Sunday, October 6, 2013

Exit: Sandman and Spiritual Southpaw Part II

How often do you ask yourself Why do I do what I do? A little personal inventory from time to time is a good thing. Why do I eat so many carbs? Why can't I be kinder to this person? Why do I take the same route to work everyday? One question I think every baseball fan can and should ask is Why go to the ballpark? The final game of the 2013 season for the San Francisco Giants confirmed why I do.
I wish I had been there on extend my gratitude too.
In today's day and age, I think Major League Baseball must offer compelling answers to this question. Let's be honest, the game looks great on high definition TV. I can see every pitch with great precision. After a long day at work, I love to crash on my couch and see the full diamond in a temperature controlled environment. Unruly fans, waiting in lines for concessions or the restroom are of no concern to me.

Maybe it's just an SF thing, but give
aways are hot $$ items!
Baseball, like many professional sports, is cost prohibitive. Don't get me wrong, I have always believed there are affordable ways to do things, and that includes baseball or a round of golf. Perhaps you park your car a good clip from the stadium, maybe you make your own sandwich and bring your own peanuts. You can even off set the cost of the dynamically priced ticket by selling the give-away (case in point: that Dave Fleming bottle-stopper held little to no appeal to me. A collector's item for someone else, I made $20. Thank you Craigslist). And yet, without careful planning and prep, these cost saving strategies make the price rise quickly.  Meters are now $9.00 an hour during game-time. Parking in the closer lots is $30. Depending on the game you go to, the face value for a bleacher seat can be as high as $32.  Unfortunately, I know you could add to this list.

When the pennant race is out of the question—and I really feel for those teams that face that reality by the All Star break—the impetus for going to a game is (nearly) gone.  If I go, it's because I want to see another team. Maybe it's because I got free tickets. But I learned the hard way—or perhaps I was reminded of what I often preach—"just show up" when I read about Barry Zito's last few games as an SF Giant. I have always believed that if you show up, you'll be glad you did. The tributes to Zeets confirm my belief!

I could have gone on Wednesday, September 25 and seen Barry Zito beat the hated rival, Los Angeles Dodgers. Zito had not been a regular starter in the Giants rotation this season, and Bochy wanted to honor his career with giving him the nod to take on the champions of the NL West.  The Spiritual Southpaw dug deep—pitching 7 innings and securing a 6-4 win! I would have been a witness to an interesting truth.  Despite having a losing record, despite never regaining the Cy Young status he held as an Oakland Athletic and despite the $126 million dollar contract—Barry Zito proves that a human connection can endear you to fans in a way that should never be underestimated.
"If I had to strike out in my final at-bat, I'm glad it was against a former teammate whom I respect and love," Kotsay said. He did. Great job Z.
Don't get me wrong. "Z" played a huge role in securing the 2012 World Series crown. Game 5 of the NLCS against the Reds is officially known as "Rally Zito." He led the helm in Game 1 of the World Series. Had Zito not made the 25-man roster for the postseason, as in 2010, it's tough to say what that human connection would be like. And yet we don't have to...

And so if you showed up at the ballpark on Sunday, September 29. I have no doubt you're glad you did. Chris Haft of MLB wrote 
Zito started against the Dodgers last Wednesday night and won, but manager Bruce Bochy wanted him to experience the thrill of pitching once more. He informed Zito that he'd try to insert him for a match-up this weekend against Kotsay, a left-handed batter.
Fans cheered in anticipation when Zito jogged to the bullpen to warm up. When the eighth arrived, and Bochy left the dugout with two outs and nobody on base to remove Heath Hembree, the AT&T Park crowd began roaring before the Giants skipper even beckoned Zito from the bullpen.
"That was more adrenaline than the World Series," Zito said.
Zito doffed his cap and waved to the adoring crowd before entering the dugout. Urged by his teammates, he re-emerged and patted his chest with his left hand, a gesture meant to convey his identification with the crowd's feelings.
Zito was moved by the Giants' insistence for him to leave the dugout and acknowledge the cheers even more.
Said Zito, "This game is all about, 'What do your peers think of you?' ... When your peers respect you in that manner, there's nothing that's more validating as a player."
Alex Pavlovic of the San Jose Mercury News adds "Zito went down a line of teammates, hugging each one. He took pictures with several players, many of them rookies who were in high school when Zito signed the infamous deal. When he got to Bochy, Zito was given a long hug from a man who twice pulled him from the rotation this season."

"I had a lot of emotion going through me," Bochy said. "I have some great memories."
And that is precisely why we go.  The memories aren't made by sitting in your couch, tuning out, or showing up only when it matters. The memories are born in the effort to get to the yard—yes, the 3 mile hike— and in hearing the crack of the bat for the first or last time.  Those memories come alive when you are part of a group that beckons a player to come back out of the dugout so you can extend your gratitude for their gifts, talents and way of being.  They hearken back across the low lights but they burst when you remember the highlights—the moments of glory, the unexpected win, and the moment you realize more than one person is feeling adrenaline.

That's why I go to the ballpark. That's why I show up to watch the game. That's also why I go to Mass every Sunday and to school liturgy on Friday. Something is waiting to be seen and heard that was meant for me.

I am a witness. You are a witness.  We're all witnesses....Thank you 75.
Photo Credits
Striking out Kotsay
Raise your cap
Dave Fleming

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