September 30, 2014

Strasburg in Syracuse Start Five: Finding the Plate

June 3, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Rene Rivera: remember the name. It is now the answer to one of the most trivial of all trivia questions. For the first two innings at home tonight against the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees, Stephen Strasburg had been showing consistent form—and getting away with it. The release point just a bit higher than and in front of his right shoulder, he worked leadoff man and center fielder Greg Golson to a 2-2 count before blowing him away with a shoulder-height fastball that registered at ninety seven miles per hour. He took second baseman Reegie Corona to a full count before inducing a harmless grounder to short. Shortstop Eduardo Nunez worked to 2-2 and fouled off three consecutive pitches before he reached out his bat for a loping bender and found nothing there. That was the first inning.

In the second the Yanks swing early. Left fielder Jon Weber singled the first pitch offered up the middle. First baseman Chad Hoffman took two strikes and a ball and then plunked a grounder to the mound. Strasburg knocked it down, picked it up and fired to second for the front end of a double play. This was the second inning.

Now starting the third, designated hitter Rene Rivera works a full count as Strasburg misses the plate wide. At full count, he must put the ball over the plate. Strasburg chooses a fastball; so has Rivera. The crowd exclaims at the contact. In center field Pete Orr is running for the fence. Kevin Mench in right has no time to come to his aid. Rivera’s shot is a low, arcing line drive; Orr feels for the fence with his glove and watches the ball go. Stephen Strasburg has surrendered his first home run in the minor leagues.

With young fastballers, it is ever so. Let them throw and they’ll win, but it won’t be pretty, or mechanically sound. Set them to a constant and repeated leg work on the mound, hold them to a single release point and a follow through that readies them to field the baseball if need be—give them these gifts and they will not be grateful. Or at least, not as reliable. They have all endured this dilemma—Ryan, Gooden, Pedro Martinez—and now Strasburg.

The dilemma is not unique to baseball. Before the game, I have stopped downtown at the Everson Museum of Art. The building itself, constructed in 1968, is poured concrete modernism at its worst. The three floors jut at all angles and confuse the visitors. From the outside, it may as well be one of the parking garages nearby. Inside it is true, the walls do fade away to highlight the works of art upon them. But in the lobby, and at angles in the stairs, it may as well be raining for looking at the gray.

The Everson, it turns out, holds one of the largest collections of American ceramics in the country. Not my bag when I was a child on (another)  class field trip through the Corning Museum of Glass, I now appreciate their frailty the frailer I become. A  fine large plate, half bigger than my head again, bisected at a slanted angle in red and then maroon carries a careful study of an autumn leaf. When I am the king of Siam it will grace my kitchen. Edward H. Winter: I will remember this name, too, and look it up when I get home. And how many plates do you suppose Mr. Winter fashioned before the one that outlives him  in the Everson?

Not all the ceramics are American: in the first shelf of ancient relics, a  tiny Greek amphora features two men who hold captive in chains a large black bird. Larger than any ravens in Poe’s nightmares, what could it be? Questions leap to mind, but  I love these ancient relics, this one from twenty-five or twenty-six hundred years ago, because I will never know all the answers to the questions they present.

But is isn’t these I have come to see. It’s the Maxwell Parrish exhibit on the third floor; Maxwell Parrish, whose slender girls in togas of ancient times ride swings or sprawl on rocks beneath his most cerulean of skies. Maxwell Parrish, agrarian become utopian with a touch of fin-de-siècle decadence. Maxwell Parrish, who spent painstaking hours making miniature models before pencil reached paper, and then more hours layering translucent colors, one after the other on top of each other. Part of the exhibit shows the sequence of lithographic plates for just one print that would make the calendar for Edison Mazda Electric Bulbs in any one year: first the yellows, then the orange over this, next the black outlining for emphasis, and finally the greens of the trees before the two shades of blue that would make Maxfield Parrish a household name. The exhibition catalogue tells me that in the Nineteen Twenties, a Parrish print could be found in one of every four homes. And still we see perhaps ten percent of the total work any individual artist has ever done.

The struggles visual artists get to destroy or hide, athletes must put on the line in public. After the Rivera home run, Strasburg settles down in the third. Right fielder Reid Gorecki flies to left 2-0; third baseman Matt Cusick grounds to short 1-1. Golson at the top of the Yankees’ lineup singles, but Reegie Corona pops to second swinging at the first pitch. The Chiefs go down 1-2-3 in the third. Below me a nine year old girl wears her father’s yellow sunglasses. Her teenage brother wears a t-shirt promoting a ‘Redneck Pie Eating Contest,’ including the cow that has produced the ‘pies;’ on the tracks in left field oil car after oil car clicks by headed for the yards east of town.

Strasburg leaps and brings down a chopper from the bat of Eduardo Nunez. There is no doubt he is an athlete. He walks Weber on a full count, but then retires Hoffman on three straight pitches, the last a hanging breaking ball up near his eyes. Catcher Jose Montero chops at a piece of a slurve 3-2 and taps it back to the mound. Singles by Leonard Davis, Lambin, and Duncan, followed by a double for second baseman Luis Ordaz put the Chiefs ahead 2-1 after four innings.

Behind me two friends are arguing over the use of the designated hitter in the International League. I turn and tell them if two National League franchises are involved, the pitchers will bat. “Well there you go,” one of them says. In the deafening silence that ensues from both of them, I realize my mistake; I should hold my thoughts or kick myself.

The fifth is almost always Strasburg’s strongest inning. So it is again tonight: Rivera goes down looking with one ball in his favor. Gorecki waves at a 2-2, 98 mile per hour fastball. “Hey, Nine” a guy behind me yells at the first base coach, “You’re in my way. Move.” The same fan had tried this in the first inning to no effect. Now, incidentally, the first base coach shuffles a couple steps to his left, leaving Strasburg unobscured, and we all break out laughing. The SRO’s are only one row deep tonight, and I see none of the seat shuffling I have at other Syracuse games. There are even a few empty seats in the upper left field deck. Cusick knocks one into left field, but Golson swings through a 1-2 count at only ninety-six m.p.h. on the radar gun in left center field. Strasburg is reaching back for the heat rather than the breakers tonight in crucial times.

In the bottom of the inning new call up catcher Jamie Burke singles, but Orr vacuums into a 4-6 double play. Leonard Davis hits the obligatory single after a double play, but Mench flies to left.

Now Strasburg’s wheels fall off. It is not so dramatic: Reegie Corona beats out an awkward angle to short that Lopez cannot throw through; Eduardo Nunez guesses first fastball and lines a single to left, advancing Corona to second. Facing left fielder Weber, Strasburg is called for a balk, most likely for not coming to a complete stop before beginning his motion home.  Weber argues a breaking ball and is tossed from the game in mid count, 2-2. Jeff Natale inherits  Weber’s responsibilities, but shaken at the balk call Strasburg walks Natale to load the bases, and here comes Trent Jewett signaling for Josh Wilkie from the bullpen. A nick here and there and Strasburg’s night is done. Wilkie induces Chad Hoffman into a double play which plates Corona. On a 2-1 count Jesus Montero slashes a single to center, plating Nunez. Just like that the Yankees lead 3-2. And just like that, the absence of Stephen Strasburg destroys every game he leaves. On the scoreboard we see that the Mud Hens have won in Buffalo, 5-4; it means the rest of this game, Strasburg or not, is for International League North Division lead. But the Chiefs spend the rest of the night flying out like zombies. Seven consecutive batters fly out before Leonard Davis swings at a full cut and misses in the eighth. Zach Segovia, Royce Ring, and closer Jonathan Albaladejo; no matter who the Yanks send to the mound, the Chiefs batters are in a trance rhythm which can do them no good. There are several Yankees fans in the stands rooting for Scranton. In the ninth they stand and cheer as Lambin goes down swinging, Duncan grounds to third, and to close out the game, Luis Ordaz’s tag to center is easily gloved by Golson. This is as impressed as I have been by Strasburg’s mechanics in four or five starts; but the results are a bitter tradeoff.

After the game I drive to my cousin Rob’s house in Lakeport, park my car at the shore of Oneida Lake and clambor out into a welcome breeze. Overhead the Big Dipper points back to Arcturus, and the red fuzz of Mars mimics the lights along the shoreline. Were it possible I would like to sleep out here on top of my car for the night. Instead I crash on an air mattress in a cubby hole off of Rob’s home office, the perfect light blue plate of the lake shining out my window, Canadian geese honking their search for food and mates through the early hours of the morning. I will spend the next day in Ithaca, partially at the Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University. An exhibit by one Michael Ashkin is, to me, a complete bust. Over the main exhibit hall of the lower floor is spread a cardboard valley, with, here and there, monotone cardboard farmhouses, and in the far right corner, a monotone cardboard village. I suppose it’s ‘saying something,’ something about consciousness and its continual need to mimic, imitate and simulate what it has taken in. But ‘saying something’ is not looking. By comparison, an exhibit on ‘500 Years of Chinese Art,’ features elaborate and fantastical scrolls, their flowing waterfalls and landscapes perhaps painstakingly  painted, but not reproduced, in no way conscious or ‘taken in,’ the rivers in the scrolls and of the scrolls only recorded and now spread out for the feast of sight.

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One Response to “Strasburg in Syracuse Start Five: Finding the Plate”
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