It’s the bottom of the ninth inning on a Saturday night, and the Los Angeles Dodgers are in trouble. They are up by two runs, sure, but it doesn’t feel safe. The dreaded San Diego Padres are fighting and, with two outs, the Padres have runners on second and third. All it will take is one hit, one nice little blooper, and they both will come barreling through home plate.
Tommy Pham is batting, and on the second pitch he connects. Fast hands through the zone, eyes following that ball as it zooms over the second baseman’s head toward right-center field. It’s dropping fast. A line drive falling toward that striped green grass like a meteor. This could be it. This could be the Padres’ night. A nice Saturday night single to tie the game.
But here he comes sprinting. He’s moving already before the camera flips away from the batter. He’s running so quickly that on the replay, his legs are blurry. He takes a step, and his front knee bends. It must be instinct, because no thinking person with a sense of self-preservation would be able to lay themselves flat in the air, to jump horizontally, and stretch all the way out, glove extending, free hand bracing, neck pulling your head back to keep your mouth from being filled with all that lush green grass. But there he is. Mookie Betts. Graceful and determined and flying, for just a moment, like the ball.
He is in the air as it plummets. And he falls with it. They are both racing toward the ground in a dead heat. But Mookie is just a hair ahead. His stomach is already on the ground when the ball arrives. He closes his eyes. Instinct. Bracing for impact, he throws his right hand out to cushion his fall. His glove is still up. It’s hard to call that fraction of a second before the ball arrives waiting, but the glove is there waiting. And as soon as the ball arrives, it snaps closed. This is a dose of skill so concentrated, a play so unthinking even Mookie doesn’t really believe it. He’s still sliding as he opens his glove to check. There it is. The ball. He’s done it.
He comes up victorious, slapping his chest. “Mookie Magic,” announcer Joe Davis says, as he runs off. And it does feel like magic, doesn’t it? How is it possible, that he could run that fast, jump that far, time it so perfectly that he would just be able to wrap that ball up in his glove to end the game? It’s beautiful. Isn’t it?
No amount of salary cap freedom is worth losing this. Because look at him. Look what he can do. That’s not monetary value. That, my friends, is art.