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Core Samples

"Baseball is dull only to dull minds." Red Barber

In the late twilight of a particularly balmy evening last week, with the last rays of sun having played out across the Wasatch Front and the moon waxing toward full, the home team, down two runs going into the bottom of the ninth, began to rally. The Bees were a-buzzing, as it were.

Duff, the catcher, batting ninth in the lineup, led off with a sharply-struck single over the opposing team’s second baseman into right-center field. The crowd, knowing it was now or never, began, ever more loudly, to root, root, root for the home team. Sensing a shift in the paradigm, the peanuts and Crackerjacks vendors stopped dead in their tracks.

A flyout to the right fielder only momentarily put a damper on things. The fans had grown accustomed to their collective decibel level. "C’mon Sandoval, get a hold of one! This guy can’t pitch! Be a hitter!"

They got even louder when a ballpark apostle way down the left-field line reached up and made a beautiful bare-handed snag of a foul ball and handed it to a small child with an oversized mitt a few seats away.

And when Sandoval indeed delivered a double, putting runners at second and third with one out, the crowd went nuts. For the first time since ex-Jazz coach Frank Layden had led them in "Take Me out to the Ball Game" during the seventh-inning stretch, they were of one voice and one mind.

But that was nothing compared to their reaction when an RBI single drilled by Dee Brown pulled the Bees within one run of the Las Vegas nine. With runners at the corners and only one out and the tying run only 90 feet away dancing off third base, the joint was jumpin’.

The game was afoot. Anything — a passed ball, a wild pitch, a well-executed squeeze play — could put the scoreboard all square. Momentum hung heavily in the warm Salt Lake valley summer air.

That’s when the Las Vegas 51s, named for "Area 51," that mysterious landscape a couple of hundred mindsets north of the strip, decided to throw a family reunion. Out to the mound trooped the pitching coach, the manager, the trainer, the team shrink, and the under-assistant attaché for Mormon affairs.

Before they could achieve resolution, they were joined by the third baseman, shortstop, second baseman, first baseman, a couple of umpires, and a few of those cute young things ballparks keep around for eye candy.

The powers that be up in the control center, figuring this was as good a time as any for a sing-along, sent "YMCA" booming out of the PA system. For some reason, the predominant ballpark culture in Salt Lake City just can’t get enough of the quite esoteric ways and mannerisms of the "Village People." Go figure!

Just about the time they were draggin’ out the barbecues and balloons, a long-drink-of-water left-handed relief pitcher loped in from the bullpen. He wasn’t much bigger than the Chrysler Building and didn’t look much more imposing than John Wayne cracking someone’s jaw with a two-by-four in "The Sons of Katie Elder."

That’s OK. He didn’t scare us. We had third baseman Matt Brown coming to the plate and, since all we needed to tie things up was a long fly ball and him leading the team in homers and RBIs and all, optimism reigned.

But before you could say, "Watch out for his sinker," our fastball-hitting slugger had chased one too many off-speed pitches down in the dirt. A large number "2" flashed on the scoreboard under "outs." There was no joy in Mudville; mighty Matt had struck out!

There we were, on the cusp of oblivion and ecstasy, our lot in life to be determined in the next minute or so by the resultant collision, or lack thereof, between a bat and a ball.

The lefty loomed 60 feet 6 inches from home plate, toying with the 5-ounce horsehide-covered sphere within the deepening moonshadow behind his back. Gathering the signs from his catcher, he nodded his acceptance and gripped the stitches in such a manner as to start the batter off with his "heater," high and inside.

Brandon Wood, who had smacked a home run the day before in a 6-3 loss to this same Vegas bunch, got the message and didn’t crowd the plate quite as much when he reentered the box. Swinging his weapon of choice, a Louisville Slugger fashioned from a length of northern white ash, he settled back in.

Again the lefty nodded and went into his windup. The crowd continued to roar in support of the boys in white. Wood, finding a breaking ball to his liking, sent the offering high toward right field. Could it be? Would history repeat itself? Alas, not this night. The physics involved would keep the ball in the park.

The home team didn’t win and, as it says in the song, it’s a shame. However, as the ball settled into the outfielder’s glove, moonbeams continued to wash down upon the faithful. A spell had been cast. And anyway, we’d get ’em next time.

Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and a free-lance writer with a background in commercial and community radio, among other pursuits. He has been a columnist and feature writer for various Park City publications going back to 1973.


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