March 7, 2012
10,000 miles + 10 games = 10 million questions
Since we began the season with our trip to Florida, we’ve flown around 10,000 miles to play 10 games. The campaign ledger says we’ve been defeated in six of those contests, and while that makes us a 4 and 6 ballclub, and that of course, is what we are (a sub-.500, or below average team right now), like usual, the numbers really don’t tell the whole story. As with the majority of baseball games, the team that makes the least mistakes wins most of the time. In at least five of those losses, the opponents wearing our own uniform had more to do with our defeat than the guys in the other dugout. The common thread in those losses has been a struggle with the most basic of baseball skills. Quite simply, we’ve been our own worst enemy because we don’t play catch very well.
At times it has looked like our Nike gloves could be mistaken for Everlasts. The Starkville hecklers joked that they appeared to be of the Ejecto variety, and seemed to be constructed of Teflon rather than leather. When we have cradled the ball successfully, we’ve tended to transfer it to the throwing hand like it was hot, and throw it like it was a grenade, or a stone skipping a river. We have a knack for systematically and masochistically saving those blunders for the times when we absolutely, positively have to get the out. The Saturday Night Live sketches from the 1980’s with Billy Crystal and Christopher Guest have nothing on us for inviting misery. Frankie and Willie’s meat thermometer driven into our ears with ball-peen hammers might be less painful than watching us try to convert an assist. I hate it when that happens.
We had a very good Mississippi State team on the ropes on Friday night behind strong pitching from Brian Ward and Dave Fischer. We gave up a two-run homer with the count at 0-2 in the eighth. Then, with a one-run lead in the bottom of the ninth, the wheels came off. We didn’t play catch twice in that inning and a potential momentum-gathering-upset win evaporated into a hideous loss in the bottom of the ninth.
Despite not clicking on all cylinders, the offense has shown signs of promise. The pitching staff has given us reason to hope for brighter days ahead, but the defense is another story. With almost 20 percent of the regular season behind us already, the gloves should be broken in by now. However, we have been making errors at a record pace. Our earned run average is better than that of our opponents. Our batting average and slugging percentage are too. The inconsistent start has been a direct result of that last ugly column on the stat sheet. A .939 fielding percentage is .19 points worse than that of our opponents. It must improve quickly if we’re going to grow into a good team.
Sunday, we dug ourselves a familiar hole against a scrappy Lipscomb team in Starkville, Mississippi. We committed three costly errors, and handed the Bison three unearned runs to help put us down 5-1 with six outs remaining in the game. Sparked by a good old-fashioned offensive rally in the eighth, the Huskies showed some fight and tied the ballgame. One of our hottest hitters, Tom Verdi ended it with a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth, and we overcame our mistakes. It was a good win, and one we really needed.
The outcome was positive, but the process in achieving it was enough to make one gag. Otto von Bismarck said, “Laws are like sausages. It’s better not to see them being made.” Otto could have said the same about our win on Sunday too, but it sure was nice to play the role of stinger as opposed to that of the stung. While it didn’t absolve us of all our sins in Friday night’s loss or Sunday’s win, it was nice to force the other team to walk off the field the way we forced ourselves off it earlier in the weekend. Perhaps it may serve as an exorcism of sorts, and help spur the process of getting better.
We are back at work in Storrs today and tomorrow in order to perfect that process. It might take a shuffling of the defense, 10,000 groundballs, and a few more thousand miles to get our answers. Whatever it takes, we must give it, but those answers won’t come easily until we learn how to play catch.