Yesterday I drove back to NYC from Long Beach Island, so it was another day of catch-as-catch-can baseball. But it was an adventurous one: Emily and Joshua got dropped at Sesame Place outside Philadelphia for an outing with his grandparents, so our friend Eddie and I heard the intriguing Maddux/Duque duel on FAN as we planned an outing of our own. What better way to cap the calorie-fest that was vacation at the beach than taste-testing cheesesteaks (whiz, wit) in South Philly? So off we went to Pat's and Geno's. I drew the Geno's assignment and totally muffed order etiquette, but was treated mercifully enough. (I ordered in English, by the way.) If anyone's curious, my vote was for Pat's, whose onions I thought had more bite. But it was the thinnest of margins. You can't really go wrong.
As previously chronicled, the game was a perfect, modest little affair: good pitching, one big hit, two lead changes. Now that Greg Maddux isn't a Brave he can be appreciated far more — the story of Maddux intentionally grooving a slider to Butch Huskey in a spring-training game as preparation for the regular season is a classic, for example.
But while I'm not going to vilify him, I do have a question: Why just 72 pitches? I can't believe Grady Little pulled him (insert Pedro/Yankees joke here), so I assume it was Maddux's decision. I know Maddux had just run the bases. I know he's in his twilight and his margin for error, location-wise, is down to nothing. But with a game on the line that the Dodgers have to win, isn't it better for them to have a tiring Maddux on the mound than Tim Hamulack or Brett Tomko?
You were happy to see him depart in favor of those two decidedly mere mortals, and rightly so. Maddux has an aura about him that he earned by being a perennial Cy Young winner, by being a sure-fire Hall of Famer, by being Greg Fricking Maddux. Brett Tomko? If he has any kind of aura, he needs to do a better job in the shower. And yet there Maddux went, presumably on his own or without much resistance, after which Hamulack nearly gave up a home run to Delgado and Tomko gave up the fatal single to Wright. Assuming it was Maddux's decision, I'm not saying it was selfish or arrogant — the L wound up on Maddux's ledger, after all. If anything, it seems excessively unselfish and modest — believing too much in a supporting cast you far outshine. Whatever it is, I don't get it.
Regardless, the game turned out right and was over around Trenton. But my baseball day wasn't over. On Thursday night, after the Brooklyn Cyclones earned a trip to the New York-Penn League playoffs in unlikely fashion, I grabbed a couple of playoff tickets online. Last night was the first of a best-two-of-three series with the Staten Island Yankees, and my Internet order landed me seats 10 rows back, behind home plate.
Sounded great late Thursday night, but as I lugged various possessions out of the rental car late Saturday afternoon, I had at least a moderate case of buyer's remorse. Everybody I invited to the game was busy, I was bone tired, I would have to find a place to park the rental car and then either return it to Manhattan after the game or get billed for an extra day, and I would be late getting to Keyspan (after a long haul on the F train) no matter what I did. Frankly, getting rid of the rental car and then taking a cheesesteak-induced nap seemed like the smart plan.
But man, I had an awfully good ticket. I had a chance to end summer with an unexpected Coney Island visit. And the Cyclones were in the playoffs.
Oh, what the hell.
So it was that I strolled up to Keyspan, print-at-home tickets in hand, around 6:15. The game was on, and I saw something drop from the concourse above, land on the pavement with a dull, meaty sound, and roll toward me.
What idiot would drop a baseball out of the concourse? I thought.
I've been going to baseball games for 30 years. I've never left with a foul ball. Never. Eventually, the years of anticipation yielding nothing and reflexes dulled by overthinking everything combined to leave me almost unaware that one could get a foul ball, and all but helpless when one did come my way. At Shea, I've been caught by my wife cringing away from one that wasn't all that close. I've had one come within a couple of feet while I goggled at it stupidly (and did nothing to protect my kid). At a Bowie Baysox game years ago a foul ball skipped up the aisle to where I was ordering a hot dog and hit me in the foot. It spun at my feet for a moment; I stared at it like the ape with the thigh bone in 2001 before a passing kid gave me a strange look and picked it up. (An outfielder did toss a ball in my general direction after an inning at Keyspan, but that doesn't count. Besides, I dropped it.)
Anyway, all of this is to explain why I would actually think someone had dropped a ball out of the Keyspan Park concourse before realizing that was a foul ball rolling along the pavement in front of me. (Hit, it turned out, by recent callup D.J. Wabick.)
After all those years, it wasn't even hard: The ball rolled right to me, like a dog offered a treat. I stopped, put my hand down, the ball rolled into it, I read OFFICIAL BALL NEW YORK-PENN LEAGUE on it, thought “Cool!” and walked on into the stadium.
As if there aren't thousands of reasons already, let that be a lesson. You're tired? You've got a lot to do? You won't get there for first pitch? Whatever. Go to the game.