Monday, June 21, 2010

Talk Baseball

I am one day older than what I was when I took my son to his first baseball game. This posting will not dwell on the oft-recited keen fatherly pleasures derived there from. Though I should say that I employ the term “keen” in the traditional sense, whereby one might describe the keen edge of a blade, where art has been brought to bear on an object of utility, perfecting it in its function.

And, but, this seeming digression serves to introduce my subject, which is the nature and purpose of Minor League Baseball (Triple A level).

Baseball, as it has been said, is a game for men sometimes played by kids. Nowhere is this observation better applied than with respect to the facts of baseball – or what constitutes the this, that, and the other of statistics, strategy, talent. A person or persons might involve themselves closely in the adult-oriented facts of major league baseball and remain completely ignorant of the analogical facts inuring to the minor leagues. Well, there’s life for you.

Enough archery.

You may poo-poo “minor” league ball; you may be ignorant of what it is or isn’t; you may not know what to root for or how to root for it. You may live within some sort of geographic/realistic proximity to a minor league team and not even know it (they run Rookie League - sometimes called Single A; Double-A; Triple-A). I undertake this article to tell you a few things about minor league baseball of which you may not be aware, but should be, because any asshole can root for the Yankees, but it takes a man or woman with guts (or a sense of humor – and I would hesitate to suggest that courage and humor are ever much parted) to root for the Portland Beavers.

In short, here is what you need to know about Minor League Baseball, species: Triple-A; sub-species: The Portland Beavers, established 1903.

• Guys at the Triple-A level are better athletes than anyone you have ever known, unless you know someone who played on a major league franchise in baseball, football, or basketball.
• When I say “guys,” I mean every player on the roster of a Triple-A team. Whoever takes the field and whoever is in the dugout.
• This means these guys are better athletes than you, your dad, your mom, your brother, or your uncle who played a few downs for some shit-ass college team. Anyone you now know or have known.
• What does “better” mean.
• They have quicker hands than anyone you have ever known. Triple-A pitchers throw Major League stuff. Fastballs in the 90’s. Breaking stuff in the mid 80’s. Triple-A hitters can hit the stuff Triple-A pitchers throw.
• If you have a problem with a guy with throws only a 94 mph sinker or isn’t Nolan Ryan, let me tell you a story.
• At the age of 29, living in Brunswick, Maine, I decided to learn how to pitch. I bought a copy of Tom Seaver’s The Art of Pitching, or whatever it’s called, and I learned how to pitch. How to throw a sinker, an overhand curve, a change-up, and, on a good, good, day, a slider.
• I studied this book, and I learned its lessons. For I was relatively young and could not or did not or would not comprehend the end of things.
• At some point, a friend of mine who worked in the restaurant kitchen I worked in told me that there would be a tryout at a town nearby.
• A “tryout” is an organized gathering of local talent, set up by one or more scouts, usually wise old guys who know real talent the way the rest of us know bullshit.
• So I go to this tryout (I have photos to prove it) and threw my best fastball about 72 miles per hour. Maybe. Okay fine fuck you it was like 68 mph. And was politely informed See you later.
• The story though is this.
• Waiting my turn to impress the scouts, I played catch with a much younger pitching prospect, who you should understand right now had no real talent.
• He threw only about an 86 mile per hour fastball.
• I had to catch his fastball with my pitching glove, then I had to catch his curve ball.
• Catching his fastball was unpleasant the way being hit by a bully is unpleasant.
• His curve ball reacted in the air the way a snake reacts to a mongoose.
• So this is what you need to know: guys at Triple-A have Major League ability.
• You have likely never had to deal with them on the field, and if you ever have, you would know exactly what the fuck I am talking about.
• Many of these guys have played in the Majors or will.
• A guy’s likelihood of playing in the majors depends on a lot of factors, like, does the Major League team have a spot for him; who would he replace; can the guy hit DH (Designated Hitter); does he "project" (scouting term) to being an impact player, a daily player, etc.
• A guy will get called up and given some time and the scouts are watching and writing reports and the coaches write reports.
• The guy might get called up again or not. Maybe he gets traded. Injuries play a role, etc., etc.
• All the time, this guy is a better athlete than anyone you know or have ever have known. All the time, people with an investment are assessing him for a return on their investment.
• If the guy plays enough innings or whatever in one year in the Major Leagues he qualifies for the minimum Major League salary, which is a simply Christly sum – I mean, like 400K or whatever - even though good Triple-A salaries are not half bad.
• Do not expect me to look this shit up.

Side-note: Seaver’s book saved my good looks and maybe something more. The year following my self-tutelage I migrated to Philadelphia where I was starting pitcher (right-handed) for an over-30 league team. On one particular occasion, I sought to finish off a team’s clean-up hitter (a taut, bearded, brown-eyed right-hander) with a lovely slider over the outside part of the plate. It broke, and he leaned into it and hit it at something a good deal greater then my best fastball speed directly at my nose. Happily, Seaver taught me to “follow through” with my glove in position to react to such an occurrence appropriately. I had exactly enough time simply to elevate my glove and catch the ball just in front of my face.
• That was the first and only time I have heard an umpire exclaim, Whoa.

So, the moral is. Go see a Triple-A game by yourself or with your kid. You can get great seats for a joke compared to Major League prices. There is constant entertainment – promotions, give-aways, contests – and every opportunity to meet these young (and sometimes not-so-young) men and:
• Get an autograph of a perhaps someday Major Leaguer
• Get an autograph of a perhaps someday Hall-of-Famer
• Just say thanks and good luck. He will need it.

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