Properly following pro baseball always seems to allude me as a basketball and football fan growing up in the Washington D.C. region. Once the Senators left, I suppose I could never quite recover from my baseball orphan post-traumatic stress.
It’s nothing to do with not liking the Nationals. Because I really do. They produce a consistent brand of winning and are very likable.
It’s not them. It’s me.
Each time I try and make a real season of it—I get derailed and sidetracked by various forces. The biggest challenge being the frequency of baseball games coupled with the slowness of the actual action. No matter how fresh and exciting the opening week of pro baseball is and the new season promises to be—no matter how hard I try to absorb the Zen like traditions of the game as Ken Burns has documented–I still get worn down and lose focus. And, before I know it, I have once again allowed another 4 months to go by without attending a LIVE game or really feeling like I joined in enough to feel transported.
Surely one of the funniest aspects of the slow pace of baseball must be the little fidgeting rituals that the players and staff do. For someone like my wife, who tows the line in a very old school way when it comes to spitting and compulsive fidgeting all around one’s body, the visuals are just too inappropriate to take in.
“Why does that guy keep doing that?” she will exclaim while watching a player tug and yank and spit in ways that would most certainly result in some form of consequence in the public schools.
So, as I plop down on my favorite LAZY BOY lounger in my TV room to watch the little baseball I do, I try to fidget back the best way I know how.
The game itself is an open invitation for fidgeting and fidgeters.
I find my best position with my feet elevated at just the right angle. I balance the popcorn bag between my knees and begin my own waiting game for sporadic outbursts of actual game action.
Meanwhile, I scratch every itch that seems most pressing on my body.
And I catch myself listening to the mellifluous voices of TV game announcers as they unveil ever old story and relevant baseball statistic in perfect harmony with the long-protracted gaps between plays.
On this given day, the play by play guy is in TOP FORM as he weaves a comforting, Curt Goudy kind of crackle and pop with each turn of phrase from his masterfully folky voice.
Soon I am tapping my right index finger on the wall next to my chair with regularity.
And I focus on the TV cameras that zoom in on the fidgeting battles taking place in the outfield, the pitching mound and the batting box.
It is a symphony of suspense and choreography.
The pitcher licks his tongue repetitively and the batter proceeds to tap the ground X amount of times superstitiously. Bryce Harper is particularly noteworthy for his rituals with his highly rhythmical, 3 taps of the bat around the home plate before striking his batting pose—performing it as dutifully as a devout Catholic performs the signs of the cross.
After 5 minutes watching the batter and pitcher go through strikes, foul balls, and more interminable delays—I watch the next batter in the on-deck circle. He puts a stick of gum — Wrigley’s, I believe from the close-up– in his mouth and chews it until he reaches the plate. Then he removes the wad, flips it in the air and hits it with his bat. He makes contact.
History is replete with these anomalies: When Randy Myers climbed from the infield grass to the rubber, he always did so from the back of the mound. Henry Aaron always waited until he was in the batter’s box before he put his helmet on his head. And he always used two hands, but only after he stood the bat on its barrel end and placed the handle between his thighs.
I study as much of these mannerisms as I can before the dulcet tones of this mellow Saturday afternoon, mingled with the soothing play by play announcers voice, has lulled me into a shallow sleep.
When I wake up the score is O to O and the only action I have really seen has been of the fidgeting kind. I note that the next batter obsessively tugs at the back of the neck of his uniform shirt while in the box and pirouettes on one foot after a swing and miss.
I look out into the outfield and watch the left fielder spit out a multitudinous shower of sunflower seeds. During a change of pitcher, this same outfielder throws a practice baseball into the rows of fans in the section just beyond the home run wall as a memento for a little kid.
I focus back on the batter. After a swing and miss, the next batter almost always walks forward into fair territory and then around the catcher and umpire before stepping back in. I chart this behavior for the next 6 innings.
And then there’s this other prospect just brought up from the minor league; he does a deep knee bend before stepping in, and then he holds his bat upright and stares at it momentarily as if communicating with it.
The game within the game continues: the catcher covertly conveys special pitching instructions with his fingers to the Pitcher. The Pitcher nods his head then massages his baseball under his armpit before refitting his baseball cap back tightly on to his head.
The pitcher takes the opportunity to undo his Velcro wrist straps and then fasten them back on again.
While processing this, I pick my nose and signal for my dog to sit by my feet.
Suddenly there is a stoppage. The Manager totters out on to the beautiful grassy field– looking cartoonish and out of place attired as he is in a baseball player uniform at his advanced age—and soon secret discussions are commenced with lots of head bowing and nodding.
The score is now 0-0.
Soon I am tapping my right index finger on the wall next to my chair with much less regularity. My popcorn bowl has tipped off my lap and the dog is licking it.
As the sandman comes in to bid me sleep—I make my last adjustment—arcing my lazy boy convertible to the highest position for my legs to go high and my head to go low.
While I drift off to sleep I am reminded of some distant, old ancient baseball poem that seeps back into my memory. I hear the poem being narrated by a combination of the best baseball play by play announcers in the history of the sport:
“There was ease in Casey’s manner as he stepped into his place;
There was pride in Casey’s bearing and a smile lit Casey’s face.
And when, responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat,
No stranger in the crowd could doubt ‘twas Casey at the bat.
Ten thousand eyes were on him as he rubbed his hands with dirt;
Five thousand tongues applauded when he wiped them on his
Then while the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip,
Defiance flashed in Casey’s eye, a sneer curled Casey’s lip.
And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the
“We now preempt this imminent game time POETRY action due to a deep sleep that has now settled in on the author as he drifts off completely on his LAZY BOY lounger.”