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September Baseball

The last two nights of Pirates versus Reds were two hot evenings between teams battling for a very cold place in the NL Central. Lured by the prices-you-can’t-refuse on Stubhub I went to both. One with a daughter, one with a friend.

Last night, a couple that married at Three Rivers Stadium twenty years ago was among the very sparse crowd. Most most teams’ fans, acceptance of baseball’s grind of a season relies on a suspension of disbelief and thinking: “This is a sacred rite.”  and this sure felt like a George Will-level of faith in such a ritual. Would their marriage have been strong enough to survive two more decades of a cement and astroturf bowl? They looked happy holding up a hand-made sign in front of the Wagner statue.

Watching bitter-ender baseball on a school night changes the composition of the crowd. “The Pirates aren’t mathematically eliminated yet” one stoic in the row in front of me said with a knowing wink.

The first night had a visiting kids baseball team, engaged enough to be running down to the edge of the field between innings in hopes of a baseball souvenir (they got a number of them, joyfully.) Otherwise, almost no kids, which takes some of the shared wonder of the experience out of going to a game. Baseball relies more than other sports on its old and its young.

The crowd that remains is engaged and knowledgeable, instead of passing the time on their smart phones. Maybe that’s justified while some .235-hitting batter adjusts his gloves and stance between every meaningless pitch. Lion-in-winter Joey Votto sure took his time. September fans don’t need an electronically-assisted strike zone laid over their screens to tell them if a pitch was a ball or strike. What’s lost in their certitude is gained in the focus: a microcosm of our life with electronics.

The Pirates and Reds feature a bevy of September call ups. They are exciting even when they make mistakes – Pablo Reyes strangely calling off Cervelli then overrunning a routine foul pop up. The dude is, if nothing else, fast. Got to see both his and Kevin Kramer’s first major league hits. A milestone or errata? The talent on display for both teams showed flashes of starting potential…but not much more. Gabriel Guerrero, nephew of Hall of Fame caliber Vladimir G., and cousin of promising Vladimir G., looks very promising for the Reds.

It’s hard to imagine going to more than three games in a row, much less eighty-one in a season. Baseball’s slowness is a good part of the game but good things can be carried to an extreme. Pirogi races are better once a month than twice a week, the T-shirt tosses and other between-inning entertainments get old.

It was “Clemente Night” last night. This should be part of the sacrament of baseball, a connection of saints to the past. Besides having “21” cut in the grass, what made it so? There wasn’t a single bit of footage on the screen, celebration of relatives, or otherwise that I saw. That would interrupt the Denny’s Grand Slam Inning or Dance Cam?


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