Friday, April 23, 2010

The Boys of Spring

Charles Krauthammer and I agree on practically nothing, except our love of baseball. His latest column, an ode to his hapless Washington Nationals, is a wonderful addition to the baseball columnist cannon.

I go for relief. For the fun, for the craft (beautifully elucidated in George Will's just-reissued classic, "Men at Work") and for the sweet, easy cheer at Nationals Park.

You get there and the twilight's gleaming, the popcorn's popping, the kids're romping and everyone's happy. The joy of losing consists in this: Where there are no expectations, there is no disappointment. In Tuesday night's game, our starting pitcher couldn't get out of the third inning. Gave up four straight hits, six earned runs, and as he came off the mound, actually got a few scattered rounds of applause.

Applause! In New York, he'd have been booed mercilessly. In Philly, he'd have found his car on blocks and missing a headlight.

He also mentions how things are changing for Nats fans, and that once you start lining up major prospects and actually begin winning, the game becomes even more serious.

But now I fear for my bliss. Hope, of a sort, is on the way -- in the form of Stephen Strasburg, the greatest pitching prospect in living memory. His fastball clocks 103 mph and his slider, says Tom Boswell, breaks so sharply it looks like it hit a bird in midair. In spring training, center fielder Nyjer Morgan nicknamed him Jesus. Because of the kid's presence, persona, charisma? Nope. Because "that's what everybody says the first time they see Strasburg throw," explained Morgan. "Jeeee-sus."

But now I'm worried. Even before Strasburg has arrived from the minor leagues, the Nats are actually doing well. They're playing .500 ball for the first time in five years. They are hovering somewhere between competent mediocrity and respectability. When Jesus arrives -- my guess is late May -- they might actually be good.

They might soon be, gasp, a contender. In the race deep into September. Good enough to give you hope. And break your heart. Where does one then go for respite?

It sort of reminds me of the Braves before 1991, back when you went to the games to see the other team, and attendance was so sparse, Ted Turner would occasionally get on the PA system and invite all the .50 cent nosebleed patrons down to wherever they would like to sit (yes, .50 seats back in the 80's.).

But once you start winning, those days are over. There is nowhere to go for respite, because once bitten by the glories of winning, it becomes that much more difficult to walk away content in the "it's not whether you win or lose," cliche.

Allow me, lifelong and obnoxious Yankee fan, to provide you with an example. Yesterday, the Yanks turned a triple play for the first time in 40 years, a beautiful rhythmic play rarely seen in today's game (watch the video here).

This was then followed by a dust up between Yankees 3rd baseman Alex Rodriguez and Oakland A's pitcher Dallas Braden. Apparently, Rodriguez had to go back from 3rd to 1st after a foul ball, and on his way he ran over the pitcher's mound, a supposed unwritten breach of etiquette. Braden went ballistic, but our quote of the day comes from A-Rod:

“He just told me to get off his mound,” Rodriguez said. “That was a little surprising. I’ve never quite heard that. Especially from a guy that has a handful of wins in his career.”
LOL. Quotes like that are why people hate the perceived arrogance of the Yankees, and why, as a Yankee fan, we're at the top of the heap.

So welcome to winning, Chuck. While those days of being worst may become nostalgic in hindsight, nothing compares to the thrills and agonies of being a contender.

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