On the best play in baseball

Last night’s clutch home run from Jim Thome to win the game was a great baseball moment, the type of moment most fans live for.

With one out, one runner on first, the home team down by one run, the big gun comes to the plate. On the first pitch, he takes a strike. The fans bite their fingernails and sit on the edge of their seats, every single one of them thinking “A home run would be a nice thing right about now.” The next pitch is at the letters and down the middle of the plate for a millisecond before every person in the ballpark knows the leather has been knocked off the pill and the game is over.

Double Play

The pitchers best friend

But personally, I live for more mundane things in the game. While I was happy to see the Twins win, I get a certain pleasure out of things nobody will remember. Thome’s walk-off will be remembered as the first walk-off home run at Target Field. But it could just as easily have ended in the ballet of baseball: The double play; And nobody would remember the game after a few days. Not even White Sox fans.

The double play is baseball’s sad lexicon, a poem by Franklin Pierce:

These are the saddest of possible words:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”
Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds,
Tinker and Evers and Chance.
Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,
Making a Giant hit into a double –
Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”

There’s a dark beauty in the saddest aspects of the game, even when they have names like ham and eggs.

Putting a 6-4-3 into the scorecard carries a weight that a routine fly doesn’t. In the hieroglyphics of scorecards, the double play denotes ballet, it denotes the poetry of the play. Think of 5-4-3 and imagine the ball whipping around the bags. 4-6-3 brings to mind flips of the wrist and leaping throws to first. The rare and brilliant DP-4U captures a moment of dread on the baserunner’s face as he misjudged a line drive and barreled into his own doom. Imagine the athleticism of an F7-2 double play or the humor of a surprise L1-5.

The Double Play, by Robert Wallace:

In his sea-lit
distance, the pitcher winding
like a clock about to chime comes down with

the ball, hit
sharply, under the artificial
bank of lights, bounds like a vanishing string

over the green
to the shortstop magically
scoops to his right whirling above his invisible

shadows
in the dust redirects
its flight to the running poised second baseman

pirouettes
leaping, above the slide, to throw
from mid-air, across the colored tightened interval,

to the leaning-
out first baseman ends the dance
drawing it disappearing into his long brown glove

stretches. What
is too swift for deception
is final, lost, among the loosened figures

jogging off the field
(the pitcher walks), casual
in the space where the poem has happened.

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