NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

September 21, 2013

Take me out to the October ballgame

Bill Plante
Newburyport Daily News

---- — Big Freddy was deep into his morning newspaper’s sports section when I pushed my way into my seat, and he only grunted in response to my “good morning.”

“Has somebody died?” I asked.

“In a manner of speaking,” Freddy said. “We’re at the baseball season’s deadline, and It’s more like a death rattle for some because the Sox have taken no prisoners start to finish.”

“Think they’ll go all the way?” I asked.

“Unless they trip on their beards,” Freddy said.

“Interesting choice, the beards,” I said.

“Throwback to another time,” Freddy said. “Good tension breakers.”

“Tension breakers?” I asked.

“It’s a staying loose thing to keep the ball rolling ...good luck charm, call it what you like, but they’ve got something good going, and I don’t know another sport that goes for more hocus pocus than baseball,” Freddy said.

“It breaks the tension, and there’s a lot of that in baseball,” I said.

“Because of the time it takes,” Freddy said. “Every player has his ritual. Management loves it and so do the fans.”

“Management loves it?” I asked.

“It feasts on the pauses between the action, and it helps in paying the piper,” Freddy said.

“Baseball’s a waiting game. Batters have their rituals. Pitchers stand around and wait until the batter unfastens his gloves after each swing of the bat, tightens them back up, kicks the dirt around just so in the batter’s box, straightens his hat and waggles his bat.

“Then the pitcher settles in place, stares at the catcher, shakes off the catcher’s signal while the batter’s wiggling his bat, finally nods his OK to the catcher, rears back and throws the ball which the batter either doesn’t swing at or does, and if he misses they do it over and over again until maybe he gets a hit, or strikes out, in which case the next batter comes up to the plate and does his own bit of landscaping and whatever, before he and the pitcher finish doing what they have to do.”

“Rituals?” I asked.

“Essential,” Freddy said.

“Tensions run high during which fans have time for refills of whatever they’re drinking or eating, as well as socializing. Baseball makes it possible for them to refresh themselves so they can last for as long as it takes to get the game over with.”

“Football does the same thing,” I said.

“In spaces, but with some differences,” Freddy said. “From beginning to end, football has more time outs than baseball.”

“It’s about two teams beating the bejeebers out of each other while trying either to keep control of the ball from one end of the field to the other for a score, or keeping the other team from doing it.

“It has all kinds of rules and officials with whistles, which make for a lot of stop and go, forward or backward with all kinds of meetings by the chief officials going under cover to review the films to get things right. That gives the fans who were watching the action time to re-load at the concession stands, and that adds to the team owners annual intake.”

“Baseball doesn’t have that kind of review,” I said.

“Not yet, but it’s on it’s way,” Freddy said.

“So much for judgment calls,” I said.

“Fans judging calls has been part of baseball from the beginning,” Freddy said.

“But we don’t hear ‘Kill the umpire!’ any more on a bad call,” I said.

“More’s the pity,” Freddy said.

Bill Plante is a Newbury resident and a staff columnist.