This was an ugly, ugly game. Highlights, such as they were:
- As I sat down in the box I realized that the netting behind the backstop was lower than the already fairly low pressbox level. During the course of the game three or four foul balls came in my general direction, each time banging loudly on the metal roof or facade of the box, scaring the tuna salad out of me.
- As the National Anthem was being sung, the Pirates’ employee who seemed to be in charge of everything going on that day saw that one of the padded panels on the outfield wall had fallen down. He jumped on his walkie talkie and started stage managing. In the space of, like, 25 seconds, he had (a) dispatched a couple of members of the grounds crew to fix the wall; (b) got someone else to go tell John Russell and the umpires about the panel and to not start the game yet; (c) spotted a plastic bag floating across the field and got someone else to run out and retrieve it; and (d) watched the guy retrieve it and reminded everyone on the line to NOT walk over the pitcher’s mound if you have to go out on the field. The dude was just hyper-competent. If they could bottle whatever moxy he has and distribute it throughout the rest of the organization the Pirates wouldn’t be in nearly the dire straits they’re in these days.
- In the top of the second, Jose Tabata badly misplayed a fly ball to center, allowing the batter to circle the bases for what was ruled a single and a three base error. The next batter hit one right back out to him, he was once again turned around, the ball dropped for what was called a double simply because Tabata didn’t get close enough to even really say that he made a play on it. To be fair to Tabata, the winds were whipping terribly yesterday, but none of the other outfielders seemed to have the kind of trouble he was having.
- Carl Crawford hit a long, long home run to left centerfield. Almost landed in Tampa. Maybe he sent the ball on ahead to Yankees’ camp to get the lay of the land before he starts training there next spring. The next batter, Pat Burrell, hit a home run to the same part of the park, also a long shot. Maybe he sent the ball on ahead to Tampa too. There are a lot of senior citizen communities up that way so maybe he was scouting his 2011 spring home too.
- I watched the mascot, the Pittsburgh Parrot, entertain the fans. He’s
so good that it’s easy to forget that the original Parrot from the
1970s and early 80s was a drug mule who used to set up coke deals between Pirates players and the local dealers.
Though the writers in the box said that the Pirates’ media lunch was
good as far as those things go, I skipped it. Even if the food is
decent, these catered, chafing dish affairs remind me too much of those
rubber chicken lunches at political events I used to have to attend for
my job and those working lunches in law firm conference rooms. I went
down to the concourse and got a hot dog and a Pepsi instead. Bonus: I
talked baseball with a couple of fans who were eating too. Columbus,
Ohio is not a baseball town, and though I “talk” baseball all day with
you guys here, I don’t get a chance to chat casually and face to face
about the game that much when I’m home. This was a treat.
- Because the Rays were playing with a split squad — the rest of the team was playing the Blue Jays yesterday — the bullpen
Bobby Ramos coached third base. Between innings one time they did the
old t-shirt launch thing along the third base line. One of the shirts
misfired and landed near Ramos. He picked it up and started walking it
toward the stands. Then he put it behind his back. He did this, like,
five times, taunting the fans who soon began to boo him. Ramos had a
huge grin on his face. Any chance he had at becoming my favorite
bullpen coach was dashed, however, when he gave in and threw the shirt
into the stands. We don’t have enough heels in baseball. I think we’d
be better off with a few Mr. Fujis or Bobby Heenans.
- As the game dragged on there were a lot of substitutions. They led to near-bedlam in the pressbox. Overheard: “Jonson’s in.” “Wait, is that Dan Johnson?” “No, I think it’s Elliot Johnson.” “Too damn many Johnsons around here.”
- Top of the fourth, Sean Rodriguez pops a foul behind the plate. He audibly registers his disgust at himself. The wind whips, however, and catcher Hector Giminez can’t get it. Rodriguez then does some little nod-with-a-fist-pump thing that seemed a bit out of line. Rodriguez took the next pitch which seemed to be way inside from where I was sitting. John Hirschbeck rang him up anyway, and I can’t help but think he did so as a means of getting Giminez’s back. Not that he’d ever admit it or anything.
- Around the sixth inning the game just flew off the rails. Lots of home runs — understandable with the wind — but it was dragging in every other possible way as well. The best thing that happened during the game after the sixth: someone sent me this picture to remind me of what the Pirates were like back when they were totally cool.
- As the game drew to a close, a man in the pressbox said “I’ve been doing this for seven years, and this is the absolute worst game I’ve ever seen.” I think I have to agree with him: worst game I ever saw too. The final score was 16-15 in favor of the Rays. There was bad defense.
Nearly every count went 3-1 or 3-2, sometimes because the pitchers
didn’t have control, sometimes because Hirschbeck’s strike zone
seemed rather erratic. The game lasted three hours and forty-one
minutes and actually felt longer than that.
But here’s that epiphany I mentioned earlier this morning: I am damn, damn lucky to be able to do what I’m doing. The worst baseball game of my life was 100 times better than the best day I ever had in an office. It was awful baseball, sure, but it was baseball. In a nice, unassuming little park, with the smells of hot dogs and beer and fresh cut grass and the sounds of the bat cracking and, jumpin’ Jesus on a pogo stick, I could go on with those cliches all day.
As I drove back to Tampa, I was tired and weary and stuck in traffic. And you couldn’t peel the grin off my face.