Monday, March 24, 2008
(Picture courtesy of the most excellent Kelly O' Connor at http://www.sittingstill.net)
Henry Chadwick, a stoutly bearded Devonian sportswriter, is the man credited with devising the box score, a summary of events on the field of play during a baseball game. His prose was as stiff as his collar, as straight as his spine, and now seems hopelessly outmoded. The box score has survived as a tool of reportage however, because of its simplicity - it is easy to compile and easy to interpret, it transcends language. If a non-Anglophone, somewhere south of Florida picks up a discarded English language newspaper and turns to the back page he will not be able to gauge the performance of his favourite player, a compatriot perhaps, from the paragraph of jagged-looking print describing the game. For that he'll check the box score. One thinks of Hemingway's Santiago, checking on Joe DiMaggio's injury-plagued 1949 season.
A full box score can tell you about extrinsic factors too; weather conditions, attendance, time of game, but it obviously, necessarily, omits more than it includes. A box score can't record a loud foul ball which bends the wrong side of the pole but rattles the pitcher nevertheless. It won't tell you about the fastball thrown under the chin of a batter which induces the weak pop-up to short right two pitches later. It offers nothing on the sensation of peanut shells beneath the shoes of the roaring masses in the bleachers or the sweet, suddenly renewed intimacy that twilight brings to a ballpark. Evening becomes Fenway.
And a box score does not discriminate. Its mathematics are blind to a player's colour or his relationship with the media. Scoring may occasionally be political, but the box score is a disinterested judge, observing the obvious double turned into a single by stodgy baserunning, and the misplayed slow roller to third leg hit, and treating those two impostors just the same. Similarly, the box score does not distinguish between two other related, but different outcomes. In the fifth inning, Manny Ramirez crushes a line drive home run to left, just destroys it. The ball leaves the park in less than two seconds. It happens too quickly for a distant spectator to appreciate it. It's a spectacular feat of strength and timing, but it's strangely unexciting. In the seventh Kevin Youkilis lofts a ball high into the night sky. Then something odd happens. Grady Sizemore, troubled by proleptic waves from the future presumably, fails to commit to the ball. It bangs off the bullpen wall and scoots out towards centre field. A cartoon pursuit ensues out by the shutters. Meanwhile Youkilis is belting around the bases. I'm queuing for beer, watching him, on the balls of my feet, like an impatient child. He rounds third and Trot has just hit the cut-off. The screens down beneath the bleachers are small, and though I've got a better view than almost anyone in Fenway Park, it doesn't seem real. He crosses home plate, standing. I return to my seat.
"Cyn, that was an inside-the-park home run, wasn't it?"
The box score records these two events drily thus: -
M Ramirez (8, 5th inning off C Lee 0 on, 2 Out), K Youkilis (7, 7th inning off R Hernandez 0 on, 1 Out)
And they are equal; solo home runs, but one feels like the product of effortless genius and the other like the product of quotidian toil. Presence has shifted my perspective, somehow. What once seemed invaluable now seems overpriced, the true value of what seemed cheap is now evident. This is where this experience hinges, for this Englishman. The deciding run belongs to Youkilis, even according to my ancient countryman, Chadwick, thanks to an aberrational flirtation with failure by the mighty Papelbon. I can't make sense of all this, of course. I've been drinking for ten hours. Schilling struck out ten. His son caught a foul ball in the player's box. Pedroia announced himself. The Red Sox came within a whisker of a triple play. Trot returned.
The Captain fell over catching a pop-up and issued a rare smile of embarrassment. There is singing, lots of it. The flow of fellow-feeling pulls me out of Fenway. I roll back to the hotel, back to England ultimately, drunk and happy.