Thursday, June 21, 2012

Eyes Full of Ghosts

We are enduring a fairly rough patch presently in the history of the Republic.  There are those among us - the Doomsday crowd - who predict that what we are seeing now is not the entire iceberg but merely its show piece, the tip.  There are those among us - the somewhat pragmatic crowd - whose faith in the things that have made it possible for America to reach the heights to which we have climbed at various times during our history believe that as long of those things "things" still exist and as long as we the people do not lose sight of what they are and how to utilize them that irrespective of this night's length a new day will dawn.  Those who still believe in the night's magic.

By no means do I intend this piece to offer a definitive survey of all things that support the position of the latter group.  I have vanity issues but even mine has its limits.  (What do you mean that you have seen no evidence of that to date?  Who asked you anyway?)  As the great Pete Hamill wrote in Downtown:  My Manhattan, "You know the people you love and the people with whom you work.  The rest is glimpses.  And on certain days, yes, you want to live forever."  A glimpse is sometimes all you get.  And sometimes it is all you need. 

Recently, Matt Cain pitched the first perfect game in the history of the San Francisco Giants.  Cain's performance, while exceptional, was certainly not unexpected given his pitching pedigree.  He has been one of the better pitchers in baseball for several years and has been a key figure in the Giants' resurgence in the post-Bonds era.  The image to me from his perfect game against the Astros that shall resonate for a long time is one that is associated with the catch that Giants centerfielder Gregor Blanco made in the 7th inning.

With no one out, Blanco ran down a blast that was struck into deep left-centerfield.  The catch was spectacular.  If you have not seen it - or if you are like me and you simply cannot get enough of it - then check it out here.  It is not a long piece of video (sixty seconds in its entirety) so permit yourself the indulgence of watching it from start to finish.  For my money, the most extraordinary part of it is not Blanco's catch but, rather, Cain's reaction to it.  Major league history is replete with examples of pitchers who berate their teammates for "plays not made" (at least from the somewhat jaundiced perspective of the pitcher).  Right at the end of the video (at about the 0:58 mark) check out what Cain did.  A simple gesture but one reflecting his recognition that he who goes it alone has a fool for a travelling companion.  Great stuff. 

While my rooting allegiance is with the boys of Steinbrenner Tech, I think that the man who just might be the athlete in all of sports who is the easiest for thom to root pitches for New York's other professional baseball club.  R.A. Dickey is not merely a baseball marvel this season, having won eleven of his first twelve decision while pitching to a 2.00 ERA, all the while throwing the most mysterious knuckleball this side of the Warner Brothers animation studio, although he is every inch just such a marvel.  In his last two starts he did something that had not been done since Dave Stieb of the Toronto Blue Jays (see Webster's Dictionary for "definition of big league pitcher who berated his teammates for plays not made") did it in the late 1980's:  he threw back-to-back one-hitters.  After his first such effort - against the Devil Rays in Tampa - the Mets filed an appeal with MLB to overturn the official scorer's decision to record the game's only hit as a hit instead of as an error charged to third baseman David Wright.  MLB denied the appeal.  The happiest guy when the decision denying the appeal was announced?  Dickey

Under Yours truly's definition of time well-spent (in addition to the video of the Blanco catch - go ahead and check it out again.  It is truly that good.) is Jon Wertheim's piece earlier this week on SI.com on Dickey.  He is far more than an talented pitcher having an extraordinary season plying his trade.  He is an extraordinary man whose prowess for throwing a pitch that no other major league pitcher features - the retirement after the 2011 season of the seemingly eternal Tim Wakefield rendered Dickey the Last of the Knuckleballing Mohicans - might very well be the least extraordinary thing he does. 

And for those of you out there who are put off by good guys like Cain and Dickey achieving success, I have not forgotten about you either.  Your poster child this week is Carl Ericcson. 

In the 1950's, when Ericcson was in high school among the extra-curricular activities he did was serving as a student manager for his school's track team.  One of the guys on that team was Norman Johnson.  Apparently on one occasion - presumably after track practice - Johnson played a rather obnoxious prank on Ericcson.  He placed a jockstrap on his head.  How angry did it make Ericcson?  Angry enough that after sporting a grudge for five decades, in January of this year Ericcson shot and killed Johnson.  At his sentencing this past Friday when pressed by the judge for an explanation as to why he had done what he did, Ericcson admitted that he had never been able to let go of that incident.  Upon further review, he told the judge, he wished that he had. 

Ericcson is now seventy-three years old.  The judge sentenced him to life in a South Dakota state prison.  In the off chance that the warden of that particular institution happens to be a reader of this space (stranger things have happened - although admittedly not a single example leaps to mind at present) then please permit me the indulgence of putting forth this piece of unsolicited advice:  do not assign Carl Ericcson laundry duty. 

Ever....

-AK

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