I love baseball. Spending almost all of my adult life in Saint Louis, listening to the game as narrated by the luminous Jack Buck and gravel-voiced Mike Shannon, it’s hard not to. In fact, before I started blogging up the Rams, I was writing Cardinals series previews for St Louis Gametime‘s short-lived baseball mag, and then continued for Scout.com. Even though I never played much in high school, as a grown-up I started to love the simple act of getting in the cage, swinging the bat, and feeling the difference between a foul ball’s hot shiver of pain, versus the satisfying bone-setting impact of making direct contact with the spinning little hardball.
So when my daughter, age 9, decided last week to join her school’s softball team, I was delighted. We hit up Play It Again Sports for a glove, some balls, cleats and a bat, and started playing catch in the front yard. And this weekend, I introduced her to the local batting cages, where she promptly fell in love.
In between tokens, we noticed that the Cardinals game was still going on. Still scoreless, in fact. Joining a crowd of early evening fathers sons and daughters around a TV, we watched the twelfth inning of futility. We saw a two-out rally, a fortuitous catchers-interference call, and an intentional walk of the-greatest-hitter-in-baseball to load the bases for our cleanup hitter … this could be the game, right? But stepping to the plate was not the newly enchristened savior of the franchise, shiny sahib Matt Holliday, but ass-ugly elbows and beard swinging Jason Motte.
What? Was this some sort of sick joke? No, La Russa had double-switched the pitcher’s spot into the 4 hole, effectively neutering the-greatest-hitter-in-baseball. Moreover, La Russa refused to pinch hit, playing for the tie rather than going for the win. And to validate his own bad decision, he did exactly the same thing in exactly the same situation in the 14th. The game ended, mercifully, in the twentieth inning — hours after our tokens ran out — after three innings of ball thrown by non-pitchers, as players like Felipe Lopez and Joe Mather Oquendo’d their way from position to position.
How can a decision ripple out into such insanity? How can a game that thrives on its own “purity” allow such a scenario? I shook my head. And at that moment, I appreciated anew the straightforward beauty of football. While there are still chess-matches going on, coaches rarely if ever willfully neuter their own teams to such an extent. It would be like punting on a 4th and 2 late in the fourth quarter. Or substituting a cornerback for your long snapper. Or starting a raw-as-sushi sixth round draft pick at quarterback for four straight games. Or getting so stymied on offense that you ask your punter to throw a touchdown pass. Oh wait, that actually happened?
So Sunday, instead of practicing batting, we worked on pitching. I dropped into a crouch and coached my daughter into position, and promptly took a perfectly thrown cricket bowl (oh if only we were playing cricket!) off the sidewalk and into my right nut. All in all? Felt about the same as sitting through a 20-inning loss. Or a 15-loss season, for that matter. The moral? These games, these teams that we love, will unman us all.