Saturday, July 03, 2004

Child Pitch

Baseball is a game passed on from fathers to their children, and last night, I began to do my part. The missus and I took the youngest member of the Shallow Center household to Citizens Bank Park for her first game, the opener of a three-game set against the Orioles.

In my mind's eye, the scenario would unspool in classic fashion: My daughter, instantly enraptured by the poetic storyline unfolding before her eyes, peppers me with questions. Her curiosity is insatiable. I teach her to keep score. The Phils and O's dazzle us with a taut, well-played game, one the Fightin's pull out with a couple of timely eighth-inning runs and a blistering Billy Wagner save.

The reality was substantially different, as it often is. The girl is two months shy of three, so it would be charitable to describe her attention as wandering. We arrived at the ballpark an hour early, the better to wander around, catch some glimpses of the lush field, and get acclimated to the crowd. As soon as she heard the phrase ice cream, though, every last neuron locked onto the notion of soft-serve. Nothing else -- not the impending ballgame, not the presence of her proud and smiling parents, not the prospect of seeing Jim Thome, for whom her favorite stuffed animal is named, with her own eyes -- could detract her from this most worthy goal.

And so, while the girl and I sat through the national anthem, the missus was back at the concessions, dutifully obtaining a chocolate-and-vanilla swirl in a small, plastic Phillies helmet. We polished it off, and were heading for the exits by the end of the first inning, a limit imposed both by the girl's bedtime and by an unusually long frame.

Indeed, the Phils and O's graciously treated us to an entire game's worth of action in the single inning we watched. Each team rapped four hits in its at-bat, and the score after one was Baltimore 5, Phillies 3. The girl even got to witness Bobby Abreu's gaffe of the evening -- with the sacks drunk with Orioles, Larry Bigbie dumped a base hit into right, scoring two. Abreu, typically, eased after the ball, then came up seemingly unsure of where to throw it. Javy Lopez -- a catcher, mind you -- took advantage of Abreu's hesitation and sprinted to third. He then scored on an infield groundout.

When Bobby's defenders wonder how Phillies fans can overlook several years' worth of top-level stats, and why so many of us rag his ass, I want to point out these kinds of plays to them. Whether through laziness or cluelessness, Abreu made an awful baseball play; there's simply no excuse for a major league outfielder not to know hot to gauge the force of a hit and whether it will plate one runner or two.

The Phillies fought back to take a one-run lead long after our departure, but Miguel Tejeda tied it with a solo shot off Tim Worrell in the seventh. Now, had Abreu done his job and come up throwing to third, Lopez never would have scored, and Tejeda's dinger would simply have drawn the O's to within a run. Instead, Baltimore was able to force extra innings, and eventually notched a 7-6 win in 16.

As for how well the girl enjoyed the game, there was bad news and good: Yes, a book did make an appearance. Yes, she was more interested in the helmet full of ice cream and her bottle of water than the first-inning action. But she clapped when those around her did. She yelled "Go, Phillies!" periodically. She cheered for Thome. And she didn't cry, because, after all, there's no crying in baseball. I might just turn her into a fan yet.

89 Comments:

At July 5, 2004 at 9:06 AM, Blogger mark said...

In tehre interest of full disclosure, it should be pointed out that Abreu pretty much saved teh game in the 12th (i think it was the 12th) by gunning down Miguel Tejada at the plate. He definitely wasn't "loafing it" on that play...

 
At July 5, 2004 at 1:51 PM, Blogger Tom said...

Okay, fine. Still, call me crazy, but I want my multimillion-dollar outfielders to play like that all the time, not just when they feel like it.

 
At July 5, 2004 at 10:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

looks to me like abreu likes to throw, but not much else in the field. in that extra extra innings game, he ran all that way for a foul ball in the corner, then basically gave up trying to catch it by doing a feet first slide. huh? why not lead with the glove?

 
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