Getting to Third Base
Copyright© 2005 by Tony Stevens
Sex Story: Chapter 1 - Bob Crandall thinks he's met the girl of his dreams: She's gorgeous, she loves baseball, and, like him, she plays third base with flair and skill. It seems like a match made in heaven -- only his dream girl, Patti Wyman, has a few problems that are slowing her down in the romance department.
I play third base for the Baltimore Orioles.
If you're not a fan, you probably don't know what a burden it is, playing third base.
For the Orioles.
You see, God used to play third for Baltimore, and He's a hard act to follow.
Well. Not really God -- but way too close to tell the difference, even from the expensive boxes behind the dugout.
His name was Brooks Robinson, and he played third base like God would have played it, if He'd only had the experience and the training.
So now, even decades after Brooksie played, it's tough being the third sacker for the Orioles, because people unconsciously compare you to him. And there's no comparison. You look up "incomparable" in the dictionary, and there it is -- a picture of Brooks Robinson.
But, hey, somebody's got to be the third-baseman, right? So I'm him. And I can handle the position, day in and day out, even better than Brooks Robinson.
After all, he's 68 years old, now.
So it's a bit of a burden, playing third here in Baltimore, but I bear up. I am probably a little rare for a ballplayer, because I grew up as a fan, too.
I'm still a fan. I mean, I'm too young to have seen Brooksie play, but I was raised an Orioles' fan, and I've seen all those film clips. I saw the way he single-handedly dismantled Cincinnati's Big Red Machine in the 1970 World Series.
I mean, the way he played, it was like a ballplayer's wet dream.
So maybe I'll never be as good as Brooks Robinson, but, hey, I am happy as a clam, playing for my own favorite club, and playing -- or trying to play -- Brooksie's old position on the field. I doubt I'll ever let my agent push too hard for more dough, because I don't want to be traded off to some richer club. I'm too damned happy -- right where I am.
When I was a kid, I always swore that if, somehow, I could make it as a ballplayer, I wouldn't forget what it was like, being a kid, and looking up to the players. I'd be patient with the fans, and I'd sign autographs -- if anybody ever wanted my autograph -- until I got hand-cramps. I'd be friendly, and accessible. Like my other hero -- Cal Ripken.
Cal Ripken autographs ought to be worth about as much on the collectors' market as anyone's, because he was such a star -- such a name ballplayer. But items autographed by Cal aren't all that expensive to purchase, because they're a glut on the market. Ripken was so willing to relate to his fans that he would spend hours signing anything they asked him to sign. He's stay around, long after the game was over, patiently signing everyone's scorecards and talking to the fans.
It really isn't difficult, being like that. It just takes a little character -- a little appreciation for all that's been given to us, as pro ballplayers.
You gotta wonder, sometimes, why more players don't understand that.
But not too many of them do. They get complacent. They get self-satisfied and start feeling entitled. Entitled to the big bucks, and the adulation of the fans -- all of it. Appreciation is the last thing they're feeling. They get to believing that they deserve this. It's just their natural entitlement.
It's kinda like the business of running out ground ball outs. Here's a guy, drawing down $3 million per, and when he hits a ground ball to short, does he tear down the line, trying to make the shortstop hurry his throw? Does he leg it out with all his might, hoping to beat the throw to first? No. He assumes he's going to be out, and he trots along, waiting patiently for the ball to beat him to the first baseman. And, of course, it does beat him -- 95% of the time. Even if something goes a little wrong with the catch or the throw, it still beats him, because he's not straining himself to get there quickly.
But go find yourself a utility infielder who's 36 years old and who knows that this week might be his last week in the Majors. Watch how that guy runs out ground balls! He'll spend every ounce of energy he has in a straining, desperate attempt to reach that bag before he's beaten by the inevitable throw. That guy knows he's got something to lose. He finally realizes, now, when it's almost too late, that giving 100% can be important.
... Sorry about the lecture, there, but I think about this stuff a lot. I try not to take it for granted that I'm going to be up here, earning the big bucks, forevermore. I want to be conscious -- all the time -- of the fact that this is a Gift, man! So I try to keep remembering how lucky I am to be here, having the time of my life, playing third base for the Orioles. And I'll sign those fucking scorecards until my hand starts to freeze up on the pen.
And when I hit a ground ball, I will run like holy hell for first base -- even though they're surely going to throw me out. Ninety-five percent of the time.
Maybe I can get that down to ninety percent.
The Club notices when a ballplayer is attentive to the fans, and The Club likes that a lot. The manager and the general manager and the owners -- they know that fan-friendly players are going to make them some money. If their players are friendly instead of surly, folks are going to feel a little better about laying their money down for a ticket to next week's ho-hum series against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
But being attentive to the fans has its limits. When you're actually on the field -- out there between the lines, as they say -- you're supposed to forget all about the fans. You don't want to "hear" what they're yelling at you, because it's going to be a distraction you definitely don't need.
And you don't want to look into the stands and actually "see" anyone, because that's even more distracting.
The fans have gotta become a blur in the background. Their voices must become an audible but indistinct buzz, their faces a visible but unseen mass of strangers. Smiles and autographs are for earlier -- or for later. During the game, even during the pre-game warm-ups, you've gotta stay all business. It's like a guy in a factory, operating heavy machinery. Look away at the wrong time, he can lose a finger or a hand.
In my business, the stakes aren't normally quite that high -- although a low liner into the forehead isn't an impossibility, and if you don't think that kinda smarts, then it's never happened to you!
And ground balls to third! Jeez! When these big-league hitters crack one and it's bounding toward you at God-knows-how-many miles per hour, you learn something new about baseball. That ball sings, man! It's whizzing through the air so damned fast that it makes a singing noise.
Scary! The only thing that saves you is, it gets to you so quick that you either catch it, or you don't. It's all over before there's time to think. But after I've caught it and thrown it to first, I marvel at it, every time.
The damned thing sings!
So, generally, I pay real close attention. All the time.
Or at least I did -- before she came along.