I miss baseball. I miss the sounds of the game: vendors selling beer, the crisp echo of batting practice, the constant hum of a packed stadium. I miss the smells of baseball: slightly wet grass, the aged leather of a ten-year-old glove, IPA’s and mustard under your nose. More than anything, I miss the sights of it all: dust settling after a clean pop-up slide, a bead of sweat hanging off the pitcher’s nose as he shakes off the sign, managers furiously chomping seeds in a tight game.
We’ve now gone almost a month past Opening Day and still no baseball is on the horizon. Spring training shut down March 12th and now we are bracing for an entire year without baseball. No three-foot red ropes, no sneaking down to the nice seats, not even any peanuts and crackers jacks. As our internal clocks get more and more out of whack, it pains one to remember exactly where we should be right now. So as the rain rolls into the Pacific Northwest, I’m going to pretend today was a rain-out and wonder about what tomorrow could bring.
Close your eyes.
Picture Nolan Arenado kicking dirt back and forth next to third base as he awaits the next batter. Start at his shoes, black, scuffed. Then look at his pants, pin-striped and baggy. Swivel around him and notice his batting glove hanging out of his back pocket. (When was the last time you saw a big leaguer do that?)
Picture his jersey and the black “28” under the “Rockies” across his chest. Yes he is still on the Rockies. Yes I know, they did shop him just 11 months after signing him to an eight-year $260 million deal. No, they didn’t add any big pieces this offseason. No, he hasn’t officially requested a trade.
Now make your way up to his patchy, grizzled beard and picture the sweat building on his brow so he has to take off his hat and wipe it away. He does, and what do you notice? A Josh Donaldson-esque mullet. The hair style unofficially commandeered by baseballers across all levels. It’s no Charlie Blackmon or John Kruk, but my god it’s immaculate. No haircut looks better with a ball cap over it than a mullet. And what athlete could better represent business in the front, party in the back, than a ball player.
Keep your eyes closed. We’re going deeper.
We’re in Texas. The new Globe Life Field is completed and the Rangers are taking the field in their also new, but retro, powder blue uniforms. Do not focus on the fact that every team is now obsessed with powder blue uniforms. Focus on the players skipping over the foul line chalk, spikes piercing the perfectly manicured dirt on their way to their positions. The powder blue of the jerseys pops under the hot Texas summer sun, but they aren’t wearing pants. They look more like powder blue jammers kids used to wear for swim meets. The entire team are wearing their pants up to their mid thighs, except Rougned Odor, who is at second with his fully unbuttoned jersey tucked into his jock strap.
Steady your breathing.
The pitcher grabs the rosin and a white cloud plumes down on the mound as he tosses and squeezes the bag. He hasn’t even thrown the first pitch and he’s already sweating through his jersey. He reaches under his armpit? Then takes the sign, goes into his wind up and fires a first pitch strike, painting the outside corner. A few pitches later he does the same thing, hand in the armpit, take the sign, strike. He throws his arms and shrugs his shoulders briefly, adjusting his jersey. In an instant we see a brown pit in his underarm. Tar. It’s 96 degrees and the next pitch sails over the batter’s head. The pitcher double taps the armpit before the next pitch and K’s the batter. The batter stares at the pitcher; the whole clubhouse stares at the pitcher. The pitcher sweats more. Another tap on the armpit and the opposing manager comes out of the dugout. A quick word with the ump and they approach the mound. The umpire motions for the pitcher to lift his arm. The pitcher obliges, revealing the big brown stain. The ump tosses the pitcher, the first tar incident of the year.
Don’t leave me. The game continues.
It’s the bottom of the ninth. The fans have inched down, row by row, except a few prideful season ticket holders perched up high amongst the birds on their 35th row thrones. The home team is down one. The fans cling to hope and their last beers, wanting them both to last. Some beers come in tall cans, others come in cups that seem to perspire. The moment is now or never. In the blink of an eye two outs have passed. A pinch runner stands on first talking to the base coach. The backup catcher steps up to the dish, knocks the dirt off his cleats with the tip of his bat, looks ups and leans back.
He steps out. Catches his breath. Looks to the crowd. Steps back in. He’s ready. The first pitch comes in and he tags it foul, bouncing hard into the rolled up tarp. A fan lunges for the ball, it ricochets off his shoulder into deep right field as he helplessly falls face first onto the field. He’s helped up back to his seat, though it’s clear he has no idea where he is.
The players reset. The second pitch comes in. The end of the bat connects with the ball, lifting it high into the lights. It carries toward the fence, hangs, and tails foul into the crowd. Twelve fans designate its landing spot by reaching their hands high and looking anywhere but at the ball. The ball skims a fan’s hat, crashes off of his neighbor’s seat and bounces into the next section where a 42-year-old man outhustles a 6-year old girl to the ball as it dribbles down the stairwell. He proudly thrusts the ball high and grins, completely unaware of the little girl right behind him.
The game goes on. The pitcher stares down. The batter chokes up. Pausing in the stretch, the white noise of the stadium deafens, the pitcher moves to the plate. The ball meets the bat on the label and soars. The batter half runs, half watches the ball fly over the right fielder. The fielder backs up, puts his hand behind him to feel the wall. The ball is coming down and he bends at the knees and jumps. Into his mitt, a fan places his beer and catches the ball. Beer splashes over the right fielder’s face. The fan triumphantly raises his arms and embraces the roar of the stadium as if he just won the game. He pulls the ball from his beer, pumps it high in the sky and then pounds the rest of his beer through the broken plastic cup, the vast majority of his Miller Lite going down his shirt and on his date sitting beside him. The right fielder stands in disbelief, waiting for divine intervention. While the crowd roared, the umpires gathered together. They break their huddle; the home-plate ump takes two steps forward, points to the spot, and signals out. Game over.
Fans go 0-3 on the night.
You will slowly leave the stadium now. When I count down from three you will open your eyes and be back at your desk. It’s possible your boss is standing over your shoulder now. But you won’t care, because you were at a ball game.