On a sweltering Atlanta evening recently, the Colorado Rockies looked like they just wanted to go home. They were down 3-0 in the ninth inning with two outs, one strike and too hot. Nobody was on base and seemingly nobody wanted to be on base.
They had swatted more flies than fly balls. The pine tar on their bats was melting, and there was concern that the wood might be next. Even the Central American players thought it was unbearably humid.
The Atlanta Braves needed just one more weak grounder to send the Rox back to the place they apparently wanted to be — their air-conditioned hotel. It was a slam dunk.
But there are no slam dunks in baseball.
In an onslaught not seen in Atlanta since William Tecumseh Sherman visited in the century before last, the Rox with two outs in the ninth rocked the southerners with three runs. They were having so much fun in their new party barn that they stayed for an extra inning to add two more.
Per the baseball rulebook, that ended the game. Which is lucky for the Braves because otherwise they’d still be playing and the score would now be 687-3 in favor of the Rox.
One reason that there are no slam dunks in baseball is that there’s no clock. Nobody scores three touchdowns in the last second of a football game or 10 baskets in the last second of a basketball game. But it’s not unusual for a baseball team to rally in the ninth inning, even with two outs and nobody on.
If the score is tied at the end of the game, then it’s not the end of the game. They play another inning and, if necessary, another and another. This can go on for a spell. The White Sox and Brewers once went 25 innings in a game that lasted over eight hours.
I come from a baseball family, in the sense that my big brother was a terrific pitcher and my mother recorded his every pitch on a notepad. Mark was so good that he went to college on a baseball scholarship. That made him the first of our family to attend college, going all the way back to our clan in Scotland.
Mom still has her scrapbooks of Mark’s sports page writeups. A typical headline is “Beaton strikes out 15.”
I was, um, not as good. My baseball career ended in ninth grade when I was cut from the team. I realize now that my biggest problem was poor coaching. No one ever told me “swing hard in case you hit it.” Not that I hit it very often.
In retrospect, being cut was a good thing because it saved me from a sports section headline reading something like “Baby Beaton strikes out 15 times.”
Even though baseball has not been berry, berry good to me, I’m berry, berry good to it.
I love this game. I love that it’s not over till it’s over. I love that there’s just enough luck involved that on any given day any team can beat any other team.
I love the foreign players. On the Rockies, a Korean pitcher speaks so little English that a translator accompanies the team manager on mound visits. Think about being in his shoes.
And what about those Venezuelan players? They fled the crumbling “workers utopia” to face long odds in a strange land where a foreign language is spoken. Imagine what they think of Bernie Sanders.
I love that both the foreign and American players stand at attention with their caps off and their hands over their hearts for the playing of the national anthem, because they want to.
I love that there’s no end zone dancing, and I love that they scratch themselves but only when people are looking.
I love that baseball is a meritocracy. No one thinks the team would be better, or that baseball would be more socially just, by prohibiting so many Venezuelans and recruiting more Japanese or vice versa (though I do think they should have one Scot).
I love that many players believe, and are not too shy to give thanks to the object of their belief with a simple hand point and nod to the sky.
I love baseball.
(Published Aug 26, 2018 in the Aspen Times at https://www.aspentimes.com/opinion/glenn-k-beaton-there-are-no-slam-dunks-in-baseball/)
My own baseball “career” mirrored yours and for the same reason, Glenn. They kept telling me, “You don’t have to kill it!”, which to me meant “You’re swinging too hard.” So I didn’t swing hard, and when I hit the ball, it didn’t go very far.
As you said, poor coaching.