Wednesday, December 13, 2017

i'm going to take the liberty to post here one of my favorite all-time stories. i don't talk baseball much, because i don't keep up with baseball in the modern world, besides being an avid cleveland fan, and, even as one of those, i couldn't tell you much about the team itself, outside of what i occasionally find out by reading up when, for example, they win a lot of games in a row. but back when i was about twelve we went to a few baseball games, in the old forbes field in pittsburgh, and that's where this story comes from. the pirates had the best player of all time, roberto clemente, and this story is my proof.

they weren't a great team, although they had their moments; in the stands we would often hear people complain that they should change their pitcher, or rue the fact that they had no other pitchers to put in. games would go to scores like 16-11 or 13-9, more like football scores, because both teams would do a lot of hitting in that spacious field and we would watch outfielders chase the ball, sometimes for an entire game, out by the ivy-covered walls. such was this game; the pirates were not in the pennant race, but it was toward the end of the year, and the opposing team was shelling the pirate pitchers. clemente was in right, as usual, where he often dove to catch flies, or ran to cover the first baseman. it was clear that he could hit and field as well as anyone, and he was a clutch hitter too: when the team was tied, or down a run or two, you could count on him. he never cracked under pressure.

on this day the opposing team had a guy on first and someone hit the ball way back by the ivy in center-right, about four hundred feet or more. clemente tore over there, picked up the ball, and with a single motion, turned and threw a line drive to the catcher, catching the runner easily. the people in the stadium were dumbfounded by the throw, about a hundred feet, line drive, perfect, and hitting the catcher's glove at body height just to the third base side of the plate. no one knew anyone could throw like that. and the thing was, we were quite used to his diving catches, his triples, his amazing hitting average.

clemente went on to become a hero for his efforts in relief on behalf of nicaragua; he was also a hero because he was very gracious about baseball itself, and i think people knew that he put 100% in to every minute he ever played. to me, he was a hero becauee i saw him play the best all-around baseball of anyone i ever saw. but in hindsight, i found it remarkable: this was an ordinary game, without huge stakes. he did a remarkable, near-perfect thing, from back at the wall in the ivy, and a completely unremarkable time. this is how i'd like to see myself. this is what makes him a hero to me. if i could be like that in anything, not to mention baseball, i would.


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