The Battered Bastards of Baseball

Mets 6, Indians 0. Matz, in a shutout comeback, struck out nine, and Kid Conforto doubled twice. It was a great game.

So, the title of this post is the title of an amazing baseball documentary that I encourage everyone to watch. It’s about an independent baseball team in Portland, Oregon, during the 1970s. Even if you’re not too into baseball, you’ll find something in this film, because it’s more about the deep mythic heart of baseball and what the sport can be outside of the constraints of an official league. It’s about how human the game is. And it’s really funny, too. You’ll learn what a “Jogarza” is. It’s on Netflix.


 

First Game

 

I was ten years old and half the size

of the players on the field,

and I climbed the steep stairs up to the last row

of Shea Stadium and chose a seat in the wind

and sky hundreds of feet above

the wash of green and the clay borders

of the infield. A speck of a man below

charged through deep centerfield, performing

calculus by running as he tracked the arc

of a fly ball that never reached as high up

as I was. I felt so small, tiny and perched

up in the sky like a crow on a wire,

but I heard the crowd’s roar growing

like a turbine accelerating

and the only thing louder

than the crack of the bat was the thrust

of jet engines above, planes that took off

from LaGuardia, and down below,

my father, a blue dot along the rows

of orange seats, kept score.

Matz Tanks

Mets 3, Marlins 10. I turned on the game in the top of the 2nd. Nobody on, nobody out. Five minutes later, it’s 7 to zip and Terry Collins yanks young Steven Matz after he gave up a nail-in-the-coffin two-run homer. In baseball, it’s amazing how quickly a good batting order can unravel a pitcher when he doesn’t have his good stuff.


 

A Pitcher’s Mind

 

Two on, nobody out, the 3-2 pitch

and it’s a walk, then another,

then a single and a run scores,

then the pitcher is spitting and mumbling

to himself as the manager trudges

to the mound. They cover their mouths

with their mitts, and who knows

what’s said at those meetings—

the famous scene in Bull Durham

where they talk about a cursed mitt

and misaligned chakras

while the batter taps his cleats

and waits. The pitcher’s mind unravels—

he’s thinking of his pregnant wife,

or his parents in the luxury box

who flew all this way to see him tank

but really came to wait for the moment

of birth. He shakes off the next sign

from the catcher, throws a fat hanging curve

that the batter pounds over the fence,

and the manager’s back out, a slap on the ass

and the pitcher’s done, and he sits

on the bench and spits sunflower seeds

and watches his team lose with a blank,

sweaty face, with a mind that’s anywhere

but here. He’s waiting for that call, the ride

to the hospital, the birthing room,

the first cry of a newborn

that’ll make all those losses disappear.