8-?-2

Don DeLillo has a great line in “Underwold” describing how, at a night baseball game, under the lights, “the players seem completely separate from the night around them.”

Something in excess of a quarter of a century ago, Lissa and I went to baseball games while we were falling in love, and we’ve been going ever since. It’s an odd thing, because neither of us are huge sports fans. We just love going to ballgames together.

We lived in South Pasadena, which is just up the freeway from Dodger Stadium, and Lissa had this great secret parking space that I won’t tell you about, because we might go back. I thought she was so cool, because she had a secret Dodger Stadium parking space. We’d go early enough to park there for free, because we didn’t have a lot of money, and we’d walk in and sit in the way upper deck behind home plate, the red seats, and scarf hot dogs for dinner. Or we’d sit in the better seats when I had a crack at the free tickets I sometimes got at work.

When we were moving to Albuquerque, we left Nora (she was two) with Lissa’s sister Ginnie and flew in for a weekend to find an apartment. We’d nailed it down by Saturday night, so Sunday afternoon we went out to Duke stadium to catch a ballgame. If you’ve never seen baseball in Albuquerque, you’re missing one of the sport’s great treats. The stadium faces the Sandia Mountains, and you can watch baseball or just sit and gaze quietly into the desert. Back then, the Dukes were the Dodgers’ farm team, so there was a sweet transition in our baseball life.

We end up at the ballpark all the time these days, not because we’re huge fans of what are now known as the Albuquerque Isotopes, but because we love the idle pace of a night watching those players, separate from the night around them. The ‘Topes, our team today, is the Dodger farm team again, so a certain symmetry has been restored.

Minor league baseball is different from major league ball, but it has a joy all its own. The players are often very good, but sometimes not quite. There’s a quirky unpredictability about it.

Saturday night we watched the ‘Topes play the Nashville Sounds. In the fourth, the ‘Topes’ first two hitters, second baseman Luis Maza and third baseman Hector Luna, both singled. Left fielder Dee Brown came to the plate with runners on first and second and hit a long drive to deep center field.

Standing at second, Maza froze, waiting to make sure the center fielder would not catch the ball. Luna, a base behind him, had no such caution, and broke immediately, so that by the time the ball fell safely just beyond the Nashville center fielder’s grasp, Luna had caught up to the runner ahead of him, and the two-person train took off, Luna rounding third base just a couple of strides behind Maza.

It was one of those baseball plays that seems to play out in slow motion, where you’re not quite sure where to look – Maza and Luna barreling for home, the throw coming in to the relay man (The shortstop? I’m still not sure.) who turns and fires to home.

The throw beat the two runners by a good ten feet, so you’ve got what I can only assume was a bemused Nashville catcher standing there while not one but two baserunners bore down on him. All he had to do was hang onto to the ball, apply tag one and tag two, which he did. The strangest double play I’ve ever seen in my many years of watching baseball.

I’m not sure how to properly score it, but I’ve got an “8-?-2” for both Maza and Luna on my score sheet. It was, for sure, one of the most entertaining plays I’ve ever seen, but I probably say that every time we go out to the ballpark.

I was Twittering later with fellow scribe Steve Terrell, who it turns out was also at the game, about the play.

Me: “It’s the charm of Triple A ball. Some great baseball, plus endless surprise.”

Said Terrell: “AAA ball is the punk rock of baseball.”

We sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and do the YMCA dance with the Village People (“the Gay Song“!). We cheer the latest addition to AAA schtick, a little girl named Sophie who sweeps off the bases once a night between innings and swats the home plate umpire on the butt with her broom while Cyndi Lauper sings “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” over the PA. It was a hit in 1983, the year Lissa and I fell in love.

8 Comments

  1. I was at this game as well, I think it was the fourth or fifth game that I saw this season. I’m going to see one on Thursday as well (Manny Ramirez bobblehead night!).

    Isotopes Stadium is incredibly fun to go to — they have great food, a great atmosphere and the team is actually pretty decent.

    Though my friend was mad because when he was in L.A., he went to see the Dodgers play the Cardinals, and Charlie Haeger was pitching for the Dodgers — the same Charlie Haeger that we saw pitch for the Isotopes three weeks previous.

  2. Well done sir. Well done. Sacramento has a nice field with a beautiful view of downtown and the Sierra beyond, supplemented by earnest young men playing their *sses off to play in the Show in Oakland. Much better than egotistic millionaires, for sure.

    I have gone to only one MLB game since the ’94 strike, to say goodbye to Tiger Stadium at the last home game. Well, two now as I agreed last weekend to go to one with a younger family member of the better half who needed time with me for some reason and how do you say no to that?

    We stood behind home plate in the shade escaping a 97ยบ day and watched ‘The Freak’ (Lincecum) and the Rockies’ young horse, Jiminez struggle to throw enough heat and curves over the plate to win for their team. And this old pitcher had all the feelings and memories flood back and for a while all was right with the world. Something about the geometry and the green and the energy, and I could even see the tree I planted over the 415 marker…

    So thanks for helping the recall this morning John. Keep doing what you’re doing to make the muse come by.

    Best,

    D

  3. Great post. The way the lights shine on the field reminds me of being a kid.

    My friends and I used to sneak over to a softball field at Travis Air Force Base when we were 14 or 15. The field had lights, and the power switch was accessible.

    We had so much fun playing softball and baseball late at night. The way the lights shine only on the field makes you feel like you’re in this special place, apart from the rest of the night.

    Niki, Sage and I are going to Thursday’s ‘Topes game.

  4. I’m late to the discussion. Apologies.

    First, a lovely piece of writing, John. Beautiful for lots of reasons, not the least of which being that it could be written only with baseball as the backdrop. It is the most social game we have, the only one given to love stories.

    Second, on Friday night (8/29) Liz and I sat in seats one row from the field behind home plate. (A friend offered them; we accepted.) She’d never sat that close to the field before, let alone that close behind home plate. If you’ve never played baseball, it’s the perfect place to get a feel for the game, for it’s speed, its sounds, its small intricate details.

    It was a wonderfully audible moment, identifying a pitch by the sound it made when it hit the catcher’s glove — the explosive Whop! of a fastball detonating in the catcher’s mitt, the softer sound of a 76 mile an hour change of pace, sneaking its way almost silently into the glove, the in-between pop of a slider, not quite as loud as the fastball, nothing as soft as a change, something with an identity problem maybe.

    And then, when a batter gets good wood on the ball … well, there is no sound like that sound.

    Of course, Liz was the one to identify the true uniqueness of our position. The ‘Topes leadoff hitter stood in the on-deck circle in the bottom of the first, swinging the weighted bat, than his own, stretching, smacking imaginary fastballs into a power alley, watching the pitcher warm up, gauging the ball as it left his hand and headed home.

    A soft breeze came up, cool and light on our faces. Liz said, “My God! I can smell his after shave. Not bad, either.”

    One more Triple AAA moment. Someone on the field tossed a ball to the bat boy sitting a few feet from us. He juggled it, lost control and it dribbled into the seats. He shrugged, gave up on it and turned around in his folding chair, facing the field. After all, the unwritten law is the unwritten law.

    But this isn’t the big leagues with its Darwinian demands on survival. This is different territory. A little kid sitting near us, about five years old, picked up the loose ball rolling near his feet, walked over to the bat boy, tapped him on a startled shoulder, held out the ball and said, “You dropped this.”

  5. First, a lovely piece of writing, John. Beautiful for lots of reasons, not the least of which being that it could be written only with baseball as the backdrop. It is the most social game we have, the only one given to love stories.

    Second, on Friday night (8/29) Liz and I sat in seats one row from the field behind home plate. (A friend offered them; we accepted.) She’d never sat that close to the field before, let alone that close behind home plate. If you’ve never played baseball, it’s the perfect place to get a feel for the game, for it’s speed, its sounds, its small intricate details.

    It was a wonderfully audible moment, identifying a pitch by the sound it made when it hit the catcher’s glove — the explosive Whop! of a fastball detonating in the catcher’s mitt, the softer sound of a 76 mile an hour change of pace, barely sneaking its way almost silently into the glove, the in-between sound of a slider, not quite as loud as the fastball, nothing as soft as a change, something with an identity problem maybe.

    And then, when a batter gets good wood on the ball … well, there is no sound like that sound.

    Of course, Liz was the one to identify the true uniqueness of our position. The ‘Topes leadoff hitter stood in the on-deck circle in the bottom of the first, swinging the weighted bat, than his own, stretching, smacking imaginary fastballs into a power alley, watching the pitcher warm up, gauging the ball as it left his hand and headed home.

    A soft breeze came up, cool and light on our faces. Liz said, “My God! I can smell his after shave. Not bad, either.”

    One more Triple AAA moment. Someone on the field tossed a ball to the bat boy sitting a few feet from us. He juggled it, lost control and it dribbled into the seats. He shrugged, gave up on it and turned around in his folding chair, facing the field. After all, the unwritten law is the unwritten law.

    But this isn’t the big leagues with its Darwinian demands on survival. This is different territory. A little kid sitting near us, about five years old, picked up the loose ball rolling near his feet, walked over to the bat boy, tapped him on a startled shoulder, held out the ball and said, “You dropped this.”

  6. Enjoyed this very much, John.

    Mary Frances and I would go see the Isotopes play when we lived near UNM. It was a leisurely walk to the stadium from Sycamore Street. She was not a huge baseball fan, but enjoyed the games.

    I still enjoy major league baseball games but have become partial to minor league ones. There is something special about minor league games. Maybe it’s the hokey promotions, the cheap seats, or the 17-year-old Latino players wondering what they are doing in places like Myrtle Beach, SC (catch the Class A Pelicans) or the Quad Cities (go ahead, name all four).

    Whatever it is, thanks.

Comments are closed.