Yesterday before dashing for the bus to the ballpark, I actually managed to see a little more than half of Robert Fitts’s presentation on Babe Ruth and Eiji Sawamura, the 17 year old pitcher who struck the Babe out and became a national hero. The young pitcher had forfeited his future in academia by taking the pitching gig, as “professional athletes” were not allowed to continue in school at the time, but the lure of facing Ruth was too enticing and he signed with the team Yomiuri was putting together.
This was during the same MLB all-star tour of Japan on which Moe Berg did some of his infamous spying. The MLB team played 10 games on the tour and won them all, but the game Fitts described, which the young Sawamura pitched, was a near thing. Sawamura held the big leaguers in check, ending up losing 1-0 on a solo homer by Lou Gehrig.
I ducked out of the room just as Fitts was reading an ironic quote from some optimistic observer of the baseball tour of Japan, claiming that these nations would never be wracked by war again. (World War II was just around the corner.)
As it turned out, I needn’t have rushed to get to the bus on time, as when I arrived in the lobby, no bus was in evidence, and a heavy downpour, with thunder and lightning, was. Radar showed a storm front working its way through, and it looked for sure like the start of the game would be delayed. Eventually buses did pull up and we made our way through the flooded driveway to get into them.
By the time we arrived at the park, the rain had lightened, at least long enough for us to walk to the park.
The SABR group was broken into a few different sections (and price points) and I’d apparently chosen, months ago when I bought my tickets to the convention, a seat by the left field foul poul that included $10 worth of food in the ticket price. Sweet! I circumnavigated the concourse with my friend Joanne Hulbert from Boston, surveying the food options. Joanne’s ticket was in yet a nother section, of All You Can Eat seats, so I left her off there and then went to the SmokeHouse barbecue stand myself, where for $8.25 you can get an entree with two side dishes. Quite a bargain. I got ribs, mac & cheese, and corn.
They had glitches in the system scanning the tickets, though. Apparently with all the lightning strikes and such the computer systems needed to be rebooted. Eventually it was all straightened out at the central computer banks and off I went. I found a picnic table indoors and settled down to eat and watch the first few innings of Yankees/Red Sox on my iPhone. Yes, I now take every MLB TV and radio broadcast with me in my pocket wherever I go. I love living in the future.
A lovely rainbow appeared in the sky on the first base side some time later, as the sun set and the rain started to clear. The game was ‘delayed’ still further by the actual Tom Glavine induction ceremony to the Braves Hall of Fame and the retirement of his #47. Glavine looked dinstinctly uncomfortable up there on the podium, probably holding in a lot of emotion. He gave a short speech, saying he knew the players had had a really long day already, between the earlier ceremony at the CNN Center, and then the delay, and now they had a ballgame to play.
The opponents were the San Francisco Giants, and I have to say I am really spoiled from the American League East. I felt like pretty much no matter who got up to bat for either team all night long that none of them would have batted higher than eighth in any AL east lineup other than Baltimore’s. What the hell has happened to Chipper Jones? Just getting old suddenly, or off the juice, or what? (Those two things are not mutually exclusive, and might even be related, I realize.)
Barry Zito pitched for the Giants, which meant I sort of went against my usual policy of rooting for the home team whenever I’m not seeing the Yankees play. I’ve been to Turner Field before, though, and rooted for the Braves then.
Zito pitched great. He appears to have abandoned that big 12-6 curve in favor of a bunch of other baffling junk. There were only three big hits off him all night. Chipper had a double in the first but was stranded. Later, Alex Gonzalez hit a homer off him, and then Chipper took him deep an inning after that, but that was it. Seven innings, 10 strikeouts. But I bet Zito misses the days when he had Jason Giambi and Miguel Tejada and Eric Chavez putting up three-run bombs behind him on a regular basis. The Giants didn’t managed to tie the score until the ninth.
When they did, they did it off Billy Wagner. I have to say, as a Yankees fan, that I felt somewhat the Wagner deserved this, for the hubris of having co-opted Mariano Rivera’s “Enter Sandman.” At the end of the eighth inning, all the scoreboards go completely dark. Then, flames start to appear. The opening strains of “Enter Sandman” play. And then the word WAGNER appears all over the stadium IN FLAMES. Ooooh. And then Wagner jogs to the mound. It’s all quite overblown and I am not the only person in my section who remarked, “Mr. Wagner, you are no Mariano Rivera,” at that point.
All that buildup, all that hoopla, and then Wagner laid an egg. Ooops. At least he didn’t cough up the lead run, as well, though it was a near thing. There’s a poster presentation downstairs making the claim that Wagner is the best lefthanded relief pitcher of all time. I wonder if by now someone has tacked on a page that says “But is no Mariano Rivera.”
The Giants eventually won the game, which actually was VERY briskly played, despite going into extra innings. However, because of the two hour delayed start, it was after midnight when the game ended, and because of local noise laws, the fireworks were cancelled. Disappointing, but ah well. By the time the bus pulled in to the hotel, it was so late the bar was already closed. I went right back to my room and was so exhausted I slept through the morning research presentations and the Joe Jackson Black Sox panel, which supposedly had new revelations to share. I’ll try to get the scoop on those later and post what people said, if I can.
Now it’s time for the luncheon with John Shuerholz. I’m too poor to attend the banquet part so I’m having a cup of ramen noodles in my room and then I’ll go down just to hear the awards and speeches.
EDIT: I should add that the one scoreboard shot of the SABR group at the ballpark focused on Mike Conlon, and it was fitting that at his moment of glory, he wasn’t looking at the scoreboard at all, but actually using his smartphone to look up a fact on Retrosheet. Cheers, Mike!