We had a heartbreaker today. After winning our first tournament game, we had the afternoon off and came back to the field fresh and ready to play. We had to win one more game and then we would be in the championship on Saturday.
We were winning 5-4 going into the bottom of the 7th inning, so all we needed to do was to get three outs and we were there. But the other team loaded the bases and then scored a run on a little flare. The winning run was walked in, which was a particularly hard way to lose the game.
As a rookie, you really bond with your teammates. There are no other familiar faces. After that, though, many of those former teammates are sprinkled around on other teams. I imagine that the players who have been here for many years feel like they are attending a high-school reunion each year. Jim Fish (our shortstop and power hitter from last year), was on the team that beat us. It will be nice to see their team in the championship game on Saturday.
One of the other major differences from my rookie year is that I'm not nervous. When I come up to bat, I find myself kidding with the catcher or the umpire. When I take the field, I'm calm. I wait and hope that they hit the ball to me. I didn't expect to feel like this. During one at-bat in the main stadium where they announce the batters, I said, "Someday, they'll get my name right.” The umpire asked how I pronounced it, then turned around and yelled up the announcer's booth, "Hey, his name is Paul Deas. Get it right!" They did, from then on.
My love for baseball has a lot to do with the intricacy of the game and the rules. It is a game of subtlety that I will never fully comprehend. Players know the strengths and weaknesses of their opponents, who can't hit a left-hander's slider and if the right fielder has a good arm. They study this and they live baseball.
At lunch, a couple of the pros were sitting at the table when I took an empty seat. I'm not sure that any of the pros ever stop talking about baseball – which is wonderful. The pitcher was talking about the difficulty of putting together back-to-back World Series. When teams go the World Series, the players are playing late into October. And not easy games – tense, high-stakes, crazy-intense games. So when it's all done, they need downtime.
Typically pitchers take the entire month of October off. No throwing at all. Then in November they start to throw and light workouts. But after a World Series, they don't really get that month off, and then December is full of holidays and it's hard to get good work started. Before you know it you are back in training camp. Your body isn't ready and your mind hasn't had a chance to recover. This is especially hard on pitchers because so much of their job is mental.
These are things that I have never thought about. I've also never thought about how I should walk back to third base after taking a lead on a pitch. I know that when you take a lead from third, you stay in foul territory because a runner who is hit by a batted ball in fair territory is out. When you are taking a lead from third, if you are in foul territory you may still get hit, but you won't be out. Ed Halicki is our third base coach and, after a pitch, said, "Hey, walk back in fair territory and never take your eyes off the ball." When I ask why, he tells me that if you put yourself between the catcher or pitcher and third base, they have a harder time picking you off. And, maybe, just maybe, you'll get hit by the thrown ball, and the ball will go rolling and you can score.
In this league, pick-offs aren't even allowed. But to Ed that's no excuse for not developing good habits, even for me.
Nobody takes themselves too seriously here, so it was easy to find the silver lining after our morning loss. That silver lining was a no-pressure afternoon game. People tried out new positions and, for me, that meant a stint at third. I was fine throwing one hoppers and, sometimes, two or three hoppers to first. It may not look it, but the throw from third to first is a really long way. Good thing our first baseman handles errant throws well.
The other team had runners on first and second with no outs and the ball was hit to me at third. I knew that all I had to do was touch third, but fielding the throw had taken me toward second and when I looked up the runner was right there. He took another step, juked sideways. I reached out and tagged him – with my empty glove. I immediately knew what I had done, so I turned to throw to third which our on-the-ball shortstop, Tommy, was hustling to cover. But the runner was between me and third base and the ball ended up getting caught up in that mess and he was safe.
When you play baseball, you have to live the game. You have to study every aspect of the game. But most of all, you have to love the game.