Friday, July 28, 2000

This Column's Topic Has Yet to be Determined by Joe Knox

How quickly the winter went.  It seems like only last week that I was desperately cheering for the Braves to win game 4 of the World Series, not because I have any love for the team that had just eliminated the Mets but because I had tickets to game 5.  Now I’m finishing off this column listening to a rebroadcast of game 2  of MLB’s little Japan jaunt.  Why did this off-season go so fast when usually the specter of four months of the unrelenting ugliness that is the NHL, NBA and NFL?  Because I promised I’d get this column written in time for the next issue.

An examination of baseball over the last half year since I was first asked to write for Zisk shows a season littered with ruined story ideas.  My original piece was an examination of “ass bigger than a barn theory” which holds that a pitcher is better the wider he is below the belt.  A summer spent counting the pinstripes on Hideki Irabu’s and Roger Clemens’ asses and formulating exceptions for the likes of Pedro Martinez was exhausting but certainly it would all be worth it when the column came out.  Alas, it all came to nothing thanks to a former pitcher who was himself an exception to the rule.  On a late fall drive up to Boston I heard Dennis Eckersley subbing as an announcer for the Sox.  “It’s just accepted,” he said, “that pitchers that are extra wide are somehow better.”  What more can you say when one of the greatest pitchers of the last twenty years scoops your story?

Next up was a story on the joys of listening to baseball games on the radio.  Particularly, the practice of picking up games played far away by hanging an AM radio out the window and hoping for lucky atmospheric conditions.  For better or worse, though, virtually every ball game is broadcast over the internet these days and the radio cab stand across the street from my apartment has replaced the sound of ball games fading in and out of the night with small talk between livery cab drivers in Spanish.

As the regular season came to an end there was a glimmer of hope for a new column as the Mets seemed to be putting it all together.  A trip to Shea at the end of the year showed baseball at its best as the Mets hung on to force a one game playoff for the wildcard by beating the Pirates 2-1 in the bottom of the ninth.  On fan appreciation day no less!  (One casual observation that I will make from that game is that it’s probably not a great idea to give out miniature bats to 50,000 rabid fans on a day when emotions could run high in either direction.)  But even the prospect of a subway series was marred by the thought that they weren’t ready to face the Yankees yet this year.  Final proof of the predestination of the Yankees came as I realized my standard issue version of MS-Word’s spell checker already knew the words Hideki Irabu and El Duque but couldn’t seem to grasp that I really did want to write Orel.  (Note for future column: are Bill Gates and George Steinbrenner in cahoots?)

December brought some welcome relief when the Mets landed Jesse Orosco in an even swap with the Orioles for Chuck McElroy.  What better topic to write about than the joy of knowing that your bullpen contains a crafty forty-two year old left hander that’s been playing in the majors for over twenty years?  There was an added twist that I’ve been able to cheer for Orosco on the home team nearly everywhere that I’ve ever lived.  He was a Brewer when I was in Wisconsin, an Oriole when I lived in DC and now a Met again.  Alas, by March he was gone, traded away for yet another weak hitting utility man.  (Anyone notice how the Mets left-handed relievers fared during game one of the Mets-Cubs Japan series!)

Anyway, the season is now here.  The pessimist in me is watching a couple of potential trouble spots for the home team. How big a liability is Todd Ziele going to be?  How long will Mike Piazza’s arm last before opponents are able to steal at will, as they did at the end of last season?   Which time bomb will explode first—Ricky Henderson or Bobby V.?  But, as one of the oldest sports clichés in the world goes, hope springs eternal.  Perhaps I’ll start writing that column about the Braves beating out the Mets for the NL pennant now so that whatever baseball gods have been thwarting my writing career can throw a monkey wrench into Bobby Cox’s boys now.

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