my always au courrant wardrobe. Then, as an appreciative gesture – and because of the innately generous guy that I am – I buy an Angels-branded baseball for “The Professor”, to present to any of his favorite ballplayers to sign.
Somewhat uncomfortable with my acquisitional maneuver, I meekly mumble, “I don’t know if you need this, but I got you something for them to sign.”
I should have known better. “The Professor” had come fully prepared, having brought along a ball and a bat, ready to be autographed. Requiring no further appurtenances, he instead thoughtfully handed me a pen. Apparently, the young baseball prodigy knew me better than I knew him. I had not thought about bringing a pen.
We are now passing the one-hour mark in waiting for the ballplayers or, in the context of the story I told yesterday, three “Queen Elizabeths.” It was clear that we would not be watching batting practice that afternoon; there was no longer time before the beginning of the game. (During our wait, I had learned that the two teams had actually – uncharacteristically – already taken batting practice before we were permitted into the ballpark. So instead of batting practice and autographs, it was no batting practice and a wait.
Did I mention it was hot?
Finally, about twenty minutes before game time, the players straggled into the arena, first the visiting White Sox, whom, if they desired to, would be signing autographs at the opposite end of the field, and then the Angels.
The gathering immediately came to life. There were random shouts of favorite players’ names to attract their attention. This is what we’d been waiting for. Our “Big Moment” had finally arrived.
The players unilaterally ignored us, chatting casually amongst themselves, stretching and jogging lightly to loosen up. Not a one of them looked in our direction or responded to our entreaties.
Lowering the bar, some fans directed their attentions to the arriving manager, Mike Scioscia, hoping that at least the “Skipper” – and former ballplayer – would comply.
Not a chance.
Mike was kibbitizing with a catcher – I knew he was a catcher because he was already wearing his shin guards – who’s number was “98” – the Spring Training high numbers allotted to players having little chance of making the major league squad. It appeared that the manager would rather mislead a player slated for Salt Lake City with his attentions than walk a few steps to scribble his signature on paraphernalia or extended scraps of paper for the fans.
By then, I was in quintessential “Passive-Resistance” mode, thinking, “Maybe I should sign the baseball and throw it graciously to them!” We had waited over an hour, and nobody, apparently, seemed to care.
With a single exception.
“Number 54.” (Which was also ominously high.)
For a while at least, “54” proceeded patiently down the rail, signing autographs for anyone who requested one. Finally – before he reached us – he was called away.
The ballgame was ready to begin.
It was an interesting game, greatly enhanced by my “Teacher”, who sat dutifully beside me, illuminating me to the subtleties of the game. As the pitchers warmed up, he predicted with remarkable accuracy which pitches they would be throwing before they threw them – “Fast ball”; “Slider”; “Breaking ball.”
He also informed me that, since this was a “split-squad” encounter, after the front-liners played their obligatory three or four (early Spring Training) innings, they would be replaced on the field by the third string players on the roster, the second stringers vying for roster positions in their “split squad” appearance elsewhere.
He alerted me to the coaches, relaying their “signs”, from the dugout to the third base coach, from the third base coach to the base runner. I had truthfully never noticed that before. And boy, did those signs seem complicated. And I’m a college graduate!
The contest tightened noticeably in the later innings. In fact, in the bottom of the eighth, the Angels, behind virtually the entire day, were now threatening to go ahead.
The P.A. announcer reported the name of the batter on whose onerous shoulders rested the outcome of the game.
“Now batting,” echoed the loudspeaker, “…Roger Kieschnick.”
I have this theory – easily disputable but a theory nonetheless – that in baseball, your name inevitably determines your destiny. Mickey Mantle – a “can’t miss” Hall of Famer.
The mere mentioning of his name – that’s all it took.
“Something you will never hear in the World Series”, I self-assuredly predict:
“‘It’s up to Kieschnick.’”
And as he – not surprisingly to those who believe deeply in “Namal Determinism” – took “Strike Three” in a “make-or-break” situation:
“Mighty Kieschnick has struck out.”
The defeated batter turns and trudges back to the dugout. It was only then that I notice his number:
It was “54.”
No chance whatsoever.
(Not that I didn’t feel terrible about my behavior. But what are you gonna do?)
Thank you Shelly – who gives me an intellectual workout, and shows me valuable stretches as well – Vikki – who makes the best scones west of Piccadilly Circus –
Erika – who hooks us up with our tickets, (and also invited us to a friend’s pilates salon opening whose “Picasso-caliber” demonstration made what I’m able to achieve in pilates look like crayoning) – and, as always, my indispensible “Teacher”:
May your future be as sparkling as your performance on the field.
And by the way – sorry –
I forgot to return your pen.