Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Long Haul

Blowfish Chronicles: The Long Haul





The Long Haul




Ten minutes past midnight, on June 19, five hours
and five minutes after the opening pitch, the day before, Fish batter Rich
Witten knocked a hearty shot down the right field line to bring in the winning
run. At last, on a final score of 9 to 8, the Wilmington Sharks were harpooned!
I had at an earlier game expressed interest in extra innings. But it is not as
if I got what I prayed for when I got
this additional five, the win seeming not so much part of a bargain as
compensation for overtime.

Out on the field, in the flush of victory, some of
our guys looked up in gratitude at the stands, and applauded what were by then
the remnants of a crowd—and that gesture was worth the wait. We were all in the
game together, grim and giddy comrades, first during the four scoreless innings
when the teams were tied at seven, then during the thirteenth, when the Sharks
went up to 8, followed by the Fish, who did the same, and then finally through
most of the fourteenth, when around the press box thoughts of a slumber party began
to be silently shared.

What to say in short order of such an epic
evening?  That seven Fish pitchers saw
action, the win going to Grier Harrington, who presided over the final eight
Shark outs. The parade to the mound of so many successors doubtless had by
midnight erased from many minds the memory of starter Breylon Emory, who lasted
two outs into the fourth, when, having given up two runs, he was pulled with
the bases loaded. But I remembered, even at the end, the shaky start of this
young man, whose tour of duty at the Cap that night was for me a game within a

Emory walked the first Shark batter, on the
minimum number of pitches, and this runner got to second on a steal. Then Emory
walked the second batter, on five pitches, upon the first of which, his fifth
consecutive non-strike, my imagination ran wild with thoughts of the
vulnerability of any player who commands, or fails to command, the mound. I
took no pleasure even in the thought of Emory’s having to be directed to the
showers without ever throwing a strike, his misfortune for some reason being
mine, as if he were my brother, and so when he pitched his sixth pitch of the
evening and this pitch was—at last!—a strike, the silence with which this
belated success was greeted was to me astonishing. We Fish fans, including
perhaps yours truly, seemed to be biding our time, withholding, along with
judgment I suppose, the ordinary reward, but strikes, though expected of a
pitcher, are always worthy of reflexive recognition, and I was sorry to hear no
sound of support, save mine (“Alright!),
when Emory threw his third strike. This, however, came seven pitches later, to
Shark batter number three, the second Shark at the plate having, as I say,
already like the first been given his base on balls.

Manager Tim Medlin had come to the mound in the
meantime, to offer such words as are deemed appropriate in such a situation,
some blend I imagine of support and admonition, and Oliver Santos had jogged
over from third, to put in a word of his own, but with those runners on first
and second, and still no outs, the third Shark batter worked the count to its
limit, and there seemed to descend upon the Cap a different kind of sleepy
time, not that meditative silence at the end of a game whose loss is virtually
certain, but this early, abstracted emptiness, the special effect of a
collectively-feigned catatonia.

Emory aborted the pitch. He swung around to
threaten a pick-off throw to second, hopping off the mound. When he returned,
he arrested his motion midway, pausing, as is the custom, with gloved hands on
chest, looking to first, looking back again to second. But Emory held the ball
too long. The plate ump terminated the suspense, and the three-two delivery was
prepared again from scratch.

Once thrown, the ball
made contact with a swinging bat, hitting the ground and bouncing into the
glove of Santos just as the Shark runner from second was passing. Santos made
the almost unavoidable tag with no delay in his throw to first. Two outs—upon
the instant up from none—downgraded Potential Nightmare to Disconcerting Dream
and weighed against the offense. But there was still a Shark on second. Was the
danger too little diminished? There was hardly time to ask. The next batter
grounded out, and the Fish trotted off the field, to  applause doubtless tempered by thought of trials to come. In a
baseball game even deep wounds can be treated so as to cause no lasting damage,
but I thought our guys might be a little worse for the wear. The reprieve had
come after one more touch of misery. Before the side-retiring grounder, Emory
had thrown a wild pitch, allowing that Shark on second within ninety feet of

No comments:

Post a Comment