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Finch Holes: Baseball, Creative Nonfiction, More Than Sports Talk

It’s All About the Pitching

BASEBALL
It's All About the Pitching
Leesa Cross-Smith

I write about sports emotions a lot on Twitter. Sometimes an all caps SPORTS EMOTIONS or BASEBALL EMOTIONS will do because it would take me far too long to go way deep into what I mean. I mean a lot of things by it. Sometimes I mean frustration and sometimes, elation. Excitement, comfort, sweetness, sports hugs, snacks and butt smacks. (Which is probably what I should call my sports podcast: Sports Hugs, Snacks & Butt Smacks.) And sometimes I mean, I remember the no-hitters. Where I was, what I was doing, who I was with. I get nervous to watch/listen, sometimes won’t even mention it to my husband until the eighth inning. I ignore the MLB notifications on my phone until they get past the sixth inning, although I do love a good, heartbreaking almost no-hitter.

I remember the no-hitters because they matter. I remember them because they’re Something. The same way and reason I remember and cherish all sorts of things about my sports emotions. Because they matter and because life can be really sad and confusing and hard and sometimes things like no-hitters and your favorite team finally winning or winning two, three games in a row or watching Mike Baseball Machine Trout sprout wings and leap over the fence to rob someone of a home run can make a girl feel better about the world. Sometimes sports emotions are my tea, my heating pad and my quilt.

I was talking baseball with my dad years ago and mentioning something about a hitter…I can’t remember who it was or even what team (although when it comes to current teams, my dad and I are usually talking about the Reds, Cubs or Yankees because those are the teams he follows. We almost never spend more than an hour together without bringing up Joey Votto or how many bases Billy Hamilton stole that week.) and my dad said it’s all about the pitching. They need a good pitcher because it’s all about the pitching. And I think of that often when I listen to/watch any game and I think of it nonstop when a pitcher is pitching his way to a no-hitter. It’s all about the pitching.

Seems sort of obvious, I know. But of course, home runs and grand slams get a lot of attention. Power hitters, RBIs, stolen bases. Offense. Also, one very important part of baseball: keeping the other team from scoring. It’s beautiful when the crowd starts holding up those K signs and there’s a lovely long line of them. And sure there are some flashy pitcher-dudes with neck tattoos and ones who shoot invisible arrows when they save a game (and others who don’t play for the Mariners), but I like the sleeper-pitchers, the quiet-ish ones. The ones with heterochromia iridum, the ones with bushy beards, the ones with high socks, the ones with cross necklaces tucked into their jerseys or not tucked into their jerseys. I guess the flashiest pitcher I love is Brian Wilson and I do miss Brian Wilson. I love how weird he is. I loved him most when he was a jersey-unbuttoned Giant. I love the Giants pitchers and California baseball, in general. I like it when pitchers cross themselves before they pitch or after they win. Jered Weaver writes Nick Adenhart’s (RIP) initials in the dirt before he pitches. I like the ones who walk off the mound before the ump fersure calls the strike, because they just know their inning is over. I love the hyped-up legend surrounding Dock Ellis’ high-on-LSD no-hitter and Nolan Ryan giving Robin Ventura a beat down. Rivera walking out to “Enter Sandman.” Jake Arrieta giving the Cubs something to believe in.

I like it when the pitchers get standing ovations and when they tip their hats on the way to the dugout. I don’t particularly like the ones who are extra-fussy when the manager takes them out of the game (has John Lackey ever willingly left the mound?) but I do like the ones who fight to stay in and then, throw such nasty filthy dirtiness they get out of the inning without allowing a run. I like how the dugout camera keeps an eye on the nervous pitcher whose night is over, although he’s still responsible for the runners on base. I like Chris Archer, I really liked Chris Carpenter, I like Daniel Norris, Garrett Richards, CC Sabathia. There are lots I’m not mentioning. I really like Ryan Vogelsong, there is something about his pitching mechanics I can’t fully explain that endears him to me. And although I prefer him with the beard, he pitches terribly when he has it because baseball is delicate, so it had to go. He’s a decent pitcher, not the ace and I don’t care. In 2014 his ERA was 4.00, in 2015 it was 4.67. In 2011, Ryan was that magical Jesus-age of 33 and it was his best year. His ERA was 2.71. I even like the way his pitches are written in his Wikipedia entry. “Vogelsong throws a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, cut fastball, circle changeup, and curveball. His four seam sits in 90-93 mph.” There’s just something I like about him, which goes an awful long way in my heart, baseball or no.

I watch a fair amount of National League games but two of my favorite teams are in the American League (Rangers, Angels). That being said, I like when the National League pitchers have their at-bats: Madison Bumgarner hit two grand slams in 2014 and that was exciting. But of course, MadBum was the 2014 World Series hero because of the pitching. Game Seven on short rest, cheat code unlocked. It’s all about the pitching. I was in a hotel on the Gulf of Mexico in Orange Beach, Alabama, when I watched Clayton Kershaw throw a no-hitter against the Colorado Rockies. June 18, 2014. My skin, sun-hot and ocean-salty. I was drinking ice water, sitting on a huge fancy fluffy hotel bed with the balcony door wide open. And I was still there at the beach on June 25, 2014, when Timothy Leroy The Freak Lincecum threw a no-hitter against the Padres. My husband had taken our kiddos downstairs to swim and I stayed behind to watch the game, texted him HE DID IT! LINCECUM no-hitter!! when the game was over. Max Scherzer threw his second no-hitter of 2015 on October 3, against the Mets. I was in Albuquerque with my family. I’m normally an Eastern Standard Time Girl so the Nationals game felt particularly far away that night. We’d just stopped at Starbucks for coffee (decaf Americano because my body hates caffeine) after going pajama shopping at Target. Autumn means October baseball means cooler weather means comfy new pajamas. I got a red/grey stripey long-sleeved one piece. And less than a week before that, a Nats pitcher had shoved and choked Bryce Wunderkind Harper in the dugout. The Nats season had crumbled, the southeast coast was being pounded by Hurricane Joaquin and the day before, Scherzer had posted a picture of his battery mate in a fancy NYC hotel hallway where they were playing ball inside because of the weather. The Nats were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, but Scherzer made the magic happen anyway. He struck out seventeen, tying Nolan Ryan for the most ever in a no-hitter. I was listening to the game via my MLB At Bat app, driving towards the Sandia Mountains—that deep brown and navy blue shadowing against the glory of the wide-open New Mexico sky. I was being me, taking note of everylittlething, all sports-emotion-teary-eyed and thinking yes, yes, it’s all about the pitching.

 

Photo: Max Scherzer by Keith Allison

One Response to It’s All About the Pitching

  1. Chris Milam October 13, 2015 at 12:58 pm #

    This hit the mark in every way. The game of chess between pitcher and batter has always been my favorite part of baseball. And being a lifelong Expos/Nationals fan, the bit about Scherzer made me smile. I watched both of his no-hitters this year, as well Jordan Zimmermann’s to close out the regular season in 2014. Days I will never forget. Great read.

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