Saturday, January 20, 2007

Day Two - The Glider Gives Up His Nickname

Oh man, am I fried.

That was a very long and exhausting day, and it was a roller coaster. But I’m happy to report that all’s well that ends well – at least so far.

The first real day of camp starts with the morning meeting at 8:30.

Commissioner John Stearns goes over the rules and describes the awards that are handed out on a daily basis. For example, each day, someone is awarded the “gold rope” for outstanding performance, and someone receives the ignominious “brown rope” for boneheadedness, and people can do very dumb things in a baseball game.

John Stearns shows off the coveted "gold rope" at the morning meeting as Joe Pignatano looks on.

As Stearns put it, “Each morning, campers will be singled out for praise and ridicule, so be ready.” Baseball players are a caring and sensitive bunch.

Then the clubhouse man Jack Brenner helpfully demonstrated the “laundry loop”, which the clubhouse staff use to keep track of everyone’s laundry. In a nutshell, you’re supposed to clip all your laundry on this handy dandy loop that has your locker number on it, and every morning, like magic, your laundry is delivered fresh and clean to your locker. They also somehow manage to get these hideously muddy, clay-ey, grass stained jerseys sparkling white. I honestly don’t know how they do it, although it wouldn’t surprise me if they use chemicals that will make us all sterile.

Anyway, Jack clearly enjoys his work, because he demonstrates the laundry loop principle with extraordinary gusto. Given that I have a feeling there is at best 75% compliance, I assume Jack to be a patient and generous man.

Jack Brenner Triumphantly Displays the Proper Laundry Loop Technique as Stearns Looks on

Once we were indoctrinated in the various rules and rituals of life in baseball, we headed off to drills in four stations – infield, outfield, pitching and batting practice. The coaches wandered the fields, assessing the talent in advance of the closed door draft held at lunch.

So we’re all running around like a bunch of idiots trying to impress the coaches. After thinking about this, I realized that the best strategy would be to play really badly in practice so other good players would be drafted ahead of you. But the fact is that the same kind of competitive spirit that would possess a person to drop a pile of dough for a week of baseball also means that it’s really tough to undersell one’s own talents, such as they are, or aren’t.

At the center of the practice fields at the Mets training compound is this great big tower, and for much of the morning our fantasy camp league commissioner John Stearns would pace the battlements of the tower, kind of like the commandant of a prison camp. My guess is that he really likes it up there. (By the way, unless I’m the only person in America who has failed to figure out how to use You Tube, I shot a little video of Stearns throwing batting practice – priceless. I’ll try to post it soon.)

So Stearns is yelling stuff with his bullhorn up on the tower, and we’re busting our butts trying to get coaches to notice us, like wallflowers at the prom.

After drills and lunch, the coaches held their draft.

We all come here to have fun, but we also come to win. And everyone wants to get on a good team with good coaches and win this thing. So the draft is very important, and guys started getting really edgy toward the end of lunch. A lot of time went by, and the coaches still hadn’t emerged from their draft, and we all sat around, waiting for the puff of white smoke over the Vatican to signify that the teams had been selected.

I was really hoping I’d be back on Felix’s team. Or maybe I’d get with Steve (Hendu) Henderson, who went up to my daughter last time and said, “Are you little Brownie?” “Yes,” she beamed. “Your daddy can play.” Now that was cool.

Well, I was picked by Duffy Dyer, who caught for the Mets in the early seventies. The rest of his coaching staff includes the indecipherable but energetic Willie Montanez, whose excruciatingly slow home run trot was a thing to behold, and The Glider, Ed Charles, the third baseman of the Miracle Mets team of ’69, who sat at our dinner table the night before.

Duffy Dyer is, how shall I put it, taciturn. He will never be hired as Walmart greeter, but fortunately, he doesn't need the work. He currently manages the Detroit Tigers’ AA affiliate, so he knows his baseball, and continues to make a living at it. And it's clear that he wants to win, and that losing makes him rather cross.

The first game didn’t go well at all. As I’ve written, I’ve been really eager to pitch, but I started at third, which is a tough position to play. Lotta very hard balls hit at you, and a really long throw, and we all know I’ve got a bit of Mackey Sasser going on.

I played okay, going 2 for 3, making a few decent plays and a few lousy ones, but we got shelled – 11-2 or something like that. Duffy was displeased.

Game two started marginally better (although I still didn’t get to pitch) – we had a 2-1 lead through three innings, but I made a few bad plays at third and I was beginning to wonder if trying to recreate my perfect first fantasy camp experience was a dumb idea.

Then, late in the game, the other team had the bases loaded with two outs, and we were watching our 5-2 lead potentially slip away. Their best hitter was up, and he had just hit a long bomb to left that barely went foul. Then he hit a screamer to my left - I stabbed it, spun around, and raced to third for the force. End of rally. Ed Charles, The Glider, then said the words that I’ll take to my grave – “I’m done being The Glider, Brownie, now you’re The Glider. That kind of play is why I come here.”

I mean, Ed Charles gave me his nickname. The really nice thing about baseball is that you can wipe out a day’s worth of infamy with one play that takes all of ten seconds, and which happens entirely by instinct and reaction. We went on to win 7-2, and all of a sudden things were looking up.

Injury report – in his first at bat, one player, who brought his wife and kids down from New York, pulled up lame with a very bad hammy, and could possibly be out for the camp. Another guy, on the same team, did some kind of circus move at home plate trying to elude a tag, and smashed his elbow into the catcher’s helmet. Hard to say whether he’ll be able to play any more. I suspect the trainer’s room will look like a M*A*S*H unit tomorrow morning, given the stories I heard.

1 comment:

Bruce said...

And here I was salivating the Bears' victory today and their upcoming trip to the SuperBowl, thinking to myself that "nothing...just nothing...can top this." Then "Brownie" files his report telling us about his victorious play. Just goes to show that on some days there's just no limit on how many good things can happen.

A tip of the cap you!