Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Shot Heard Round the World

Bobby Thomson... up there swingin'... He's had two out of three, a single and a double, and Billy Cox is playing him right on the third-base line... One out, last of the ninth... Branca pitches... Bobby Thomson takes a strike called on the inside corner... Bobby hitting at .292... He's had a single and a double and he drove in the Giants' first run with a long fly to center... Brooklyn leads it 4-2... Hartung down the line at third not taking any chances... Lockman with not too big of a lead at second, but he'll be runnin' like the wind if Thomson hits one... Branca throws... [audible sound of bat meeting ball]
There's a long drive... it's gonna be, I believe...HEEEY-OH!!!'' 

As you may be able to tell, I love numbers and equations - carry the 3 to the C, balance the S and voila - molar balance!  I think it all started with baseball.  The timeless pastime.  When America was new and ignorance was bliss, simply playing a game of theque, la balle au baton or the later evolved, Gaelic game Rounders, baseball involved all the blissful disregard for your surrounds as any good pastime could.   

With such a beautiful pastime dedicated to the outdoors, we felt invincible.  And when we feel invincible, we seek challenges - you think you're better than me?  Oh we'll see....  
Statistics started it all.  I nearly flunked out of statistics in school.  It was partly due to the early class time, and also partly due to 'future-telling' aspect to it all.  I didn't want to know the future, or what the likelihood or probability of a distribution analysis tells me - I don't get it now and I didn't get it then.  I don't think I ever want to understand it.  But numbers I do like.  Baseball statistics I do like.  RBIs, RISP, OBPS - all these statistics to try to be able predict the future.  A gambler's wet dream.  
I fell into the baseball statistical dream - I collected cards, compared stats and marveled in the capability of a grown man reacting so fast that he could hit a 98 mph fastball into the heavens...
First Pitch
You dig in, eye down the pitcher - it's just you and him.  No one around you.  You've got to focus on his release point, is he throwing a curveball this time?  I hope it's not a change-up - fuck it, i'm gearing up for a fastball, crap here it comes get ready....And in a sudden rush of senses, the world around you opens up.  You hear the crack of the bat, the cheer of the crowd and as if a lifetime has just passed, the thousands of fans strong, stand up to their feet.   "Run you fat sonuva bitch! Run"   the crowd bellows in a strange unison.  You dig your feet in further, round first base and you are as attentive and fast as a Gazelle escaping from it's prey...  you can smell third base.  As you touch second, you can hear the crowd roar louder - they feed you unnatural portions of adulation and praise - run faster!  You peek through the corner of your eye to see that the throw from the outfield was accurate and on pace - this is gonna be a close one!!!  You see your target, your mentor, your trust is in sight - your coach!  He's yelling at you too, and with all of the thousands of voices, his is the only one you hear now - DIVE!!!  You leap from your feet, flying like superman - the Great Corrupted Rose, into third base - falling face first into the soft earth - you taste the dirt and dust but keep your concentration - blindly feeling for that safe haven - third base.  You feel a sharp 'tag' on your shoulder, with a vicious bite to dislocate, but you first felt the sweet touch of third base.  The dust settles amongst the war zone, the crowd on the edge of their seats waiting for the Gladiator's judgement.  Out of the panic and chaos, a voice bellows: SAAAAAYYYYFFFEEE!!!  The crowd cheers.  You dust yourself off.  The adrenaline still pumping - you are the hero of the moment.
I loved baseball.  I don't anymore.  In the midst of rising revenue and popularity, immediately following the season which saw the World Series winner come from a team that calls home outside of the U.S. for the second consecutive year, a labour strike happened.  The Montreal Expos were having their best season in franchise history, but the players locked the doors.  No fans, no sport, no adulation, no dice.  It all stopped.  Over what?  Money of course.  Some collusion and closed door politics of soon-to-be commissioner Bud Selig.  
Rounding First
The strike cancelled the first world series since 1904.  For nearly 90 years, these players and owners and fans got along to cheer together.  And now that was destroyed.  The next year, after an earthquake in L.A., a genocide in Rwanda, and an aircrash in Pittsburgh, and in the midst of tragedy in Oklahoma on April 19, 1995, a nation forgave it's beloved past time.  Stadiums were re-opened, loyalties renewed.  Baseball was back - and seemingly better.

Injected with Cupid's Arrow
Born July 2, 1964 in Havana, Cuba, Jose Canseco found his way out of his native country, and into the land of the free, the United States of America.  After some education in Miami, Canseco was drafted right out of highschool by the Oakland A's.  After some time in the minor hitting 500ft "looters", Canseco burst into the MLB scene - hitting 33 HRs and 117 RBI's - amazing statistics for a 22 year old!  A year later, his close friend and co-patriate in the Bash Brothers, Mark McGwire, the great American Lumberjack, burst onto the scene - clobbering 49 HRs and shattering the rookie record.   

At the time of the healing, Canseco was struggling to revive his career after injuries due to knuckleheadedness (like coming into pitch the 8th inning and blowing your shoulder out), but McGwire, was just starting to find his groove - clobbering 39 HRs in 319 AB - quite a feat.  Baseball was back!  
Rounding Second
Pressing the fast forward button 4 years later - and after the mourned the death of a princess, hunger in the Sudan - earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, cyclones and hurricanes around the world - we're back - baseball again.  The glorious HR Chase.  For decades, Roger Maris' record stood there as a timeless piece of art.  Maris broke the record in a mystical fashion.  He was in the proverbial 'zone' for an entire season.  Breaking the great Babe Ruth's record.  *61.  McGwire, in the season of 1998 - was on such a pace as well - and what a pace it was.  All told, he hit 70 - shattering another record.  
At the same time of this year, whispers were starting to roar - what is androstenedione?  Hmm... a steroid precursor.  Why would McGwire need a steroid precursor?  
Tripping on Third Base
Fast forward 3 years later - the siege at Columbine - Flight 990 fell- Y2K crazed us - and the great magic before our very eyes - Barry Bonds.  I remember I had his trading card when he first came into the MLB.  Skinny kid, slender, you could see he was fit, like he could run like a gazelle and throw like a catapult.  But in 2001 he was different.  He had a mechanical arm attached from his right forearm to his bicep, wrapped around his elbow.  His neck was bigger, so was his head, so were his legs, so were his arms, so were his veins, so were his eyes, so was his hunger.  He was chasing down a record - the fabled story of McGwire's past.  One October night - Barry Bonds launched #73 into the air - the crisp Autumn air accepted his gifts and charted a path to the heavens.  
Slidding into Home
One final stop on this trip to heaven - 2007 - Gorrila killing ebola was the new plague - Mosque bombings were happening in Iraq, Russians were being poisoned, Saddam was executed, aids feverishly devoured parts of Africa and the U.S. troops surged - Virginia Tech cried and Larry King interviewed Paris Hilton - and Barry Bonds was immortalized.  In a sport that brought racial segregation to it's knees with the introduction of Jackie Robinson, Barry Bonds could now be classified as that.  Or could he.  By 2007, Canseco had released a book, pointing the needle of rampant steroid use across the plains of America's pastime.  Eloquent in it's design, is depicted a story and timeline - click on the As It Happened Tab.
Barry is being blamed.  Barry is being bruised.  Barry is being battered.  Barry brought this upon himself.  
Alex will be the white knight.  Alex was a teenage phenom - and continues to be an adult phenom.  Hyped as the next latin american hero to challenge the battered and bruised ego of baseball, Alex was going to save it all.  He was squeaky clean - not too big, not too small -  the perfect specimen for baseball - that was Alex.  
He's Out!
We now sit at 2009 - second month, February.  Alex Rodriguez has tested positive for steroid use.  For baseball, this is a dark day.  For the U.S. has lost it's way in it's pastime.  Baseball is lost.  Salaries are too high.  Drug use is rampant.  Collusion of greed is occurring.  And Pharmaceutical companies continue to break Laws in generating these illegal substances.  If anything that the U.S. Congress should step into to do, is to expose this rampant corruption in baseball.  There is something wrong when baseball's new hero had to inject himself with corruption.  This is wrong.  
Or Safe?
I want to feel that crack of the bat riding up my arm again - I want to breathe the grass and sun and drink the beer that baseball defines.  I loved it once, I can love it again.  

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