September 22, 2017

Strasburg in Harrisburg: Start Four – An Ear to the Ground

April 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

His fourth start is on the road, in Reading. It’s a few miles too far for a comfortable day trip. This is just as well since the day of the scheduled start, Monday, April 26, a steady, soaking rain weighs the apple blossoms in my back yard and sends them snowing to the ground. These aren’t the only casualties; the gloom sops the entire range of the Eastern league, canceling all six games.

My first memory is of a city skyline, most likely Buffalo, N.Y. I remember seeing the tall buildings filled with lights; what were all those people doing? Were they all doing the same thing at once? Certainly not; and just what was it before my eyes, that life could host such an astonishing variety all at once? Of course I didn’t articulate this at the time. Rather, I endured a baby’s mute sort of astonishment. But I have spent the rest of my life trying to put that moment into words.  Baseball is rife with this sly simultaneity: if a baseball game is under way, you can be sure another is, somewhere else.

So the next day at six twenty-eight p.m., I run to the computer to bring up the game on the radio. (Minor league broadcasts for every team are free through Milb.com). Radio is the glory of the sport. Baseball suffered its infancy in the age of the telegraph, and its heart has always been a ticker: this is why it still insists on posting the partial, out-of-town scores, and spends so much time claiming to resemble the rest of life, that its latest rules change or subtle fad is the ‘in’ thing everywhere: that it has one ear on the ground.

I’d rather listen to a game on the radio than see it on television. On the television the announcers remain quiet and the crowd muted as each play is dissected within an inch of its life. There on the screen, see for yourself; that cutter was a ball, or it was a strike. It’s the No. 8 camera, in dead left center field, continually focusing in on the battery, the ump, and the pitcher, that has reduced the modern game to nothing but the duel between the hurler and the batter. Always, on television, there is that schizophrenic little hop, skip, and beat to a different angle before we see where a fair ball has been batted; never, really, is the whole motion granted to us in beautiful human, stereoscopic vision.

Rather than slumming in a La-Z-Boy gradually falling asleep irradiated by a greenish glow, I will snap on the radio. Across the airwaves the announcers must strain to describe the game to me. I must be alert to keep it in my imagination, to envision and tally what happens. True enough, my mind exaggerates every play; every ground ball to the shortstop is a Screaming Mimi, and every fly sends a fielder to the warning track. And indeed, the old-time announcers, Ernie Harwell or Mel Allen, took advantage of this, making an opera out of any grounder hit straight to a waiting infielder. But I’m glad they did. Many of their great calls can still be found, for the paying, at baseballtapes.com.

So tonight I rush to the computer, and there on MSN is a flood of rumor which tells me the net is ‘buzzing’ about remains found on Mt. Ararat—along with the proviso, of course, that the experts are skeptical. Remains of what? Noah? An ark beached from yesterday?

I plug right into 1460 The Ticket, where Terry Byrum is already running through the lineups. I will have to sort these out as the game proceeds. Byrum is perhaps polite because he is articulate, and/or vice-versa. Lacking the imagination and the showmanship of play-by-play men bygone, he does a decent enough job for doing it without a color man. To his credit, he does get excited and throw some passion into his voice when the game is close, particularly at the end. But he sounds like an accountant closing up the books and not a voice on fire with the examples of the past.

The game? Oh, yes, there was a game. Let me tell you about it.  It was played in fifty-degree weather that once again felt more like forty. The first game of a minor-league double header, it was only scheduled for seven innings. It lasted one-hour and forty-seven minutes. It featured two hits apiece for each side. No two batters reached base consecutively. I know that before now I have gone through each game play-by-play, but at this point I feel as if I am checking off a list of Civil War fatalities. Strasburg pitched five innings, striking out six, walking none. Only Mike Spidale reached base for Reading, on a passed ball after—striking out.  Strasburg did run two batters to a three-ball count, one of them the opposing pitcher. To make amends for this, he came to the plate in the top of the fifth inning and slammed a two-out, 1-2 count into center field, driving home catcher Sean Rooney who had previously doubled. This was the dénouement, the only run scored.

Strasburg was not alone in the limelight in Reading, for the R-Phils had Brad Lidge on their roster tonight, he of the forty saves, none blown season of 2008 that lead the big-league Phillies to hoist the World Series trophy that year. Since then his arm and his confidence have faded to such an extent that tonight his last rehab assignment before rejoining the bigs is to close out a double-A baseball game. He does this well, ignoring an error by shortstop Freddie Galvis to strike out a side of Senators, finishing off each of them with his changeup. Down 1-0, he pitches a second inning, sending first baseman Chris Marrero back to the bench with the bat still on his shoulder, then forcing two infield groundouts. But the R-Phils cannot respond against Drew Storen. Storen, the 10th pick overall in the 2009 draft, is aiming for four saves in four attempts. Although Galvis leads off with a single, and Dominic Brown advances him on a groundout, right fielder Jesus Valdez flags down a liner to right by Phils’ first baseman Steve Stavisky. Storen ends the game getting Mike Spidale to swing at a pitch in the dirt. Catcher Rooney throws to Marerro to finish it off.

Like rain and rumor the game is over that quickly; it has washed down the channels and gullies and into the ocean. Somehow I am disappointed, left ‘high and dry.’ Was there a mega-flood in biblical times? Who or what washed up on Mt. Ararat? When will anybody really hit Stephen Strasburg? I wish they would. Otherwise, when will he get into enough trouble to know what happens when he does?

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