Baseball, like jogging, is great for me right now for a multitude of reasons. It gets me out of the house and away from electronic doohickies. It's a relaxing way to spend a few good hours. It offers a chance to eat and drink sans guilt. It lets me meet real people, a cross-section of the world outside my usual narrow circle. It provides a rich realm of spacetime events --- balls & strikes, hits & errors, runs & outs (or in the case of jogging, distances and times) --- a host of numbers that I can gather, organize, and analyze to my heart's content.
But most importantly: baseball, like jogging, gives me an opportunity to be irresponsible. That's why I felt nervous last month when Ed Sharp of the Silver Spring - Takoma Thunderbolts http://www.tbolts.org/ asked me to serve as official scorekeeper for a game when the usual recorders were going to all be out of town.
My fear was well-founded. Thankfully, I had a stay of execution when the Thursday game I was needed for (on 17 June) was rained out. Good fortune again smiled when I came on Saturday to serve at the make-up date: an experienced statistician from the other team was present, and then Ed arrived back from his travels just in time to sit with me.
But nevertheless, even though I had plenty of help and couldn't do much damage with my mistakes, the responsibility of being official scorer took most of the fun out of the situation. I hardly remember anything of the Saturday games (a double-header) besides the frenzied scramble to log each play for the recordbooks. Fun rating (on a scale of 0-10) = 2.
That's a huge contrast with four games I've been privileged to witness since then ...
A cool, clear evening is made notable by strong pitching and sharp fieldwork. In the second innning Herndon shortstop Davis Stoneburner snags Tbolt Mike Epping's hard-hit grounder and throws him out at first; Stoneburner does similarly to three other Tbolts during the game. His compatriot right fielder, Richard Davis, makes a superb long throw to Herndon catcher Matt Foley to bring down Tbolt Josh Richardson on his way to the plate. In turn SST center fielder Andrew Greene makes a pair of splendid running & diving catches at critical moments in the seventh and ninth innings ...
A teenage couple in front of me giggles, wrestles over a cellphone, and takes pictures of each other with its mini-camera. Little kids wearing big round glasses stay in their seats no more than 15 consecutive seconds --- then jump up and run off, hoping to snag a foul ball. The curly blond hair of one ballplayer refuses to stay confined under his batting helmet. From my seat behind home plate the curve balls are breaking sharply, but that doesn't interrupt the slug-fest under a first-quarter moon. The initial two batters on each team make it home in both halves of the first, and the middle innings continue that high-scoring pattern, with lots of solid hits rewarded appropriately.
The local American Legion Post 148 team of Amherst http://www.amherstbaseball.org/ takes on its arch-rival from down the road, Northampton American Legion Post 28, aka "King & Cushman". Play is at Amherst high school's Ziomek Field (GPS coordinates 42:22:42N 072:30:51W) --- fortuitously only a 5 minute stroll from where Paulette and I are staying this week. The previous afternoon on my walk to pick up the car at the repair shop I happen to notice a sporting-goods store and tentatively peek inside. A clerk tells me that there's a special game the next evening, a make-up for one that was rained out. I buy my first real scorebook and resolve to break it in.
The ballgame, as expected, is great. A tiny set of bleachers at one side of the diamond is occupied by ardent supporters of both teams, self-segregated at opposite ends. I position myself in the middle, neutral territory, with a bag of peanuts and a bottle of soda picked up at the mini-mart down the road. Amherst's first baseman Brendan McKinney makes an outstanding catch of a pop foul ball in the fourth inning after knocking in a run in the third and then himself scoring on teammate Matt Olszewski's triple. A couple of Northampton players are ejected from the game about that time, apparently for inappropriate remarks to an umpire. Amherst pitcher Ross Hazlett is a powerhouse for the entire battle, taking out the opposition with three strikeouts in both the fifth and final innings.
It's a Babe Ruth League 13-year-old championship http://www.amherstbaseball.org/, again at Ziomek Field. The energy level is high: overenthusiastic players on each team get caught in run-downs between the bases as coaches shout cautionary-but-unheeded advice. The stands are filled with parents and neighbors, all on a first-name basis with the boys and with one another. At intervals various spectators come by to ask me for the inning and the current score. An adult remarks that in his youth, three decades earlier, he remembers seeing the same umpire on the field officiating at Little League games there. Small-town America, eh?!
The weather is perfect and the boys do well, in spite of weak young arms in the outfield and a couple of errors on each side. Amherst's catcher Cameron Skelton is one of the stars, with his brilliant catch of a high pop foul in the third inning and his consistent heads-up play. The visitors from Westfield are ahead 6-0 after two innings, but then the hometown lads begin to chip away at them. The game concludes in the bottom of a tense seventh inning with two outs and the bases loaded, Amherst having already scored three runs. With a 2-2 count the batter takes a mighty swing ... and strikes out.