Thursday, October 27, 2005

Bayou of tears

Houston was my home for just three years, and the great State of Texas about six - one of which was when I was four years old. Houston did not change my life, and I don't now think of it as "home" or yearn to go back, though of course I miss our friends there.

But did you see those Astros? They were swept, but in stark contrast to what one of my son's classmates said about them ("They're sheer losers, dude!"), they made the Sox dig for every out and every run and every inning and every one of the four games that constituted this incredible Series. Game 2 tied up at the middle of the ninth, the Sox forced to fall back on their homefield advantage? A fourteen-inning Game 3? Seven shut-out innings in Game 4? I don't even follow baseball with any degree of devotion, but it was a great run for the Astros, as hard as it was for me to watch. (I'm an inveterate fan of the underdog, plus my family firmly believed in the "McArdle curse," which required us to leave any Cardinals game we were attending back when we lived across the river from St. Louis or risk costing the Redbirds a victory.)

Backe's pitching last night seemed to improve (from darn good to great, I should point out - what a slider he's got!) as he closed in on 100 pitches; why they took him out when they did, I don't know - he still hadn't walked anyone, though it was late at night and I didn't take note of how many pitches he was throwing per inning or how many hits or would-be hits the White Sox were hitting off him in the 7th versus the 2nd. Ensberg's stance is the weirdest thing I've ever seen on a baseball diamond, and clearly it ain't working for him, so I hope he closes it the heck up. I never did figure out the beard thing, but it made it quite a trick for me to tell the boys apart; never mind, they all looked pretty good with it. And finally, I sincerely hope that going almost all the way this year, when they had no right nor reason to expect it, will give them the gumption to take it that last step next fall.

Baseball is, to me, the best spectator sport there is. The action is easy to follow and frequently concentrated in one relatively small area; unlike football and basketball, where your seats - no matter how "good" - will yield bad views for a major portion of the game, in baseball, for the most part you know what you're getting when you buy your ticket. The strategy is accessible on levels from beginner to super-genius. Its pace is neither frenetic nor the hesitation waltz you get in football. It relies not on size or strength (recent emphasis on beefy sluggers notwithstanding) but on a magical arm or winged feet or stunning reflexes or glue in the glove, or two or more of these, and, as with a decathlete, a baseball star can be less than the best in any area and still be The Best thanks to his concatenation of traits. There's almost never blood, almost never a broken bone, yet there are opportunities to "take it for the team" by slamming into a wall in pursuit of the potential home run or by diving face-first for the plate, or, as Backe demonstrated last night, by blocking a line drive with your tender, unpadded flesh and then, without pause, picking up the ball and throwing the batter out at first - you can be a hero without risking a coma or a snapped neck.

And it makes great movies. We picked a good game as our national pastime. And that's all I have to say about that.

No comments: