Friday, August 31, 2007

A Meaningless Game

A few days ago I went to what was probably my last ballgame for the season. It was a meaningless game. My beloved Oakland As are, for the first time in a while, well out of contention with forty games yet to play. For years now, they’ve managed with a low payroll and smoke and mirrors to be one of the better teams in major league baseball.

But this year is different. The smoke and mirrors just aren’t there. There have been too many injuries and too many bets on head case players with talent that haven’t paid off. The As have hovered around .500 all year. And recently they’ve started to unload their higher salary players – two head cases and one guy who somehow has never been the same ever since major league baseball started to test for steroids - to save some money for next year. In the lineup at the game, there were only three players starting who were playing on opening day. The other seven, including the pitcher, started the season either playing for other teams or more commonly, in the minor leagues.

On the other side were the Toronto Blue Jays, another mediocre team that is well out of contention. But the starting pitcher for Toronto was Roy Halladay, one of the best pitchers in the major leagues. If Roy Halladay pitched in New York or LA, he’d be a nationally known star. But he plays on a team that is virtually anonymous. He’s 30 years old – prime for a pitcher – and has pitched for Toronto for about nine years having been drafted by them when he was 18.

Hardly anyone was in the stadium. And it was hot, about 90 degrees. When I was young, I’d have never gone to a game like this. What was the point? But nowadays, I seem to be finding an ability to see the joy in the little things. I was happy to be able to watch a good pitcher do his work even if that pitcher was pitching for the other side and the game was meaningless.

Roy Halladay did not start out well. He looked miserable out there and I was wondering if he was just going through the motions. He gave up four cheap runs in the first three innings. But then in the fourth inning something changed. Suddenly he had command of his fastball. His curve ball was devastating. He was locked in.

When a great veteran pitcher gets locked in like that, it’s all over. The As hitters, mostly rookies, were looking helpless out there. I looked up from my scorecard during that inning and said to the guy sitting next to me, “The As are going to get nothing until he’s done.” And they didn’t. He was unhittable for the rest of the game. Even though he had thrown a lot of pitches because he had started out so miserably, he kept coming out inning after inning. I couldn’t believe it. The game was meaningless, but he still had that desire to win. I smiled in admiration watching him. He threw 120 pitches over nine full innings, keeping his team in the game.

The As eventually won in extra innings. One of the many As rookies in the lineup slapped a single to win the game. By then Roy Halladay was long gone. But he had been fun to watch. Performances like that are why I love to go to baseball games, even when the teams are out of contention and it’s so hot that even my kneecaps are sweating.

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