Friday, March 9, 2012

Doc Halladay in the Country of Baseball

FTC's exclusive photographer left his camera in Palm Beach yesterday instead of bringing it with him to the Phillies-Pirates exhibition.

[ Failure] tag.

So instead of pictures of a picturesque Florida afternoon, here's a short bit of prose to be included in a future baseball abstract, compiled by the preserved head of Bill James on a Futurama robot body:


The concourse is a continuous loop at Bright House Networks Field, the spring home of the Philadelphia Phillies. About 5,000 fans sit in seats flanking the infield and foul lines, and another 2,000 observe the game from any standing-room-only angle they choose. Myself, I chose to move about: at first sitting on the grassy berm with some young children that will soon grow up to be violent drunks in Flyers sweaters; then later, I huddled around a table on the concourse, sharing peanuts with an old yinzer who refused to believe I meant anything but Greensburg when I said Greenfield.

And at one point, I found myself standing behind the seats along the third base dugout. Let's assume Josh Harrison was up at that time, giving me an excuse to be easily distracted. Distracted I was, as that section's usher began pointing to the man standing beside me on the concourse, saying "Pitcher? Pitcher!"

I looked at the guy next to me. He was one of the four people in the crowd with dark skin, and his three compatriots of similar complexion were nearby. They were all youngish, and dressed in nice jeans and polo shirts, oblivious to the 90 degree weather. One was listening to his iPod and all four were proficient texters. They looked more like business school bros than redneck fans of the Grapefruit League.

"Pitcher!" the usher continued. "You're all pitchers? You're infield? Anyone outfield?"

As he went to the tried-and-true American alternative to bilingualism-- repeating himself and speaking in a louder voice-- I studied these young men closer. The MLB trademark appeared on the polos where the Alligator should have; one was carrying a man purse with the official stampings of the Phillies on it; none of them admitted to speaking English so long as this indignity persisted.

I was standing next to four of Philadelphia's international signings.

Eventually the young man directly adjacent to me-- the original one pointed at and the only one tall enough to have conceivably been a pitcher-- said "Colombia" to the usher. This ended the old white guy's line of questioning regarding the D.R. He started repeating the phrase "baseball: number one!" as he pantomimed swinging a bat. I returned to studying the prospective talents.

To say they were disinterested in the game isn't entirely fair. You or I would be disinterested in the game (Josh Harrison, Chase d'Arnaud, Nate McLouth and J-Mac all made outs trying to bunt for hits). These young men weren't bored so much as they failed to see the point of being there.

I imagine the parent club comps tickets for new signees and sends them on field trips to see big league caliber ball. The idea, no doubt, is to inspire the youngsters. To show them that with enough hard work, they too can grind their way through the system and eventually take batting practice off Danny Moskos.

When the "Colombians" would look up from their phones and watch a few pitches, it was as if they knew something. Not like a college football quarterback recognizing a defense when looking at NFL film. It was simpler, cockier than that. This game, this situation, this sport was familiar to them. They just needed a bat or a glove to explain it to me. They weren't disinterested; more just resentful. They resented the powerlessness that comes with being a fan, the total lack of agency that we often forget is our reality.

I wondered if any of them would make it. Their odds of washing out are tremendous. I also thought of prospects past and future. Surely they've always been shiftless young savants, right? The only modern touch is the iPhones gifted to them.


In other news:

I saw Starling Marte smoke a home run. Absolute rising line drive off a very even swing. I don't know why I don't love him, but I don't think he's as untouchable or sure-thing as everyone makes him out to be. Still, it's encouraging to see good swings from guys on the fringe.

Rod Barajas was just a triple and home run away from the cycle when Clint pulled him off second for a pinch runner. Heartless bastard. The good news is that I got to see Tony Sanchez. He's a big kid, but still pretty lean. He had a pretty deep AB before striking out.

I was really excited to see Robbie Grossman walk. He didn't.

I'm not kidding about all the bunt-for-a-hit attempts. They were all spectacular failures (pop up to the first baseman, four hopper to the second basemen on the infield dirt, easy scoop right in front of the catcher, failure to even make contact). Clint needs to break more orbital bones, because these assholes aren't learning.

Jim Thome got a hit and scored a run. I've been convinced I've seen that for the final time several times now. No longer sure.

J-Mac worked fast. I appreciate that.

Cole Hamels motion is more and more the composite of Halladay and Lee's. He's got the upper body smoothness of Lee's, and that slight bend to his leg that Doc has.

I don't need to see much more Nate McLouth.

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