Thursday, June 10, 2010

One Field, One Arm, Many Dreams

Too often it seems that at the point of intersection where the rubber meets the road, things end up being something less than they were cracked up to be. Regardless of how mechanically inept we might be (and as soon as I can pull apart the hands I inadvertently super glued together I will raise one of mine and be counted), all of us recognize and know how to operate the hype machine. P.T. Barnum did not die. He multiplied.

But every so often - as we elbow our way to get to the front of the line of folks waiting to see "The Great Egress" - a moment occurs where what actually happens is even better than what we were told was going to happen. Tuesday night was such an occurrence. Because one cannot live by blind hatred alone - even for the most incompetently run corporate entity currently operating in these United States (on land anyway as the dullards from BP appear to have the aquatic competition locked down), as I sat in front of my computer thinking of mean (albeit well-earned) things to say about Continental Airlines I remembered that a much-heralded rookie pitcher was making his Major League debut for the Washington Nationals. I was half-watching the Yankees dismember the Orioles when I remembered that the good people of DirectTV bring me MLB Network as part of my programming package. I turned to that channel and there he was: the future had arrived.

Baseball has appeared in more incantations in our Nation's Capital than anyone or anything else this side of William Howard Taft. The present wearers of the Washington, D.C. name are the Nationals (or the Natinals as they unfortunately appeared - at least some of them - during one game last season). While term limits have not yet come to the United States Senate (and Robert Byrd of West Virginia has announced his plans to serve two terms after he dies), someone in the MLB hierarchy decided that "Senators" would not serve a third team as the Washington club's nickname, which given that former Senators are now Twins and Rangers was probably a good idea.

Tuesday night in D.C. a remarkable thing happened. The Nationals filled their ballpark to its gunwales in anticipation of the debut of Stephen Strasburg, who is but a season removed from having been the nation's dominant collegiate pitcher. And the kid - in his first big league game - brought the stuff. He pitched seven innings, during which he struck out 14 Pirates batters while walking none. He yielded only two runs. For good measure, in inning six and again in inning seven he struck out the side. He was not as good as advertised in his debut. He was better. Whether he can come close to replicating that performance in his second game, which will be in Cleveland against the Indians, I know not. We shall all have to wait and see.

For one magical late Spring/early Summer night in Washington D.C., no one cared about what might occur at some point in the future. That is not entirely true. Strasburg represents something of critical importance to his team and to their fans: HOPE. He is the Promise of better days ahead. More than that though, they cared about what they were seeing. They cared less about his promise and more about his performance. The type of performance that reminded them that if we keep just a bit of faith in the magic that exists out there in the ether and in the night air, our faith might very well be rewarded.

And on TV the energy in Nationals Park was palpable - and stood in stark contrast to the somnambulant nature of the somewhat sparse crowd relaxing at Camden Yard as the hometown O's got their beaks kicked in by the Yankees. Faith is indeed a powerful thing. It was in plentiful supply in the District of Columbia but nowhere to be found further East on the Baltimore Washington Parkway.

Watching Strasburg pitch Tuesday night I was reminded that faith and hope, much like despair and fear, are infectious and extremely communicable. And watching him in action, I could not help but smile. I am a Yankees fan. But more than that I am - and have been my entire life - a baseball fan. And while no one knows what the story of young Mr. Strasburg will be until it is written, on Tuesday night he was good for more than just his club. He was good for baseball. I hope that not only was his debut a portent of things to come for him but that his future unfolds for him wearing the uniform of the Nationals. The easiest way to speed up the spread of hope and of faith is not try to stockpile it all in one place. Rather it should be spread around - readily accessible for all who might want to have a taste of it.

The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and that could be again. Oh... people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.

I hope that Mr. Strasburg, his mates and the Nationals' fans have a whole lot more Tuesday nights like the one they just had. It shall be good for him, good for them and good for all of us. We can all always use a reminder of all that once was good and that could be again.


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