Baseball has always seemed something of a metaphor for the broad spectrum of life, but then that’s me. I’m always seeing the game, its foibles and phantasms, as instructive of real life.
image via washingtonpost.com
That’s why as I watched my former hometown team, the Atlanta Braves, take on the St. Louis Cardinals last night I began getting goose bumps on my arms – something significant was about to happen. Of course, there was the obvious – the Braves’ Chipper Jones was playing out his final season, certain to end up in the Basebal Hall of Fame. He’d hit over 400 home runs as a switch hitter, and carried a batting average of .302 through nineteen seasons. He’d ended the regular season in perfect symmetry with his first big league at-bat – a strong line drive single. Now, every game played could be his last.
The Braves played poorly through seven innings, trailing 6-3, Jones part of the problem, muffing a ground ball at third that should have resulted in a double play. But the Braves had played stubbornly this season, and, well, anything could yet happen.
Then it did.
With two on in the eighth, Braves newbie, Anderlton Simmons hit a pop-up that carried well into left field, Cards shortstop Pete Kozma finally giving up on the ball. Cards’ hitting hero Matt Holliday stopped, dumbfounded, as the ball dropped between them. As it hit the ground, umpire Sam Holbrook raised an arm, calling into effect the infield fly rule, which resulted in Simmons being out.
Braves manager Fredi Ganzalez, enraged, charged the field, and Braves fans inundated the outfield with litter. Gonzalez protested the call – and the game, as it turned out.
A few moments later, Chipper came to bat. He smiled grimly, doffed his cap, and nodded politely to the fan’s cheers. A couple of pitches passed, and then he swung. His bat broke, the ball bounding toward second base. He beat the throw to first…could this presage a miraculous comeback? Could Chipper end his career by saving the game – and baseball’s reputation – over possibly the worst application of the infield fly rule in history?
No. The Braves did load the bases, but Cards reliever Jason Motte struck out Michael Bourn on a 3-2 call to end the game.
Life is like that, I now realize. We flounder, but we stubbornly persist, ever hopeful that somehow, miraculously, we’ll find the moment’s Northwest Passage, its essential quantum, that we’ll transform error and misfortune into a magnificent, shining moment. But life’s truth is more like Chipper Jones’ last moments as a major league baseball player – a glorious baseball life that ends with a few good moments and a few bad, but with a measure of quiet dignity at having done all he could with diminishing skills and a failing body.