I’ll admit it: I left Wednesday night’s Royals game at Kauffman Stadium before it was over.
It was the ninth inning. Relief pitcher Luke Hochevar had gone to a full count with three straight batters and let the third get on base. I had another one of those feelings that we’ve had so often in this crazy baseball September. Not tonight. It was already a given that the Royals wouldn’t have clinched the division title that night, but still there was faint hope though not much optimism that the team would catch enough spark to get the job done.
On the way out of the stadium, I caught Hochevar on a monitor, luckily, closing out the top of the ninth with no further damage. On the drive home, we heard the Royals tie the game. Nevertheless the frustrating inability to get runners home — 14 batters stranded through nine innings — bode ill for this game. The agony lasted into the 10th.
It’s hard to criticize the wussy people who had left the stadium even before my partner and I did. We’d sat in those hard plastic seats for four hours already. We’re just real people with day jobs, and perhaps everyone else had an early appointment the next day, too.
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Don’t get me wrong. There were bits of exciting, scratch-it-out baseball; Yordano Ventura, the fiery and floppy hurler, looked fairly effective; and a big beer and a footlong brat helped fill the time and distract us from the goofy goings-on between innings on the giant scoreboard.
Even the newly minted fan in my house — to some faithful readers, that’s the former She Who Is Not Easily Pleased — noticed the subtly intriguing dynamics of the game. “There was one moment when fans rattled Seattle,” she texted to a friend. “Lots of drama. Guys talking behind gloves.”
We got home just in time to turn on the radio broadcast and hear new closer Wade Davis shut down the Mariners in the top of the 10th and — at long last — the return of Royals ecstasy, when Lorenzo Cain drove home the long-legged Brazilian, Paulo Orlando, for the game-winning run.
In case you’re wondering, I am not trying out for a spot on the sports page. But I am trying to get in touch with that thing about baseball that stirs in many of us even if our team weren’t heading for another string of post-season battles.
I was glad that Wednesday night’s game began with a moment of silence for Yogi Berra, whose death at 90 was reported that day. Sure he was one of those hated Yankees, but he was one of the very few who transcended that ancient rivalry to enjoy a kind of historic, heroic esteem. “That he triumphed on the diamond again and again in spite of his perceived shortcomings was certainly a source of his popularity,” Bruce Weber wrote in The New York Times’ lengthy obit.
My personal history with Yogi goes back to my ancient and brief days as a Little League catcher, like him, when all those Yankees were my heroes. This vivid passage last week from another hero, Roger Angell, The New Yorker’s 95-year-old deep observer of baseball, stopped me in place: “I think of him behind the plate as well: a thinking bookend, a stump in charge.”
Yogi’s St. Louis heritage and school-dropout past meant nothing to me then or now, but I can’t quite get over a sense memory that his visage always reminds me a bit of my grandfather, who hasn’t been with us for 50 years now. He was something like a thinking bookend, too. Or at least that’s how I remember him.
One thing we learned during the Royals’ magical season last year was how intensely the game binds the generations. Will Salvador Perez endure behind the plate like a Yogi Berra for tomorrow?
I have watched or listened to almost every game this season, including the division clincher on Thursday. I’m ready to plan for October success. And to celebrate more baseball, which can make us anxious, break our hearts and, ultimately, lift our spirits.
There is that other thing about Yogi. I should’ve thought about it Wednesday night as we debated whether to stay or go. “It ain’t over till it’s over.” One of the most classic Yogi-isms. And one of those Royals things we’ve been holding onto all season long.