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Posts Tagged ‘Bob Gibson’

Taking It to the Mattress

July 10, 2013 | by

Howard Craft, Topps Comics, 1979

I’m eighty-one but I can feel like I’m fifteen when I’m talking baseball. It brings you back.

—Buck O’Neil, Kansas City Monarchs, Negro Leagues

The ball explodes from the pitcher’s hand like a bullet, but it’s high and inside. “BALL!” the umpire yells, and the batter takes his base. The Bulls have two men on with no outs, bottom of the seventh. Neither team has scored a run. I sit near the visitors’ bullpen, watching the drama unfold. The pitcher on the mound has been throwing the proverbial smoke up until now. He’s given up two walks in a row, and if he gives up a third he’ll load the bases with our designated hitter coming up.

The visiting team’s relief pitcher starts stretching in the bullpen. A gangly Latino fellow, he rotates his arm in big circles and begins to throw. Slow at first, then faster, harder, until the ball disappears the moment it leaves his hand, only to reappear less than a second later in the catcher’s mitt. For anyone who’s ever played baseball, the ballpark is a time machine: the green of the grass, the crack of the bat, the pow the ball makes when it hits the glove all release memories buried by the daily grind called life. The ballpark allows us to live multiple places at once: at the game we watch and at the games played on the sandlots, backyards, parks, and school diamonds of our yesterdays. Each ticket is also a ticket to ride one’s personal baseball memory train.

I’m standing in my grandmother’s backyard, pitching distance from her tool shed. My Houston Astros cap pulled low, head down, holding the ball in my glove, I check my finger placement for my fastball. I am J. R. Richard and I can throw a hundred miles per hour. Really, I am Howard Craft, twelve years old, most often referred to as June Bug by family and friends. My fastball isn’t a hundred miles per hour, but it’s loud enough to make a bang when it slams into the side of the tool shed. After several of these bangs, the back door of the house opens and my father comes out. He crosses the backyard like an angry manager en route to pull a pitcher after he’s given up a home run in the bottom of the ninth. Read More »


October Surprise; or, How to Follow a Perfect Season

October 2, 2012 | by

My grandfather died in St. Louis last year on October eighth. The following night, Chris Carpenter pitched a three-hitter against the Phillies, lifting the Cardinals into the NLCS and alerting the nation that rather than just a squad of plucky underdogs, the Cardinals might be a team touched by something phenomenologically greater than a hot streak. For certain members of my family, my grandfather’s mid-playoff death offered a locus for the sense of destiny awakening around the Cardinals; in the weeks to come, as the team mounted increasingly improbable victories, more than one relative offered comments in the vein of, “Wally had something to do with this!” or “Wally was watching over the Cardinals last night!” Being a skeptical and ragged Catholic, I responded to these remarks with quiet derision, as I do to all suggestions that the Almighty would choose to meddle in the outcomes of our mortal diversions.

But as the weather here in St. Louis finally cools after a boiling, interminable summer—a summer that saw the maddening Cardinals muddle their way to a fragile hold on one of the devalued wild-card spots—I find it difficult not to look back on last fall’s championship run and see a team touched by divinity, or magic, or fate—a moment when a higher realm reached through the portal of sport and touched this mortal plane. The Cardinals may well make the playoffs this year, but I have to confess that I’m finding it hard to care. Whatever illumed last season, it’s gone, and here in St. Louis, we’re learning to live in its aftermath.

“Baseball,” as Michael Chabon observed in McSweeney’s no. 36, is “a game that somehow seems to offer more room, a greater scope than other sports, for the consciousness of failure and defeat—has always been associated, in its own history and my own, with a sense of loss, the idea of the lost arcadia, the last patch of green folded into a pocket of the world of brick and asphalt.” The sport is a dissonant blend of nostalgia and modernity. On the one hand, as Chabon says, it is a sport stubbornly resistant to change. The unhurried pace, the managers in uniform, the persistence of Fenway and Wrigley, the timeless sound of vendors calling out over the chatter of multitudes—these are all dogged holdouts, boulders in the stream of capital-P Progress, a refuge of familiarity in a world that often feels bent upon making itself unfamiliar from one day to the next. As George Carlin once put it, the objective of baseball is to go home.

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