Tuesday, May 29

First Game

It’s time for Jose Melendez’s KEYS TO THE GAME

1. Interesting fact. Did you know that there are people on this good Earth, who have never seen a baseball game? Really. There are. But now there is one fewer.

Last night, Jose gave a Kosovar Albanian the greatest gift that an American can give a Kosovar, you know except for freedom from tyranny and pending, genocide, a chance to see a major league game. In 2005, while visiting Kosovo, Jose had tried to explain the great American game to this fellow, let’s call him Jack, but despite the innate Albanian love of all things American, he struggled to follow Jose’s lovingly hand scratched diagram.

“Where are the other eight men?” he asked when Jose explained that the batter was the only offensive player on the field. It’s all in the 2005 KEYS, you should read it. It’s excellent.

But a mere diagram is no substitute for the actual experience of attending a baseball game, much less a major league game at Fenway Park. As the emerald turf stretched before him as he emerged from the tunnel, Jack got that look that we’ve all seen in four year olds attending their first game, that we remember having ourselves when we first entered Fenway. But seeing it on a 33 year old man, dressed in what can best be described as a Miami Vice getup, is a different experience entirely. Wonder on the face of a child is beautiful, but common, wonder on the face of an adult, by contrast, is as rare as an inside the park homerun.

And that’s when the questions started.

Why is this guy going to the base? Why is a foul a strike sometimes but other times not a strike? How come the Japanese guy doesn’t pitch every day?

Some of the questions were easier to answer. Jose can explain the strike zone or the ground rule double, but others such as why Casey Blake was out after getting hit on the fingers on a swing, or why in God’s name we play Sweet Caroline in the eighth, reminded Jose that there are many things in this game that remain opaque, hidden beneath cloaks of time and behind walls of dusty tradition.

2. Jose loved Amelie Benjamin’s piece in today’s Globe Red Sox Notebook about the feud between Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia about who is slower. The centerpiece of the article was Youks claiming that his inside the park home run last night proved that he is faster. This, of course, proves nothing, as Steven Hawking could have rounded the bases on that ball.

Jose likes it because it reminds him of his feud his freshman year of high school with his friend Dan over who would be the slowest cross country runner not only on the team , but in Belmont High School history. Dan tried his best. Despite his long legs and lanky frame, he managed to run truly pathetic 10 minute miles throughout the 3.5 mile course. But Dan couldn’t compete with Jose. Jose’s inferior conditioning and general unwillingness to exert too much effort gave him the edge he needed to run 10 minute 30 second miles, allowing him to still be chugging away, long after Dan had crossed the tape. Jose’s specialty was lollygagging his way through the course and then going into the high kick down the final stretch, once everyone who had finished 10 minutes prior could see him, thereby demonstrating his grit and determination.

Only once, in the entire season, did Jose outpace another runner. Sadly, one competitor from Lexington out-slothed Jose running an astonishing five minutes behind him. Jose figures either the guy got hit by a bus while running or it was one of the Molina brothers, either way, Jose has to tip his cap.

3. Let’s be honest. As happy as we all were to see Mosey Nixon back at Fenway last night, to stand and shout and give him his due, weren’t we even happier that he was the guy up with the bases juiced in the eighth against a lefty? (Note: Yes, he did have a long sac fly rather than his more traditional “struck out swinging on a changeup away.”)

As hard as Nixon played for us, and as well as he played, there are few things in Red Sox history that Jose will miss less than watching Mosey face lefties in critical situations. On the list of things at bats has hated to watch over the years, it’s pretty much any Cesar Crespo at bat, Jim Rice with a runner on against a groundball pitcher in his last few years and then Mosey versus a lefty.

You’d think Wily Mo Pena would be making the list, with his remarkable ability to get so far ahead of an off speed pitch that he actually swings before the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand, but even if it’s futile the chance that he might inadvertently start World War III by knocking the ball to Red Square makes Jose not hate his at bats.

I’m Jose Melendez, and those are my KEYS TO THE GAME.

1 comment:

John H said...

Jose,

You skipped over the REALLY interesting tidbit in the notebook: in addition to doing spectaular(ly) stike outs, home runs and bad fielding, Willy Mo also does hair. I find it reassuring that when his final team no longer needs a big wiffer on the bench, WMP can fall back on something in which he actually excells.