Wednesday, August 10, 2016

"A Play To Build A Dream On - Conclusion"

Rationalization For An “Anti-Lateness” Obsession: 

(“The guy never gives up.”)

You are late for a movie, you miss the beginning of the movie.  (Spending the rest of the evening going, “Who’s that?”)

You are late for a dinner reservation, they give your table to somebody else.  (“Remember I said we were fully booked?  Well get down here right now!”)

You are late for the theater, they make you wait in the lobby for a natural break in the action, then they lead you to your seats with a flashlight, not just to help find your seats but to expose “the people who came late” to the people who came on time.

You are late to meet people at an agreed-upon time and they think, “Didn’t they care enough to leave early enough?”  (Revealing that you did not want to come or that you feel naturally guilty about everything.)

So there are reasons; I am not crazy.  Though there is the possibility that both things are accurate.

Moving (gratefully) ahead...

We have come to Blair Field in Long Beach to watch an old friend’s grandson, an aspiring professional baseball player, participate in an event at which two hundred or so of the top prospects in the country are invited to showcase their talents in front of Major League scouts, college coaches and professional sports agents.

It is an unexaggeratedly big deal.  Not just for the players’ futures, but to have earned an invitation.  (Having been nominated by their coaches and exhibited their skills in subsequent “trials”.)

So here we are.  The (seventeen year-old) Tray’s enthusiastic cheering section:  

Grandparents Shelly and Vikki (who has been shuttling him to games and practices since he was seven), Tray’s indomitable mother and his younger brother Tyvon (thirteen, and a formidable ballplayer in his own right), a caravan of close friends accompanying them from Arizona, and proximate family members from L.A.  

Also in attendance – friends and families of the other players on the field, hoping, as we were, that the ballplayer’s gifts for the game would reveal themselves spectacularly under the spotlight.

Plus, of course, the people who matter, the agents, coaches and scouts whose studied evaluations will determine what, if anything, will come next.

As mentioned yesterday, Tray began Saturday’s – the event’s first – game on the bench.  Which means that, for a while at least, we were watching strangers play baseball, an experience not dissimilar to watching other people’s children at a ballet recital. 

There is a lack of meaningful connectedness.

Also, unique to baseball… no, let me get at it.

Top of the first inning…

The pitcher is unable throw strikes.  Which, even if you don’t know him, is excruciating to watch.  There he is, standing alone on the mound, under enormous pressure to impress, his unwelcome jitters triggering the exact opposite results than what he was hoping for, his lifelong dreams receding painfully with every pitch.

Normally, when a pitcher hasn’t “got it”, they take him out of the game.  In showcase situations, however, where the score is secondary to the individual performances, they leave him in, offering him an opportunity to redeem himself, demonstrating a gritty tenacity that, despite his overall performance, might earn the admiration of his adjudicators.

Though it takes thirty minutes, the pitcher eventually gets three outs, returning to the dugout hoping for better results in the future, when the “butterflies” are successfully behind him.

Fourth inning…

Tray finally enters the game, a natural centerfielder, designated today to play left. 

Top of the fourth?  No balls are hit in Tray’s direction.  Ditto, top of the fifth and the top of the sixth.  Bottom of the sixth, he bats for the first time, his “pop-up” explainable, in part, by the stadium’s lighting limitations, making it difficult at twilight to pick up the pitch.  He got a piece of the ball, but not enough of it.

Top of the seventh inning (of a game scheduled for seven innings)

Anxious murmuring among the faithful.  Observations that, in truth, these showcases are primarily for the pitchers whose every throw is dutifully calibrated and broken down.  It is not unusual, on the other hand, for a left fielder to play an entire game without a ball ever getting hit to him.  It happens all the time.

Almost immediately after that lament, the batter slams a rocket to left field.  You know that game – that’s a sure double.

But not to Tray.  With the batter rounding first and racing toward second, Tray scoops up the ball and guns it to the awaiting second baseman.

A heat-seeking missile of a throw – long, strong and unimaginably accurate.

The second baseman barely moves.  The laser-shot worthy of a Major Leaguer lands on a fly (without a bounce) directly into his glove.  The tag is made.  The runner is out. 

The stadium explodes, an eruption of shock, amazement and head-shaking incredulity.

“Did you see that!” is the collective reaction.  “As good as it gets”, scouts scribble furiously into their notebooks.

The “Area Code Games”, as the showcase is called, ends today, the chronicling of events still yet to be completed.  But anyone who witnessed that throw is going to remember it.

Not a bad first day. 

Not a bad day at all.

Interim Follow-Up (as of Monday):  Interested inquiries have already been received.

1 comment:

JED said...

We are blessed to be able to go to Cape Cod Baseball League games all summer. Some of the best college players from all over spend their summer here and live with host families and work in local businesses while they practice and play in a very competitive series of games. A large number (I was going to say a "huge" number but someone has ruined that word for me) of them go on to careers in Major League Baseball. The scouts and managers from MLB like the league because it uses wooden bats like the majors - among other things.

But what is nice, to me the non-sportsman, is that the pressure you describe seems to be less because they are not judged on one game or a small number of games. There are almost three months of games, practices, playoffs and an all-star game. One bad day isn't enough to ruin a kid's chance.

Your friend Ken Levine had a good career in calling baseball games. I think you could have a promising career as a sportswriter, Earl. I could smell the grass and hear the crack of the bat while reading your posts. Or is it the 'ping' of the metal bat in the Area Code Games? You've written memorable articles on hockey and on major league baseball games, too. You see things in those games that others don't and you can make it humorous, too. What could be better?