Here Comes the Pressure

I can only imagine what the Red Sox baseball players are thinking right now. it’s the bottom of the ninth; the score is tied. We had a chance to put the go-ahead run over, but it just wasn’t meant to be.

Clay Buchholz pitched one of his best games of the season, but now Tommy Layne is on the mound and has to prevent the home team Seattle Mariners from having a walk-of win. The pressure is on. There’s no room for butterflies and confidence issues. Xander Bogaerts dug the ball out, had a good throw, and Mike Napoli does a nice stretch to create the first in the bottom of the ninth. Next grounder causes Bogaerts to hesitate just a moment and the runner beat it out for a hit. There’s no time for thinking. It’s got to be automatic.

As the television commentators just said, “The drama builds” as the Red Sox go to the bullpen. I don’t remember if Layne is right or left handed. Tommy wasn’t in the game long before going to the bullpen again. Nelson Cruz, a newcomer to Seattle, is a dangerous hitter. Junichi Tazawa, the Red Sox pitcher, does have the upper hand. Having a runner on second with only one out. Maybe one out. Layne had a nice play at first; he had to spin around like a ballet dancer to field the badly flipped ball.

Every time Tazawa pitches I find myself holding the breath. Two balls. Two Strikes. Two outs.

When I was a kid and had the chance to play whiffle ball with the Cliftons or baseball with some other neighbors or even when playing softball, the scenario is like that. Sometimes the count would be full. Sometimes the bases would be loaded.

I would dream of being the God instead of the Goat. When I played softball, I got a chance to practice that dream and make it a reality. Some times. I probably was the Goat a lot more than the all-powerful one that can be like Nelson Cruz and hit enough of the ball, find just enough green, to bring in the winning run. Just a bloop. Sometimes that’s all that it takes.

While I was at Bi Mart pharmacy this evening, on my way home from school and errands, I was asked if I liked baseball. I have my favorites and always enjoy talking to him. He laughed at the obviousness. Red Sox hat, Red Sox shirt. Red Sox jacket. I even synced up with Clay Buchholz by wearing his Jersey that I bought last August when I went back to Boston. I’m so happy that he didn’t pitch like he did back in August. He’s had it rough this season. Clay deserved to win the game, but it just wasn’t meant to be.

Today, or I should say this evening, my summer vacation begins. I found myself really being able to engross myself into the baseball game. Not having to worry about getting up early changes everything. Being forced into being a morning person is almost as bad as asking David Ortiz to hit in left field or at least to the left side of the infield. Can you really expect a slugger to have finesse at the bat? He’s not a Dustin Pedroia or Xander Bogaerts where they are more apt to dink the ball in where it needs to go than to swing for the fences, though Mr. Pedey has poked at least seven h.r.’s this season. Maybe even having more homers than Ortiz, but maybe that’s because they are messing with his swing.

I sometimes struggle to hit a slow pitch softball. I’ve slowed down. I don’t track things hardly at all anymore, but I try. I can’t imagine trying to hit a ninety-something miles-per-hour baseball; it’s smaller; it’s faster. There’s a reason why hitting .400 is unheard of and hitting it one out of four times is reasonable. There’s a hand-eye-bat coordination that isn’t like anything.

I want to know how they do it? How does the Red Sox catcher Leon keep eyes and hands communicating when he doesn’t play every day. Brock Holt is one of those players that just amaze me. Not only can he play almost every single position, but he can sit on the bench and still be red hot. Yes, that bat can freeze up quickly, but Brock’s got something in his combustion that keeps his attitude burning, knowing that the ball will soon be bouncing off of the lumber in the same amount of time it started to slip by.

Every year, I fall in love with a Red Sox baseball player. I think that’s why I love the team so much; it doesn’t even matter this year what place they are in. I’ve been a diehard fan of Dustin Pedroia since day one. He’s got this work ethic that makes him comparable to Super Man in how he goes about his business. Being told he was too small, or too something to play baseball only molded him into the work horse that he is. I almost said work pony, but he’s a Stallion out there the way he runs down every play. When I got to see him play live for the first time, I was mesmerized by his little skip. Every single ball, every pitch, his feet are moving. He’s got this jump he does that acts like a jump starter. Yesterday he snagged a few grounders, one at least backing up a teammate, and managed to throw the runner out. It doesn’t take a large man to wear a gold glove, and he’s done that multiple times. I’m not too keen on his scruffy beard, but if it works, who cares.

I’ve liked Xander Bogaerts for a long time, but I’m really starting to see his maturity. I do have a sweet-spot for shortstops, but he’s another work horse. He’s a different breed. I doubt that anyone told Xander he couldn’t play baseball. I didn’t realize that he  was only a sixteen-year-old boy in Aruba when he was signed by the Red Sox.

First epiphany of the night. Baseball is like a fine wine. When Xander was drafted, he was like grapes. And like that fine wine, he had to wait and grow and develop. Patience is a virtue, especially in the world of baseball. There’s no time to coddle football or basketball players; their bodies don’t last near as long. I’m not a football or really much of a basketball player, and my body can relate.

Now that Xander has been given his position of shortstop; the team has confidence in him which supports young Bogaerts to play with self-confidence. Baseball is not a sport to have doubt. That damn ball is moving just too quickly.

Last Sunday, during our last softball practice of the season, I thought about how I could convince my 55-year-old body to play like a 20-year-old. I don’t remember having doubt when I played for the Wayland Savages. Those were the good old days. I had a chance to play with some of the best athletes I’ve ever played with. I wonder exactly how many Red Sox wives are good athletes? I wonder how many people even know, though I’m not sure if that’s the case anymore. It was when I played with Janet Miller. I’m blanking of Rich Gedman’s wife’s name. I think it is Michelle. Present tense hoping for both of them. I had never met someone famous, and having Red Sox wives on my team, was the closest thing I would ever come to playing professionally for the Boston Red Sox, though I dreamed it all the time. Still do.

Not only were these women extremely nice and down to earth, but as I said, they were amazing athletes, and it was such an honor to play with them. Maybe one of these days our paths to the bases will pass again.

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2 Comments

  1. I also seem to fall in love with a Sox player each year, and this year it’s Mookie. I really really REALLY like this guy. And when a young man his age can give a comprehensive interview after the game and be understood and have something concrete to say, and say it intelligently and well put-together, then he earns my respect and admiration. And Mooks does this. Love this guy.

    As for Xander, I wish he’d ditch the bubble gum. Grown men blowing humongous pink bubbles out of their faces is so – juvenile…. DITCH THE BUBBLE GUM!!! At least when you’re up at bat!

  2. The Bubble gum is part of his stress release and his way of concentrating. Heck, it may even throw the pitcher off. I’m always chewing gum or spitting sunflower seeds when I play softball.

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