The World Series has come around again, evoking the usual mixed feelings. For one thing, I don’t have a team this year, although I’ll be pulling for Atlanta in honor of my friend Lauren, a serious Braves fan I pretty much talked into baseball when she was my student. As a sometime athlete and a serious reader with a taste for complex narratives, she was a natural.
Also, the Houston Astros cheated. Big-time. Cunning and crude, the team’s 2017 electronic sign-stealing, trashcan-banging scheme tipping hitters to incoming pitches could have been designed by Vladimir Putin. It wouldn’t have bothered me if several Astros had been banished from baseball like Pete Rose, whose compulsive gambling hurt mainly himself.
All four of Houston’s 2021 infielders — Yuli Gurriel, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman — participated actively. And their entire punishment, as Washington Post sportswriter Barry Svrluga puts it, has been that “they get booed on the road.”
So it can’t be Houston, although all four are terrific athletes who never needed to cheat. What’s more, they were reckless. There are too many guys changing teams and talking to think so brazen a scam would stay secret.
But the real reason I’m lukewarm about the World Series is that it’s the end of the season, and I’m never ready for that. From April through October, I begin every day with a cup of black coffee and the box scores, and end most evenings watching the Boston Red Sox. I believe I missed one game during the 2021 season due to a funeral or some damn thing ...
OK, that’s a joke.
But the advent of satellite TV and video recorders has made it possible for a serious fan to spend a couple or three hours every night in a Scheherazade-like trance following the never-ending story at a ballpark 1,000 miles from home.
Sometimes I give my Arkansas wife pronunciation quizzes to test her ability to talk like former Red Sox infielder and broadcaster Jerry Remy. For example, how would Jerry say the name “Dustin Pedroia”?
“Pe-droy-er,” she answers, as if to say, “Ask me a hard one.”
See, my wife is a baseball coach’s daughter who spent her formative years driving across Arkansas and Oklahoma in school buses filled with wisecracking ballplayers. In sixth grade, she carried an autographed photo of the great Brooks Robinson, her daddy’s best player, in her billfold. OK, so she’d clipped it from the newspaper and forged the inscription. It’s the thought that counts. Diane’s often the woman laughing when others are gasping.
This morning, I asked if she’d slept well, and she answered, “three-run johnson” — Red Sox color man Dennis Eckersley’s slightly off-color phrase for a big home run. So she’d had a good night. “It’s a beautiful thing,” Eck will say.
Yes, she sometimes tires of my obsession, and I’m generally forbidden from detailed game accounts — particularly at bedtime. But stories revealing players’ character and personalities are often welcome. The other day, for example, I told her about maybe the most thrilling pitching performance I’d witnessed this year during the seventh inning of the sixth game of the Braves-Dodgers series.
Braves leading 4-2, Dodgers batting, National League pennant on the line. Runners at second and third, nobody out. Fans going nuts; disaster looming. First-ballot Hall of Famer Albert Pujols at bat, line-drive hitting machine (and former Red Sox) Mookie Betts hitting third. Atlanta brings in this great, hulking left-hander Tyler Matzek, somebody I’d never seen before.
Turns out Matzek got the “yips” a few years back and was out of the game. It’s a baseball term for an inexplicable condition that turns a guy with pinpoint control and a 98 mph fastball into a guy who can’t play catch with his brother without endangering his life. He told his wife he couldn’t go on. They cried about it together.
But he got help, started at the bottom and worked his way back. So now he’s trying to save the Braves’ season in the biggest game of his life. But let Luke Jackson tell the story. He’s the relief pitcher who made the mess Matzek walked into, facing three batters: double, walk, double.
“When manager Brian Snitker emerged from the dugout,” Jackson told Sports Illustrated, “he felt only relief. ‘Thank you,’ he told the skipper. ‘I can’t buy an out right now.’ Besides, he knew who was on his way: ‘Tyler Nutsack,’ Jackson said. ‘That’s what everyone calls him, because he’s got to drag those huge balls out to the mound every night.’”
The coach’s daughter laughed out loud at that. Lauren in Atlanta got a kick out of it, too.
Because Nutsack struck out the side, and the Braves won the pennant.