It’s time for Jose Melendez’s KEYS TO THE GAME.
1. Jose loves Tim Wakefield and Jose loves the knuckleball. Or more accurately, Jose loves Tim Wakefield because of the knuckleball. This is not a secret.
Time and time again, Jose has described how he became enamored of the knuckleball while watching one of the Niekro brothers on The Baseball Bunch. (Note: Isn’t it time for a new Baseball Bunch? Could Barry Bonds play the Johnny Bench role, teaching kids the fundamentals, like hitting, throwing and proper use of performance enhancing drugs? “Cream on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, clear on Mondays and Wednesdays and Fridays kids. But on Sunday you rest. That’s God’s time.) Jose has described his lifelong effort to throw knuckleball and how it has resulted in him throwing exactly two out of, perhaps 10,000 pitches thrown. Jose has even claimed that he likes the knuckleball because it is like magic. It is the baseball equivalent of having a 5’3’’ NBA player who is in the league solely on his ability to hit half court set shots. At least that’s why Jose thought he loved the knuckleball. But he has had a change of heart. He has, if you will, flip flopped or perhaps sandaled.
Jose loves the knuckleball, because it is a metaphor for life. maybe not for everyone’s life, but for Jose’s life. The thing about the knuckleball that is so extraordinary is that unlike other pitches, it cannot be controlled, only directed, managed. Tim Wakefield cannot force the knuckleball up or down in the zone. He cannot choose for it to be a strike or a ball. What he can do is affect how sharply it breaks by speeding it up or slowing it down. And time after time, he can repeat, with the greatest possible precision, the exact motions that have brought him, and other knuckleballers before him, optimal results. Sometimes the outcomes are excellent, and sometimes, like now or in his magical 1995 stretch, they are astonishingly good for lengthy stretches. At others, such as when he was left off the 1999 ALCS roster after he seemed capable of blowing a 98 run lead in Game 4 of the ALDS, nothing he does seems to matter.
This is how life goes for Jose. He keeps the fingernails of his being trimmed and filed to exactly 3mm, he goes out of the figurative pitching motion and does his best to make the little tweaks required to keep the knuckleballs of daily life breaking hard over the plate. Sometimes the results are wonderful. Sometimes the Jason Giambis of despair, the Derek Jeters of adversity swing and miss and look as foolish as jesters. Sometimes, even thought they swing and miss, the ball evades the catcher and sneaks to the back stop, as seemingly good fortune melts into bad. But other times, there is Aaron Boone. Other times, Jose does the best he can, rotates the horsehide of his being forward by exactly one-fourth of a rotation, and still, there is no break, no movement. Whether it is a gust of wind from the frozen north, a butterfly batting its wings in Malaysia or a fan sneezing in section 23, the knuckleball fails to knuckle, the good intentions yield bad results and the ball makes an abrupt about face into the bleachers and into the emotional void of failure.
Jose cannot control his life any more than Tim Wakefield can control his knuckleball. He can only put faith in the soundness of his actions, the purity of his intentions and know that when his wins and losses are counted up at the end of the season, his record will be a little above five hundred. No, he may not be extraordinary, but he will be effective, he will be valued and maybe, just maybe he will hit that hot streak, that mystical spot at just the right time, and he can do something truly legendary.
2. With Hideki Okajima’s latest scoreless inning last night, that man who was once known as “the other Japanese guy” is now well on his way to being known simply as “OK.”
In light of OK’s emergence as the best setup man in baseball, Jose would like to revive a long dead, failed product. Now, Jose is always looking for opportunities to revive failed products ranging from PB Max candy bars (note: if only Pedro Borbon would return) to new Coke (note: is Steve Howe dead?), but this one is special.
In the summer of 1994, a series of chain letters mysteriously began to spread through Boston and perhaps the country like Herpes Simplex II through Daytona Beach. These letters spoke of a mysterious beverage that had brought great good fortune to those who consumed it and grave misfortune to those who had not. This beverage was called OK Soda. But despite the incredibly illegal marketing idea, despite the cool 800 number where on could hear stories of the great powers of the alterna-beverage as well as bird calls, the product failed. Perhaps it was because cynical Generation Xers realized that OK was secretly a product of the Coca-Cola Corporation, or perhaps it was because it tasted like a mix of Mountain Dew, Orange Fanta (note: the American kind, not the good European kind) and day old Folger’s crystals. Either way, no one drank it.
But now that there is, at last, a credible spokesman, it is time for OK Soda to make a comeback. According to wikipedia, it can be duplicated by mixing ¼ orange soft drink,¾ semi-flat Coca-Cola a splash of Dr. Pepper or Sprite. Jose calls on all Fenway stand concessionaires to start making this concoction as tribute to OK, our left-handed life saver. Let us all join together when he enters the game, no matter the hardship, no matter the burden and raise our glasses and recite the OK Soda slogan: With Hideki Okajima in the game “Things are going to be OK.”
Official Soft Drink of the Boston Red Sox?
3. There was a brawl last night at the Boston Pops and it got Jose thinking. Jose thinks a lot about the differences between high culture, like the symphony or professional wrestling, and low culture like baseball or cockfighting, and he thinks they could learn some things from each other.
- You never hear orchestras talking about how they need a new publicly financed symphony hall to remain economically viable or how the seats are too small and uncomfortable for modern people. Why is that? Don’t they know that if an institution is important to a city they can get a free ride?
- Jose knows the brawl wasn’t among musicians but what if it had been? If a clarinetist got into a fight with a cellist, would the rest of the woodwinds have to get involved to defend their compatriot? Would it be a rallying moment leading to better woodwind play for the rest of the orchestral season?
- They should sing Sweet Caroline before the last song at the Symphony.
- Why no wave at the Symphony? Not during the good parts with the brass, but during the boring string solos?
- Do professional musicians ever refuse to talk to jerk music critics?
- Jose is always quick to condemn performance enhancing drugs in sports, but so many musicians throughout history have used drugs to enhance their performance. From Miles Davis and pot, to Yo-Yo Ma’s crystal meth habit. Should Jose be condemning them too?
- Given that the Boston Pops is basically the Boston Symphony Orchestra minus the best player in each instrumental section and plus someone worse in each section, why are they so celebrated? Isn’t it a little like taking the staring nine and top two pitchers away from the Red Sox, and bringing up 11 minor leaguers to fill in. Jose wouldn’t care how charming and cute the manager was, he still wouldn’t want to watch it.
I’m Jose Melendez, and those are my KEYS TO THE GAME.