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Thursday, October 20, 2005

New Crutch

As regular readers will know - and let's be honest, all ten of you are pretty regular - I have most unexpectedly, and most uncharacteristically, become a fan of baseball over the past couple of years. Sometimes I've even been known to bore you with photos snapped from my occasional seat in the fifth row behind first base at Dodger Stadium. And when I say my seat I of course mean My Wife's Boss' seat for which we sometimes get tickets, then get all confused by "Day Games" and "Night Games" and otherwise end-up missing half the games we were supposed to see.

But I'm still a newbie; a tyro; a novice: still bamboozled by 99.993% of baseball terminology.

Last night - which would be Tuesday night - I think I finally discovered what is meant by the "clutch" - as in, "He's useless in the clutch" or "He's a terrific clutch player", stuff like that? Now, where I come from a clutch is something you stomp on when you shift gear, so you can imagine I've had a fairly hard time trying to reconcile that image with the various wide-mouthed witterings of baseball commentators. Is it, perhaps, someone with a delicate grasp of the ball, that it's shell should not break and it's yolk spill to the floor? Is it someone the players squeeze in order to draw a bead of luck? ("Hah! I squeesh your head!)

I thought not.

I settled in the end for the straightforward mechanical metaphor: the team is struggling, on the bones of its arse, precariously close to stalling. Someone needs to come in and shift gear, turn things around.

Tuesday night's Championship play-off between St Louis Cardinals and Houston Astros came as close as I've ever seen to that definitive baseball moment - possibly even to that definitive baseball clutch - that mythical deciding game of the World Series, three runs and two outs down in the bottom of the ninth, and the bases are loaded.

It came so close to that: deciding game in the NL Championship, two runs, two outs, and two hits down, top of the ninth, two bases loaded - in other words, the very last absolute final chance that the visiting team had to turn the game around - and the batter Albert Pujols (and I'll bet he had a happy childhood with a name like that) steps up and very calmly whacks the ball out of the park, turning a 4-2 loss into a 4-5 victory and silencing even the crickets in the till-then rambunctious home crowd.

Fan-feching-tastic: absolutely brilliant, and utterly devastating at the same moment - for indeed Houston had played the better game and surely deserved their victory in front of their home fans.

So that was the Clutch - is that right?

It all balanced out in the end, as Houston beat St Lois 5-1 tonight (Wednesday) to take the championship at last and to bring a World Series game to Texas for the first time ever.

So much for friendly chit-chat: now we get down to business. This is the Xenoverse, after all, where our purpose is to highlight those small but startling differences between what we knew when we were british and what we are come to in America. I noticed something the other night that shocked me to my very core, to the very chills of my black scots heart: the players cheered themselves off the pitch!


They cheered themselves off the pitch. They lined up, and high-fived and clapped and hugged the players of their own team as they left the field. Not a smucker of a glance towards their opponents: it was all "We're Number One!" and "Hell Yeah!" and all that self-congratulatory craptlap that, quite frankly, is one of the reasons the rest of the world hates you. "Never met a yank that didnae think he wis God's gift tae the universe" might be the refrain in a typical scots pub (to which "Ye've never met a yank" would be the show-stopper response, 'case you ever find yourself there). Shocking. What happens everywhere else in the world is that, end of a game, you clap your opponents off the field for a match well-played, and they reciprocate. No matter how evil, how dirty, or how disastrous a loss - that's what teams do. In every rugby match I ever played or watched, the home team forms two lines through which the away team walks, being clapped, patted, and hand-shaken all the way through. At the other side they then form two lines and reciprocate. A fundamental and irreconcilable difference between civilizations: on the one hand, It matters not to win or lose, but how you play the game; and on the other, Losers be damned to all hell.

And while I'm on the subject let me just add that it's the players - the ones who fight and struggle and win the field - it's the players who are supposed to be awarded the trophy. Not the owner. Owners - like little boys - should be seen, but not heard.

That is all: have at.

Oh - almost forgot. The title? Seen on a sign pasted to a car for sale in a japanese used-car dealership.


Blogger DarkoV said...

Since Roger Angell seemed to have hung up his cleats and is no longer (or way too infrequently) writing baseball reports for the New Yorker, FCB, you seem quite the capable pinch-hitter. Nice take on the clutch player thing. Try your hand at balk, that most subjective of baseball judgements, always apt to drive a player and a fan nuts, when it's called?

And the ten readers? I'm not sure. I know I come back to your site at least twice a day. Not counting my turnstile turn twice, are you?

Feeble joke, that. It is a tragedy if the loyal readers are only 10; your craft deserves a packed stadium, with or without the free popcorn.

5:20 AM  
Anonymous stephenesque said...

Much the same sort of behavior as we witness on the pitch after the English Cup Final then, eh? ;-)
I am sure the Scottish Cup Final is the same so you can't get out of it like that!

6:01 AM  
Blogger Cowtown Pattie said...

I grew up listening to my grandfather root for the Cardinals. A big baseball fan, he would pace the floor, yell at the umps, and anxiously crouch by the TV. I don't think he ever saw the Cards play in person, sadly.

I know who he was rootin' for Wednesday night.

8:47 AM  
Blogger Cowtown Pattie said...

Oh, and the title? "New Crutch"?

Reminds me of the bad Lethal Weapons XXXIV, where Riggs and Murtaugh are in Chinatown:

"It's fried rice, you plick!"

9:43 AM  
Blogger F.C. Bearded said...

You would be surprised, Stephen - even soccer matches end that way, with opposing players shaking hands on the way off the field.

Big occasions - cup finals or whatever - they swap jerseys afterwards.

10:01 AM  
Blogger DarkoV said...

Fcb, you're right on it. A match to qualify for the World Cup between Bosnia & Hecegovina and Serbia & Montenegro (the NEW Yugoslavia) took place a few weeks ago. While the fans of both teams raged in the stands in pitched battles (recreating the war in the 1990's), the two teams played a fairly clean game and then shook hands, exchanged compliements and jerseys, and left the field under armed protection from the fans.

10:21 AM  
Blogger F.C. Bearded said...

What I think Stephen was alluding too - and he is quite right about it - is that soccer teams and others are not immune to rampant celebration after winning a big game or whatever. Heck - the players kiss each other on the lips with tongue if they even score a bloody goal. But my point is, even in cup finals, the teams will congratulate one another before the big hoo-hah dance party begins.

Among fans, however, as you correctly point-out Darko, things are somewhat different.

10:29 AM  
Anonymous stephenesque said...

I am alluding to the teams of Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United specifically. All very selfish teams when they win. I actually watch quite a lot of soccer on Fox Sports World Channel these days. Sportsmanship is certainly on the decline ... meanwhile the Yorkshire derby between Leeds and Sheffield Uniteds is live on BBC radio this afternoon via internet. Now that is entertainment!

9:02 AM  
Blogger Bleak Mouse said...

I don't follow sports. Thank you for your attention.

11:53 PM  

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