Sublime play: A moment of purity

I think that I’ve mentioned that I like baseball.

I like its simplicity, its pace, and the simple elegance of a game that moves not according to a clock but, rather, to its own rhythms.

I like the fact that every play is a showcase of an individual’s ability rather than the march of juggernauts toward some goal. A game where runs are scored — as George Carlin noted — by “running home.”

All of which is why I get angry over what some players have done to the game by their uses of steroids or other performance enhancing drugs.

It subtracts from what, to me, is the perfect game and casts doubt on whether I’m watching someone’s talent or, perhaps, performance that’s been manufactured in a jar.

I’m not, however, going to get into all of that. Instead, I’m going to tell you about one particular play that I just happened to see.

You see, occasionally, we get to experience a moment of purity in baseball. You can’t predict them. You just have to be lucky enough to be there.

This play occurred during an ordinary high school game. Nothing was riding on it and I don’t even remember the final score. I do, however, remember standing behind the backstop during a late inning. The visiting team was at bat with a runner on first and no outs.

The situation called for a bunt and that’s just what happened. The batter squared around on the next pitch and dropped a perfect slow-roller down the third base line.

The bunt had a little speed to it, but the third baseman was playing too deeply. You could see that the ball would die before he got to it. The pitcher, on the other hand, had a chance. He had to cover a lot of ground on an angle toward third but he got to it just as it stopped rolling, dropped to a knee, and picked it up barehanded.

The situation was now this: He was on one knee, facing the dugout, deep down the third base line, with the ball in his hand.

Players can panic in these situations. They’ll bobble the ball. They’ll pick it up and throw wildly. They’ll look but not throw. But sometimes — just sometimes — they’ll uncork a thing of beauty and get the runner. This was one of those times.

With everything around him moving, he pivoted on his knee, cocked his arm, and did something remarkable. With a runner headed for second. With the batter almost to first. With every eye on him and time running out, he stopped — but only for an instant.

In that instant, he saw that he couldn’t get the runner going to second, but was calculating whether he had a chance at the batter headed for first. And, then, he threw.

It was as if he’d pulled a trigger. The ball exploded from his hand and covered the distance from where he was to first base on a line. The first baseman never moved his glove and the throw beat the runner to the bag by barely a step.

I didn’t say anything. For an instant, neither did anyone else. We’d just seen one young player do absolutely the right thing at absolutely the right moment with absolute grace and skill.

In the middle of the cheers that erupted, an older gentleman turned to me and said, “Did you see that? He stopped. (Expletive) amazing.”

The cheering died down and the game went on.

A few moments later, I heard that same older gentleman say the same thing again — this time to no one in particular — “(Expletive) amazing.” And I knew exactly what he meant.

We’d just witnessed something special. Something that reminded us of what makes baseball the game it is and why it’s so enjoyable.

I’ve always remembered that play. It was that good.

These days, I wish that I could look at some of the “professionals” in baseball I used to care about with the same admiration that I still have for one young man who, on one particular day, not only made that play, but made a lifelong memory for me.

I doubt that players who’ve used drugs to enhance their performance understand the idea of purity in baseball or, worse, even care.

And that last, my friends, is their loss.

Larry Simoneaux lives in Edmonds. Send comments to: larrysim@comcast.net

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