Posts Tagged ‘Madison Bumgarner’

Play Ball

Wednesday, April 15th, 2015

 play ball

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser April 2015)

“When they start the game, they don’t yell, ‘Work ball.’ They say, ‘Play ball.’” Willie Stargell

The day before Opening Day of Baseball Season 2015, Lon Simmons died at the age of ninety-one. Lon and his broadcasting partner Russ Hodges were the San Francisco Giants radio announcers when I was a boy and a teenager, and Lon’s voice and laconic style are etched in my memory as deeply as the voice of any close relative.

Opening Day 2015 was five days ago as I write this, and in the first game of the new season the Giants eked out a victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks in our usual nail-biting fashion. Our super hero starter Madison Bumgarner pitched seven dominant innings and left the game with a four-run lead courtesy of our boys hitting singles and doubles in bunches. Our bullpen promptly gave up three runs in the bottom of the eighth and we went to the bottom of the ninth clinging to a one-run lead.

Then our closer, Santiago Casilla, struck out slugger Paul Goldschmidt to end the game and we were undefeated in 2015. Until the next night when Bruce Bochy revealed his biggest flaw as a manager—leaving pitchers in games when those pitchers clearly have nothing left in the tank.

“Baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical.” Yogi Berra

From 1979 until 1996, with a two-year break from 87-89, Hank Greenwald was the incomparable radio play-by-play guy for the Giants. He was laid back and funny and a wonderful storyteller, and when his long stint as the Voice of the Giants ended, I seriously doubted there would ever be anyone good enough to fill Hank’s shoes.

But a year later the magnificent Jon Miller took the radio reins along with former Giants infielder Duane Kuiper, and five years after Jon took over, David B. Flemming, a young upstart, now approaching middle age, joined the team. Excellent game-callers all, Miller is the top bard and comedian of the bunch and a brilliant imitator of other famous baseball announcers. When the Giants play the hated Dodgers, Jon always does an ear-perfect Vin Scully and makes me glad we have Jon and Duane and Dave announcing our games and not the venerable and uninteresting Scully. That’s a Giants fan talking. In Los Angeles, Vin is God.

“Baseball is like church. Many attend, few understand.” Leo Durocher

I listen to games on a little silver Sony transistor radio. I take it to the garden, set it on the counter while I’m doing dishes, stand it in the cup holder in our ancient pickup, and frequently take the little thing to bed when games run past my bedtime.

To celebrate the season opener, I empowered my trusty radio with two new batteries and listened to the game under the influence of a miserable cold. As bad as I felt, I was happy listening to the game, and even happier when we won.

With the world going up in flames, the state suffering from catastrophic drought, lunatics and criminals running our government, and over-population synergizing with global warming to spawn more and bigger disasters, why do I care if a man on the radio describes how one team of baseball players prevails over another team of baseball players? I care because I am hard-wired to care, and I did the wiring myself.

I was nine when the Giants came to San Francisco in 1958. Having teethed on Seals games, I was a rabid Giants fan from Day One. I memorized batting averages and earned run averages and home run numbers, and I listened to every single game. Indeed, the ongoing challenge of my childhood was how to listen to night games broadcast after my bedtime.

Transistor radios were not widely available until the 1960’s, and the radio I listened to in the 1950’s was the size of a shoebox, made of steel, and full of tubes that got so hot when activated by electricity that the radio was too hot to touch. Many a night I fell asleep listening to Lon Simmons preaching on that hot box hidden under my covers, the volume so low it was only audible to my ear resting an inch from the hot metal, and therefore inaudible to my mother and father who believed sports were stupid and bad and would keep me out of medical school should I live so long. And on a few occasions, as I drifted off to dreamland, my ear would touch the hot metal and I’d wake with a start, yelping in pain.

“Now there’s three things you can do in a baseball game. You can win or you can lose or it can rain.” Casey Stengel

The Giants, as you probably know, have won the World Series three times in the last five years after not winning a World Series since the Pleistocene. Now that we have won again and again and again, my fellow tribe members and I expect to go to the World Series and win the trophy every year. How could we so quickly forget more than half a century of losing? Must be genetic.

I listen to Jon and Dave and Duane describing nine men playing a game against nine other men and I see the game vividly in my mind’s eye. In fact, the game I imagine while listening to Jon Miller paint word pictures is far more complicated and beautiful and emotionally fulfilling than games I see on television.

Marcia and I don’t have a television. If we had one, I would watch baseball, football, basketball, tennis, volleyball, golf, bowling, and documentaries about tree sloths, though not hockey or car racing. I wired myself to listen to baseball games on the radio, but humans are born wired to watch television. Having figured this out a long time ago, I realized if I wanted to do anything with my life other than watch television, it would behoove me not to have one in my house. Fortunately, Marcia is of the same mind, and she digs listening to baseball games on the radio, too.

Curve Again

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

San Francisco Giants v Los Angeles Dodgers

(This short story appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser September 2014)

Madison Bumgarner, the Giants’ formidable leftie known as Mad Bum or simply Bum, stands tall atop the mound on a cool Friday night in September—the famous San Francisco fog not yet manifest, a soft breeze blowing in from McCovey Cove, the yard packed with zealous fans, the Dodgers in town battling to keep the Giants from overtaking them in the division race—both teams destined for the playoffs.

Having put down the first nine Dodgers in order, five by strikeouts, Bum walks Dodger leadoff hitter Dee Gordon to start the fourth inning and thereby forfeits his chance to throw a perfect game. Prior to the walk, Bum’s control was superb, scary the word muttered by seven of the first nine Dodgers to face him.

Bum takes a deep breath and glances up at the sky. Why did I walk their leadoff man? Why do I so often walk the leadoff man when everything is going so well? Don’t think about it. Stay out of your head. Relax. Life goes on.

The next batter strides to the plate, makes a big show of settling into the batter’s box, and crowds the plate. This is Yasiel Puig, a big powerful right-handed outfielder with a weakness for sliders away and fastballs up. Puig is hitting .293 for the year and has been an absolute terror against the Giants this season. Bum struck out Puig on three pitches in the first inning and made him look bad—two fastballs and a slider in the dirt.

He’ll be waiting on my fastball.

Buster Posey, the Giants’ catcher, flashes the sign for a curve and sets up low on the outer half of the plate. Bum nods, glances at the speedy Gordon inching away from First, and pitches.

Let it be told throughout the land and the myriad dimensions known and yet to be discovered, that this particular pitch is the most exquisite curve Bum has ever thrown, the ball arcing so high and faraway from the straight line to the plate that Puig gives up on the ball the moment it leaves Bum’s hand. But at the end of its trajectory the ball hooks back over the plate just above Puig’s knees and smacks the very center of Posey’s unmoving glove. Alas, the umpire is as flummoxed as Puig and calls the exquisite strike a ball.

Bum winces as if someone slapped him in the face—the crowd groaning and booing to echo his outrage. Anger and despair rise from the depths of Bum’s being, emotions he knows he must control if he wishes to remain in the good graces of the umpire, though the effort to suppress his feelings makes him shudder.

Sensing Bum’s distress, Posey trots to the mound to have a chat with his pitcher. Posey is a youthful twenty-seven and five years into what many predict will be a Hall of Fame career. Bum is a seasoned veteran at twenty-five, his stuff so good that when he’s on his game he is virtually unhittable. His eternal challenge, however, is that he can fall off his game in a twinkling when something goes awry, something like an umpire calling a brilliant strike a ball.

Posey looks Bum in the eye and says, “That was zenith, man. Best curve ball I’ve ever been privileged to catch. You not only fooled Puig, you fooled the ump.”

“How could he call that a ball?” cries Bum, glowering over Posey’s head at the umpire. “Is he myopic? And if so, how did he get this job?”

“You surprised him,” says Posey, winking at Bum. “Don’t worry about it. Your stuff is stellar tonight. Primo. They’ll be lucky to get one out of the infield if they ever manage to hit one.”

“Okay,” says Bum, reaching his arms high above his head to release the tautness in his back. “Let’s get him.”

Posey trots back to home plate and fiddles with his mask before going into his crouch and flashing the sign for a fastball.

Bum shakes his head, a response that comes as a surprise to Bum for three reasons. First, a fastball seems like an excellent idea coming after a curve ball with the runner on First likely to steal. Second, Bum almost never shakes off Posey because Posey calls excellent games and they almost always agree on the pitch to be thrown. Third, Bum wants to throw a fastball because he is still furious with the umpire for calling his perfect strike a ball.

Yet he rejected Buster’s call for a fastball, which tells Bum that his unconscious mind has taken control of the situation. But did my unconscious mind shake off the fastball as an act of self-sabotage or as an act of intuitive genius? In either case, Bum nods his approval of Posey’s second suggestion: another curve.

Curve again thinks Bum as he checks the speedy Gordon at First Base and intuits he’ll be taking off with the pitch. Of course. Because my first curve was perfect. Who cares if the umpire missed the call? So what if Puig guesses curve and hits the ball out of the park? Buster wants to see that beauty again, and so do I. Yes, I do.

So Bum coils and releases the pitch. The runner goes. The ball arcs so high and faraway from the straight line to the plate that Puig starts to give up on the pitch but now he remembers the perfection of the previous pitch that should have been called a strike and maybe this time the pitch will be called a strike so he swings late and gets just enough of the ball to drive a soft liner to Ishikawa standing a few feet off First Base.

Catching the easy floater, Ishikawa grins like a kid in a candy shop and ambles over to the bag to complete the double play—Gordon hung out to dry between First and Second.

Bum covers the bottom half of his face with his glove to hide his grin as he watches the celebratory slinging of the ball around the infield and takes the congratulatory toss from Crawford, the Giants nonpareil shortstop. Now Bum climbs the backside of the mound, toes the pitching slab, grips the ball, gazes in at Posey and nods Yes to Posey’s signal for a high fastball so I can let off some steam.

Choices

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

marcia playing

Marcia Practicing photo by Todd

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser July 2013)

“There are two sentences inscribed upon the Delphic Oracle… ‘Know thyself’ and ‘Nothing too much’—and upon these all other precepts depend.” Plutarch

The Mendocino Music Festival is upon us once again, and that means several things to me now that I’ve lived in Mendocino for eight years. The village will be cloaked in fog for many days of the festival, a majestic white tent will stand upon the headlands across the street from Dick’s, my darling wife Marcia, who has played in the festival orchestra for all the twenty-seven years the festival has been going, will practice her cello even more diligently than she usually does, the village population will be peppered with sophisticated classical musicians from urban areas who have come here to play in the festival orchestra, there will not be enough Mendelssohn on the program for my taste (I love Mendelssohn), and there will be so much fantastic music to hear, both classical and otherwise, that it will be impossible to attend but a small fraction of the musical delights on offer.

On the day of the festival’s opening night concert, I walk to town in fulgent sunshine and wonder if this brilliant clarity will attend the concert tonight or whether the fog, hearing the orchestral strains emanating from the majestic tent, will swiftly come hither and blanket the headlands.

At the corner of Highway One and Little Lake Road, my path converges with that of a young white man with long blond Rasta locks, a bulging knapsack on his back, and two enormous dogs on rope leashes. As we wait together for the light to turn green so we might be among the living when we reach the village side of the highway, I say to the young man, “How you doing?”

“Not good,” he says angrily. “This fucking place doesn’t have a laundromat, so poor people can’t wash their clothes. Fucking elitist enclave.”

“Well, the problem as I understand it is that the village has a chronic water shortage and laundromats use an enormous…”

“Bullshit,” he says, as we embark on our journey across the five lines. “I lived here twelve years ago. I know all about this place. They just don’t want any poor people around here. In Israel they have laundromats that use hardly any water. They could get some of those. But they won’t.”

“I’m sorry,” I say, feeling the need to apologize for having a washer and a dryer and a good well that, knock on wood, has yet to go dry this year.

“And try hitchhiking with two big dogs,” says the young man, scowling at me. “Not easy.”

We part ways and I think to myself that the absence of a laundromat in the village is certainly unfortunate but also understandable economically and environmentally, while hitchhiking with two enormous dogs seems to be this man’s choice and not something imposed upon him by a cruel and unjust society. Then again, maybe he needs those dogs in order to feel safe in this cruel and unjust society, and from his point of view he doesn’t really have a choice about hitchhiking with giant dogs or not. Indeed, when I lived in Berkeley, I knew several women who owned large dogs for the express purpose of feeling safe when they went walking anywhere, and not just at night: anywhere any time.

“If you arrive early, you’re neurotic; if you arrive on time, you’re compulsive; if you arrive late, you’re hostile.” Kay Hannah

After I shave away my three-day beard, I exchange paint-stained shirt and trousers for much cleaner clothing, load Marcia’s cello into the trunk of our car, and chauffer Marcia and our delightful neighbor Marion Crombie, viola, down to the festival tent for the long awaited opening night concert. Both gals look beautiful and full of equipoise in comfortable but elegant black attire, and they both express quiet optimism that the concert, despite the absence of anything by Mendelssohn, will be a good one. Verdi, Prokoffief, and Rachmaninoff are on the menu, and the sun, miraculously, is still shining brightly as I navigate the crowded lanes of the village, the air vibrating with the collective excitement that composes the prelude to the orchestral miracle we are about to witness.

I was going to bring along my little silver transistor radio so I could listen to the Giants game before the concert and during the lengthy intermission, but I chose to leave the tiny thing behind so as not to appear gauche and insensitive and possibly more interested in baseball than in my wife’s life work. Tim Lincecum is pitching tonight, and the dramatic arc of Monsieur Lincecum’s career especially intrigues me. After a stellar first few years, the wunderkind has fallen on hard times and is now in the throes of trying to reinvent himself as someone with a fastball in the low nineties instead of a fastball in the high nineties.

Finding every parking place within three blocks of the festival tent taken, I commandeer a space near the post office and traipse from there through the lovely flower-infested grounds of the MacCallum House and down the walkway that begins behind the Mendocino Hotel and pops out on Main Street across from the fabulous festival tent. Seeing I have nearly a half-hour before the music begins, I wander down to the trail across the street from Out of This World and traverse the headlands to the cliff’s edge from where I look down on the shining water, the surface of the sea as calm as a lake on a windless day. Intoxicated by the glorious scene, I fall into a reverie about Felix Mendelssohn and Tim Lincecum and Sergei Prokofiev and Madison Bumgarner and Jimi Hendrix and Sergei Rachmaninoff, geniuses all.

Fortunately my reverie concludes in time for me to join the tail end of the pre-concert melee outside the grandiloquent tent where I bump into Sam Edwards who kindly invites me to join him in a glass of wine, his treat, but I demur because of my deathly allergy to alcohol. We discover we both have complimentary tickets for seats in the nosebleed section courtesy of our partners who play in the festival orchestra, and upon comparing our tickets we find that my seat is directly in front of Sam’s.

“See you in there,” I say, as the bell clangs to summon the masses to find their seats.

With a few minutes remaining before the trouble begins, as Mark Twain liked to say about his public appearances, I wander down the aisle to the epicenter of the tent to say hello to Peter Temple, our local sonic master manning the bridge of his audio Enterprise, so to speak, riding the soundboard controlling the microphones suspended above the stage where a hundred and twenty-some musicians are vigorously sawing and tooting and banging away on their instruments to ready themselves for the exciting adventure they are about to embark upon.

When I inform Peter that I have been assigned a seat way in the back, he taps the chair beside him and says, “Sit here,” and so I do—best seat in the house. Am I lucky or what? I have a clear view of Marcia in her seat next to Stephen Harrison, our superb Principal cellist, and I have plenty of room to stretch my legs and wiggle in my seat as much as I want while the music plays. Yes, I’m lucky, but I suppose I made choices along the way that made such luck possible. Do we make our own luck? Is luck really luck or the manifestation of karma?

The lights dim. Allan Pollack enters from the wings. The crowd erupts in applause. Allan steps up onto the podium, faces the audience, smiles radiantly, and bows. I’ve seen Allan conduct the Music Festival orchestra and the Symphony of the Redwoods orchestra dozens of times, and I always have the same three thoughts whenever I watch him conduct: 1. What a cool guy 2. He reminds me of Groucho Marx in the best sort of way 3. How does he manage to get all those people with their separate egos and divergent inclinations to perform so harmoniously and with such unanimity of feeling?

“A man has only one way of being immortal on this earth: he has to forget he is a mortal.” Jean Giraudoux

The concert a smashing success, the pianist James D’Leon triumphant over the monumental Rachmaninoff, Marcia and Marion in a celebratory mood, we arrive home to the news that Tim Lincecum just pitched the first no-hitter of his illustrious career, and I unashamedly burst into tears, having been cracked wide open by the metaphysical music and feeling Tim’s historic victory as a resurrection, both his and mine, however inexplicable that feeling is—proof of the interconnectedness of all things, the orchestra in that tent on the headlands supplying the quantum physical musical soundtrack to Tim’s remarkable achievement.

I find a video on the interweb that shows the final pitches of all twenty-seven outs recorded in Tim’s phenomenal game, including thirteen strikeouts and three great plays at Third Base by Pablo Sandoval and a truly miraculous diving catch by Hunter Pence in Right Field. I watch the twenty-seven outs twice and cry each time Buster Posey grabs Tim in a bear hug the split second after the last fly ball settles into Gregor Blanco’s glove, the ever stoic Lincecum breaking into the fabulous grin of a man who has finally conquered his greatest enemy—self-doubt.