Baseball Bin Berry Berry good to Me
Well, the whole family went to a baseball game in the Emerald City last weekend, which for once looked like it wouldn’t live up to its rep as the wettest city in North America. In fact, we were greeted by a startlingly clear blue-sky and mid-80s pool-lounging weather, which lasted exactly one day. We were there to watch the worst team in the AL West (Seattle) take on the best team in the AL Central (White Sox), fully expecting the M’s to get the ass-whupping they clearly deserved. By Saturday, the clouds had moved in, and soon it had reverted to the typical chilly, breezy Seattle we all know so well.
But even when you are watching a bad team play, baseball is a game of endless wonder. Not only do you witness the most difficult task in all of professional sport—the hitting of a pitched baseball—but you also enjoy the most elegant, intelligent, multi-faceted sport in the world. Its pastoral and contemplative qualities are well-documented by writers more gifted than yers truly, but what really gets me about baseball is the geometric progression of possible outcomes for each and every single play. It is a game of seemingly endless possibilities; like the proverbial toe-dipping stream, you never see the same game twice.
And while this game was no different, in that it WAS different from every other game I’d ever seen, I realized, while watching my least favourite M (Bret "Pretty Boy" Boone) hit a monstrous 440 foot game-winning homer, that I had been rather unmoved by the feat. In fact, what most surprised me was how swept up I was by the grace of the game played by Ichiro Suzuki. Now, baseball is also a game that allows for an inordinate amount of statistical analysis, and I am a Baseball Prospectus-reading stat-head junkie who understands that, by any objective measure of performance, Ichiro Suzuki, while certainly a good player, is far from the high-impact player that you would expect from an MVP. His good batting average is rather hollow (he doesn’t walk enough and hits few home runs) and as a right fielder his defense—despite his cannon arm and terrific ability to cover acres of ground--is not particularly important to the outcome of many ball games (unlike, say a fella who plays up the middle, like a shortstop, second baseman or centre fielder) . Statistically speaking, he’s just not that impressive a player.
Yet, when I watched Ichiro play this game, I was completely seduced by the elegance of his playing style. In one at bat, his smooth slash and burn stroke resulted in a gunshot double that I had a great angle on, being positioned in the left field bleachers, and the way that puppy did its elastic-band bend thang into the left field corner, landing just inches inside the third base line was a real joy to behold. That it looked like just about every other double he’s hit in his career is sort of the point—Ichiro’s got that particular hit down so well that he’ll probably be able to hit ‘em when he’s hobbling out to the on deck circle in a walker. More impressive still was the manner with which he manned right field. Running swiftly, but without urgency, he seems in complete control of the play every time the ball is hit his way. On one extraordinary play in particular, Ichiro ranged deep into the right field gap, while Hiram Boccachico (what he’s doing in centre field when the M’s have Randy Winn in left I’m STILL trying to sort out) barreling across from centre, was on a clear collision course with Ichiro. As the two players converged on the ball (and each other), Ichiro appeared to pull out of the play to avoid the collision, slipping just in behind HB at the very last moment, thereby allowing HB to make the catch by passing in front of him. But HB missed the ball (that’s what you get when you put a utility infielder in cf). More impressively, Ichiro, who had pulled up out of the play to avoid the collision and give the catch to his centre fielder (who should have been covering for Ichiro on the play, but again, that’s what you get when you put an infielder in cf), who was behind HB and thus undoubtedly had his line of sight at least partially obscured, this same Ichiro caught the damned ball! It was a Willie Mays-worthy snag and a stylin' Yankee Clipper-esque piece of elegence. Dazzling stuff.
But the thing is, like I said above, by any objective standard of measurement Ichiro is less valuable to his team than, say, a plodding, flat-footed slugger like Frank Thomas. Ichiro simply doesn’t put as many runs on the board with his bat, or prevent enough with his glove, to compete statistically with a fella like that. And so when I’m building my Strat-o-Matic team, I know that if my plan is to win, I had better choose Thomas before Ichiro. But just as clearly I know that if I am going to attend a game in order to see it beautifully played, I’d much rather watch Ichiro than The Big Hurt. Ichiro has complete command over the things that he does well, and watching him play puts me into a state of reverie that no Jim Rice clone will ever manage.
What this all has to do with movies I dunno. Mebbe to some extent it may explain my taste in films—I’ll generally take fleet-footed and challenging art house flicks over slamming action films any old day—but I’d be wary of trying to stretch that particular analogy too far. After all, consistency being the hobgoblin of small minds and all that, I like big, broad strokes too, and will most certainly watch a Leone and Kurosawa film before a Visconti or Mizoguchi effort, so my tastes are hardly stone-etched. Whatever. The hardest decision I’ll be making tonight is whether to watch the M’s play fellow cellar-dwelling Montreal Expos or to toss some 7 Samurai into the DVD player.
Or, as I am wont to say when presented with such dilemmas: Why not both?