Press Room Banter
Monday, July 27, 2009
Hm," I thought to myself. "Something is wrong here."
Beyond his uncanny resemblance to Jason Schmidt, the away team's right fielder looked old enough to be the father of his teammates. He stood in the batter's box like a man who hadn't played baseball in 10 years, stepping apprehensively away from incoming pitches. He had a beer gut.
Without swinging the bat he worked a walk and, a few batters later, came around to score. As he crossed the plate, he threw down his batting helmet, face red and shiny with sweat, and said, "I'm too old for this shit!"
Halfway back to the dugout, he turned his head back toward the tiny collection of fans in attendance. The initial anger was fading out of his eyes and he almost cracked a smile as he said, "I'm definitely going to have a beer when I get home."
This was the point at which I asked myself: What the hell am I watching?
Across the nation, summertime means summer baseball leagues for hundreds of collegiate ballplayers. Elite leagues like the one in Cape Cod give the best talent in the country a venue to show off their wares in front of scouts and increase their draft stock.
But the game I'd stumbled into at Evans Diamond-between the "hometown" San Jose Seals and the visiting Stockton Glory-had no scouts. There were maybe 20 people in attendance. And I was the only one, except for a few girls sitting behind me who sounded suspiciously (and disturbingly) like Glory groupies, not related to someone on the field.
The Seals and the Glory-members of the almost-unheard of Sierra Baseball League-probably weren't there to play for a future in professional baseball. The league's most recognizable alumni is Los Angeles Angels pitcher Brian Fuentes. You can bet that few of the current players will be drafted someday.
It's undoubtedly an organization with little prestige, and I got the feeling Sierra Baseball is indeed a second-class citizen within a second upon arriving at the game. No one had bothered to turn on the Evans Diamond scoreboard so it was impossible to discern the inning or the score unless you were keeping track yourself. Foul lines were nonexistent, and the grass was patchy and brown. San Jose didn't get its jerseys until the third inning.
It all sounds like a joke, and this next sentence will read even more like one: It was one of the best sporting events I've ever been to.
I felt like I was watching a group of neighborhood kids banding together for an impromptu game in the street before they ran home to happy, suburban dinners. Maybe it was because they were so ragtag-their sizes ranged from big, pudgy schoolyard bully to tiny kid picked last in gym class.
The childlike atmosphere didn't end there. In the San Jose dugout, someone was bouncing around a marbled green kick ball, the kind you find by the dozen in those metal cages in grocery stores. Another group of players was throwing baseballs at each other in a mad juggling contest. A pitcher was warming up in the bullpen, but nobody noticed or cared or even watched to make sure the pitcher wasn't taken out by a heat-seeking foul ball.
At the end of the game, I didn't know what the final score was. I didn't know why Stockton's coach was wearing a Bluetooth in his ear like he was expecting a call from the front office of the Yankees ("Yes, Mr. Steinbrenner, I'd be happy to skipper your team. See ya, kids!"). All I knew was that this was competitive baseball stripped down to its bare essentials. Two umpires, nine players (or eight and a coach in the case of the Glory), and a field. And I liked that.
There was a boy, probably two or three years away from high school, pressed against the screen behind home plate. Before every pitch, he turned excitedly to his dad and told him what he was thought was coming. He squashed his face against the netting to try to see the catcher's signs, eyes big and full with anticipation.
He probably didn't realize the right fielder was a coach. Didn't mind that San Jose played the first three innings in T-shirts. Barring something unusual, the players on the field were likely near the end of their playing careers. But why should it matter? For that boy, it was just baseball.
It was for me too.
Turn on the scoreboard at Evans with Katie at email@example.com.
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