“Mozart is sunshine.”
– Antonia Dvorak
April 5, 2012
“I can’t believe you’ve never been to a ballgame.”
Reagan and Prisco sat in row D, behind the Tigers dugout. It was opening day at Comerica Park, and Tigers fans had high hopes for the season. The organization had signed hard-hitting Prince Fielder in the off season, shortly after learning that Victor Martinez would miss the entire season due to knee surgery. Reagan had hoped the Tigers would acquire a bona fide leadoff hitter with some speed. With Fielder the new first baseman, Miguel Cabrera, who’d won the batting title in 2011, was moved to third base, and Reagan thought that combination would be a defensive liability – one which he couldn’t see the power hitting of Fielder and Cabrera combining to consistently overcome. Only time would tell.
“It seems a silly game, chasing a little ball around a field,” Prisco said.
“Prisco, Prisco. That’s the beauty of the game. It’s a simple game, a kid’s game – hit a round ball squarely with a round bat. It’s also a game of percentages and statistics – ideally suited for an analytical mind like yours. A manager knows if his utility infielder hits better under the lights than in the afternoon. It doesn’t mean he’ll hit in the clutch at night, but the manager, more often than not, plays the percentages.” Reagan took a sip of his Summer Shandy before adding, “Nearly every boy in America dreams of playing major league baseball when he grows up.”
Reagan nodded. “I dreamed of being Al Kaline. Kaline is in the Hall of Fame. He played for the Tigers in the late fifties, sixties and early seventies. Played twenty-two seasons for Detroit. The greatest right fielder I’ve ever seen – a real natural even if he wasn’t the most gifted athlete. He hit for average and occasional power. Won the batting title at age twenty, the youngest player to win it. He wasn’t fast, but he was a smart base runner, and could steal a base from time to time.”
“Why didn’t you play?”
Reagan laughed. “This game is not as easy as it looks. Today, with thirty teams, the majors are composed of maybe seven-hundred-fifty ballplayers. Back in the mid-eighties, when I might’ve played, there were twenty-six teams. So there were fewer roster spots. And I didn’t have the talent to get noticed by a major league scout. I was a solid first baseman in college; but I never learned to hit a curveball.”
Prisco only nodded.
“Besides, at this level, it’s a thinking man’s game. When I was a kid, pitchers threw hard and I hacked at anything close to the plate. But the situation constantly changes, depending on the count, the score, whether men are on base, early or late in the game, the matchup between hitter and pitcher. Does the manager put on the hit and run, risk having the runner thrown out before his cleanup hitter can drive him home?”
“What’s a hit and run?”
“The manager puts the runner on first base in motion once the pitcher goes into his delivery, and the batter hits the ball to protect the runner.”
“Then isn’t it more accurate to call it a run and hit?”
“Yes, well, I suppose so. But baseball is filled with nuances like that. For instance, a walk isn’t considered an official at-bat, but a batter who walks with the bases full is scored with a RBI.”
“Run batted in. He doesn’t actually bat him in, but baseball had to somehow allow for the scoring of the run.”
Prisco sighed. “It would seem this game isn’t as simple as you make it out.”
Reagan laughed. “The basics are very simple – pitch, hit, field and score more runs than your opponent. But the strategies are practically limitless. A manager’s decision to pinch hit in the ninth can make him look like a genius, while the same decision the next night can leave him looking like a goat.”
“Don’t ask me to explain the origin of the phrase. It’s a derogatory euphemism.”
“You called it a kid’s game. I assume that is a reference to children and not the aforementioned Bovidae.”
“If by Bovidae you mean goat, you are correct.”
“But these are grown men.”
“Who as kids played baseball.”
“They are paid to play?”
“Very handsomely – too handsomely. Today’s players make millions. But there was a time, before the Players Association, when the owners took advantage of the players. If you consider how much revenue the owners take in the result of the gate, television contracts and advertising, it’s only right that they share more with the players, without whom they wouldn’t have a product to peddle.”
They went silent for a time, finishing their hotdogs and sipping their beers as the game entered the ninth inning, with Detroit holding a 2-1 edge over Boston. Tigers’ manager, Jim Leyland, pulled Verlander, whose pitch count was 105, and inserted his closer, Jose Valverde.
“They call Valverde ‘Papa Grande,’” Reagan said.
“Why, because he’s overweight?”
“Sort of. A teammate gave him that nickname when he played for Arizona. It was meant as a term of endearment, and the teammate thought it meant Big Daddy. But the actual translation is Big Potato.”
“Why would someone wish to be affiliated with a potato?”
Reagan laughed. “One wouldn’t. But a nickname is hard to shake. Shit!”
Valverde had just allowed the tying run to cross the plate on a Ryan Sweeney triple that scored Darnell McDonald.
“I had a feeling that was going to happen,” Reagan said.
“You had a premonition?”
“Just a feeling, Prisco. Valverde was a perfect forty-nine for forty-nine in save situations last year, and I knew he was bound to blow a save eventually. That’s why they play the games. I’d just hoped it wouldn’t be today.”
A few moments later, Cody Ross lined out to Jhonny Peralta at short to end the top of the ninth.
After Ryan Raburn flew out to right field to open the Tigers ninth, Peralta singled and the sellout home crowd was on its feet, urging the Tigers to rally.
Alex Avila followed with a single, so Bobby Valentine, Boston’s manager, pulled Mark Melancon for Alfredo Aceves, and Leyland inserted Danny Worth to pitch run for Peralta.
Aceves hit Ramon Santiago to load the bases, bringing Austin Jackson to the dish. Jackson had had a disappointing season a year ago, striking out far too often for a leadoff hitter. But this was a new season, and Jackson had had a good day, getting two hits in four trips, and scoring once.
After three pitches, the count two balls and a strike, Prisco asked, “Do you have a feeling for what’s going to happen?”
“No, but I’m pulling for a hit.”
A moment later, Jackson singled home the winning run to send the fans home happy.
Later, Reagan and Prisco sat sipping Summer Shandys at Miller’s Bar while they awaited the arrival of their cheeseburgers.
“What did you think of your first ballgame?” Reagan asked.
“It would seem the key to getting a batter out is to keep him guessing as to what type of pitch is coming.”
“But this Valverde seemed only to throw fastballs.”
“Which is what got him into trouble. Still, it’s his best pitch.”
“And the batter knows this, which gives him the advantage.”
“It didn’t last season. He didn’t blow a single save all season long, throwing mostly fastballs. Come Saturday, in a similar situation, the percentages will favor Valverde to save the win, at least on paper.”
“But they don’t play the game on paper.”
“Exactly. That’s why they have to play them. Hundreds of things influence the outcome of a game, including luck.”
“I don’t believe in luck.”
“Really? If not good fortune, how do you explain a batter getting enough wood on a fastball out of the strike zone to get a base hit?”
“Perhaps he anticipated the pitch, and his exceptional eye-hand coordination, along with his skill, allowed him to connect his bat with the ball.”
“How about a grounder with top spin resulting in the ball skipping under the shortstop’s glove?”
“That’s just physics and the inability of the fielder to anticipate the bounce.”
“Point taken,” Reagan said. “What about the guy who wins a lotto worth two million dollars? He almost never buys a ticket, but on a whim on his birthday, he purchases the winning ticket.”
“The odds are certainly against him winning, but someone has to win. Why not him?”
“Why not the guy who spends fifty dollars on lotto tickets every week?”
“His chances are increased; but his inability to win is not the result of luck. Poor luck is merely a term devised to deflect accountability in a poor choice, while good luck is used to define an unexpected windfall.”
When Reagan was unable to debate Prisco’s logic, Prisco continued.
“Bad luck can be no more attributed to a man getting hit by a car the result of his failure to look both ways, than to a man who slips and falls in the shower because he chose not to use a non-slip shower mat.”
“So you don’t believe in being in the right place at the right time any more than you believe in being in the wrong place at the wrong time?”
“Life is predicated on percentages. A man who never had an accident while driving, because he never sped and always obeyed the rules of the road, can still have an accident. In fact, his chances increase as he gets older because his eyesight becomes diminished and his reflexes slow. An accident in this case is not the result of bad luck.”
“I recall many years ago an entire college basketball team, save one, was killed in a plane crash. That one player remained home because of injury and wasn’t going to play. Two weeks later, he was killed in a car crash. Luck or destiny?”
Prisco shook his head. “Coincidence can also be defined as luck, a fluke, happenstance.”
“I get it.”
“I would ask what the road conditions were on the day of his death. Was he inebriated? Was he suffering survivor’s guilt?”
“Okay, Prisco, you win.”
“What did I win?”
“Oh,” Prisco said. “I did not intend to debate. I was merely expressing my opinion.”
“As was I, which is the basis for debate.”
“But I did not endeavor that you should lose. I merely wished to convince you of my perspective.”
“Which is to say my perspective is wrong.”
“If I convinced you of my perspective, do you not, in coming away with the correct perspective, win?”
Reagan laughed. “I suppose that’s one way of looking at it.”
Their cheeseburgers were served and the conversation changed to Reagan’s love life.
“I’m enjoying getting to know Cam,” Reagan said. “I think she could be the one.”
“With a world population in excess of seven billion, you would find numerous potential mates. In fact, I would estimate that –”
“Please don’t,” Reagan said. “I’m only interested in this one.”
“She lives in Alabama.”
“So what? It’s not like I’ve had good luck with Michigan women.”
“How can you determine, from nearly seven-hundred-fifty miles away, whether you wish to commit to her?”
“Well, the geography forces us to go slowly, get to know each other, become friends first, before we become lovers.”
“And then, what? Her parents and my parents are deceased. I have no family ties to Michigan. She has an adult daughter who lives in California.”
“Will she move to Michigan?”
“I haven’t asked her.”
“It’s presumptuous and premature.”
“But it will come up. You complain of the heat and humidity now. It will be more uncomfortable for you in Alabama, which is much nearer to the equator.”
“I know where Alabama is,” Reagan said. “Are you trying to talk me out of this?”
“No. I merely wish to express to you the chances of a successful outcome are low.”
“Maybe they are. Doesn’t mean we can’t beat the odds. I only know I’m enjoying her company, even if it is only over the phone. I like her. I like how she makes me feel. I’ll worry about the logistics later.”
“Okay, Spock.” Reagan was beginning to feel perturbed.
“Why wouldn’t you wish to increase the odds of a successful outcome?”
“How? By dating someone closer to home? I’ve tried that. Contrary to your non-belief in luck, I still believe in it. Who are you to say I can’t increase my chances of finding love in another state?”
“Why are you angry?”
Reagan ignored Prisco’s question: “Two people can ride the same subway to work each morning in New York and never meet. While two others, on opposite sides of the planet, no power on earth can keep them from meeting.”
“Yet the two on the subway stand a greater chance of meeting, if they should leave themselves open to meeting. Perhaps she is intent on reading O and he, New York Times.”
“The chances of meeting someone on a subway –”
“Are no less than meeting someone on Facebook. One just needs to leave oneself open to the possibility.”
“I can’t dispute that any more than I can disprove your theory, Prisco.”
“It is not a theory. It is fact predicated on numerics. If you take into account competition, input into the equation that many men and women are addicted to dating – to meeting lots of potential mates without making a commitment – the chances of finding love while riding a subway are no less than while on a night out speed dating.”
“Too bad we don’t have a subway system in Ann Arbor.”
“You would put my theory to the test?”
“Maybe, if you’d asked me a week ago, before I met Cam.”
“Why should that make a difference?”
“Because I’m committed to seeing this through.”