The World Serious commences tonight and it pits the Dodgers, formerly 'Dem Bums,' of Brooklyn and now housed under the plasticine sunshine of Chavez Ravine, against the Astros of Houston, formerly the Colt .45s, an "expansion" team who joined the league way back when I was a four-year-old in 1962.
I roll back the clock in my head and remember the first World Serious I was conscious of, in 1965, with the Minnesota Twins behind the stellar pitching of Jim "Mudcat" Grant and the lumber of lumbering Harmon Killebrew against the left arm of the greatest pitcher of all-time, Sanford "Sandy" Koufax and a 6'6" righty named Don Drysdale who went on to pitch 58 1/3 scoreless innings in a season down the road.
I had a $2.99 transistor radio from Korvettes in my pocket and a long white earplug. The games were played during God's daylight in those days--during school--and half the boys sneaked in their radios and listened as the Dodgers downed the Twins in seven.
It all makes me think, I am a lugubrious son-of-a-bitch, of my last game as a Serapero de Saltillo so many summers ago when I toiled in the Mexican League.
At the end of the season, the games mattered not at all. We were mired near last place and weren't likely to move either up or down in the standings.
We were playing the Olmecs de Tabasco and we were down 7-4 as we had our last ups. Somehow we got the bases loaded with two outs and I was coming up to hit.
As I had made the transition from high-school ball to the Mexican League I had changed my swing. No longer would I swing from my heels and try to hit one over the left field bleachers. The pitchers were tougher here and faster with more benders of more varieties. I shortened my stroke, moved up in the box to head off their curves and became a contact hitter with power, rather than a power hitter with contact.
This was my last at bat and I wanted a good one. I wanted to drive in those runs, to win the game with a walk-off, to go out like Housman's Athlete Dying Young. Say what you will about my arrested intellect after a season in the bushes, I knew my Housman.
Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay,
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.
I wanted my glory to last longer than a rose. I wanted them to chair me through the market-place.
The pitch came in, the runners went.
I saw the ball as big as a grapefruit and it was up and in, in my power
And then, instead of meeting it squarely, I over-anxiously got under it and popped it weakly to center.
My season, my baseball career was over.
I think a lot about making out. About being up at the crucial moment and whiffing, or popping up, or hitting an inconsequential grounder to second.
That’s what happens with most of our ups. We try, and we fail. We live, as a result, lives of quiet desperation and die with our songs still inside us, still unsung.
I think how many ups I've had in my life--as I rapidly approach my 60th year. I think about how many times I was caught, with the bases full, and I was caught looking.
But shit, this ain't the Mexican League. And the games go on and on. An hour later, or a day, or a week, another pitch comes in.
And we have another chance not to make out.