I have never had any interest in home runs. Brute strength does not interest me. Hit a home run off a wacky breaking pitch, sure, that’s cool. Tee-balling a bunch of baseballs 400 feet is cool, I guess, but why would I care about that when I could instead watch someone run at full speed to meet a baseball that is rapidly falling out of the sky, and then slide on their belly for 15 feet? That’s better. That’s the shit I want!
Unfortunately, Major League Baseball has deprived me of much of my fun by fucking around with the ball and now turning umpires into gunk cops, so instead of watching sick-as-hell plays in the outfield, we have watched strikeouts and home runs. In the last three games I’ve scored at Nationals Park (which granted, the team is not good) both the visiting and home team combined for eight hits, three of them home runs, and more than 40 strikeouts. But last night, the most hallowed position in baseball came through for me. Several center fielders put on incredible displays of athleticism and fielding intuition.
There are three wonderful catches last night for us to enjoy, but let’s start with Billy Hamilton’s.
First off, it’s raining. The kind of rain you can’t see on the TV except for when they zoom in, so unfortunately the views of this catch are a little blurry. This will not deter us. The White Sox are up 4-1 over the Twins in the bottom of the ninth. No one is on base. A double to the wall would probably be okay, but Billy Hamilton is running at full speed toward the wall. He is coming from the center of the field and he is going back and back and back. 28 yards, the MLB Network commentators said. The warning track is coming, but it is not here yet. He is five yards away. In slow motion, you can see him leap like a gazelle, his legs in two right angles, a couple of feet off the ground, and then he stretches the whole of his body out long, like a cat in the sun.
He’ not even looking when the ball lands in his glove. He’s already turned his face away. Because he is falling out of the sky. His right arm is reaching down to try and find the ground. His eyes are closed. He is grimacing. He lands first with his knees the track, but it’s slippery! His arms fly out from under him, he slides on his chest toward the wall. “His own personal slip-and-slide,” the White Sox broadcaster said, laughing. He flips over onto his back, the top of his cap inches from the bottom of the wall, and he”s laughing, shiny white teeth like the shiny white ball still in his glove that he raises from the ground to show the right fielder, who pats him on his ribs and helps him to his feet, the ball still safe and secure.
But that’s not all! Last night was a feast of delightful catches and we shouldn’t gorge ourselves on just one. Let’s have another.
The Washington Nationals are down 4-6; it is the bottom of the seventh. It is not raining. The grass is highlighter green, and again, the ball is headed for that deep, distant gap between left and center and dropping quickly. Victor Robles is playing a little closer than Hamilton (to the left of center already), and he takes off. His strides are so short that it looks like his legs are animated. Robles begins to make himself horizontal on the approach. His torso already approaching his front leg when he’s a couple strides away until he pushes off, and stretches forward.
He is pointed, his whole body an arrow toward the foul pole, and his glove is grabbing that ball two feet above the ground and holding tight to it as he lands, rolling, on the warning track.
But that’s not all! Let’s go to the West Coast where the Angels are up 3-2 over the Red Sox in the top of the sixth. There is a runner on first with two outs. Shohei Ohtani’s pitch doesn’t sink. It hangs in the middle of the plate and this ball makes a nice clean crack off the bat, like this is batting practice. Ohtani is looking up at the sky. He does not look happy. So unhappy, in fact, he turns away from the ball as it begins its descent.
This ball is going. But so is the center fielder. Juan Lagares is running. He’s heading toward the right center wall. He’s at the track, his cleats crunching, for one, two, three steps. The wall is right here parallel with him, but the ball is so close and the wall isn’t that tall. He leaps into the wall, his forearm tight against the yellow line at the top, and he pulls it down like it’s nothing. Two runs? Nah. No runs. He pumps his fist! He slaps his chest! The inning is over, and the boys are high-fiving as they trot back in.
See. Wasn’t this more fun than some silly dingers?