December 4, 2023

Oh, Lord, Won’t You Buy Me a Mercedes Benz

July 1, 2023 by · Leave a Comment 

Roger Angell

For many years the gold standard of baseball writing was Roger Angell. Simple prose and honest story-telling, he left indelible images about a minor league pitcher who could not quit the game, begging his wife for just one last season of traveling small town America in search of some lost chalice. But my favorite was his article describing a game at Yale University, featuring two of the finest college pitchers of the day, Ron Darling of Yale, taking the mound against Frank Viola of St. John’s University.

I was reminded of that story watching the just completed College World Series in Omaha. I spent my undergraduate days at the University of Florida, and have been following their sports programs for more than fifty years now. And there are many records of excellence amassed during those years by the likes of Billy Donovan and Steve Spurrier. Yet I would wager that Kevin O’Sullivan’s record as baseball coach in Gainesville is the equal of any others.

But it was not the Gators who walked away with the CWS trophy this year, though their valiant effort was enough to please any humble fan. The glory belonged to the LSU Bengal Tigers, and they bested the Gators in the final three-game series, and everyone else who mounted a challenge along the way.

Their duo of Dylan Crews and Paul Skenes have been touted by Baseball America and as the best two players in all of college baseball, and until this past weekend, Crews was thought a cinch to go number one overall with Skenes number two. But one game changed those predictions and it was one that Roger Angell would have loved watching.

Wake Forest University’s team finished the Omaha tournament ranked third, and they lost their simi-final game against LSU in extra innings. In that game, their Friday night pitcher, Brett Lowder faced off against Skenes, and at the end of nine innings neither team had pushed a run across the plate. Lowder was every bit as good as Skenes and watching the bits and pieces I could, I kept coming back to the story of Darling and Viola at Yale.

Baseball America now has Skenes as likely to go number one in the Rule 4 MLB Draft, set to begin July 9 and lasting for three days. Dylan Crews is thought certain to go second to the Washington Nationals, with University of Florida outfielder, Wyatt Langford going third. For all of the forecasting that dogs the draft every year, like the squirrels that gather hopefully at the base of our bird-feeder, the reality seldom matches the hopeful prognosticators.

As a Nationals fan, I have been watching the Tarot cards as they have fallen, in constant hope that nothing would disturb the forces that had aligned to make Skenes the favorite to land in Washington. There is nothing he Nationals need more than pitching, and while Dylan Crews would delight most fans, I know that there are five outfielders among the Nationals top ten minor league prospects already. Blah-blah-blah, take the best player available. I can hear the beat of the drums.

But what if, what if all of those cherished norms are ignored? What if the Nationals opt to go with common sense instead, and after Skenes name is taken off the board in Seattle in the early evening hours of July 9th, they call the name of the best pitcher available, Rhett Lowder. Once again, their names would be linked historically, and for my money that is how it should be.

Currently, everyone has Lowder going anywhere from 6th to 9th as though he did not match Paul Skenes pitch for pitch, as if he had not limited the best lineup in baseball to a mere three hits in seven innings on one of the largest stages a young man can imagine. Nothing would be better than pencilling in the name of Rhett Lowder along that of McKenzie Gore, Josiah Gray, and Cade Cavalli to give the Nationals a rotation that can compete with those that took them to four NL East titles and a World Series win in 2019.

Nothing is certain in baseball. Cade Cavalli is rehabbing from surgery and none of the other pitchers mentioned above are immune from the vagaries of baseball mojo. But please dear lord, send us someone to pitch. We have been wandering in the dessert, for too long. Lowder’s flowing locks have an air of biblical promise, and it is an easy drive from Winston-Salem to DC. Oh Lord want you buy us a Mercedes Benz.

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