15 December 2018

The Play's The Thing: A Voice, A Song and A Memory

 Our favorite player, when we were little, was Roy White. Disciplined and humble, he hit, ran and defended,  and was often the best or second best fixture on some weak Yankee clubs.  There were far fewer televised player interviews back then, even in New York, and those were frequented by comparatively amazin' Mets and White's more garrulous teammates. It may be hard for younger fans to believe, but even after regularly watching Yankee telecasts, and White making an All Star team or two, we had never actually heard his voice. 


So we kids were surprised and jazzed to learn in TV Guide that our quiet baseball hero would actually appear later that week on The Merv Griffin Show, a prime time gabfest.  We anticipated it for days. About 2/3 through the show, Merv finally introduced Roy to the audience, and to his other guests on the sofa. From memory: 

Griffin (smiling, through applause):  Roy White! Yankees. Welcome!

White: politely,smiles, shakes hands and silently takes a seat 

Griffin: So...Roy, um, what position do you play?

White: (long pause)  Outfield

His voice, it turned out, was quite deep and resonant. We were almost startled by it and barely noticed when another guest, Zsa Zsa or Ann Miller or someone, interjected. Merv swiveled around, redirecting the entire conversation.  White never spoke again.

Almost fifty years later, my now ancient brothers and I still use this ‘code’ for being talked over or ignored.  One of us will theatrically clear our throat and say, in an artificially deep voice, “Out-field”.  Ah, the silly things we remember and the consequential things that pass by.  

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When I started watching the Diamondbacks in 1998, it had been a while since I’d attended a major league game.  We had good seats, lowers off the plate, and some of the action made outsized impressions. One weekend that July, a polished crew flew in to Phoenix and hit multiple homers to left, homers and triples to right, doubles. Except it was just one guy, a sleek athlete not unlike Roy White. Only moreso. He circled the bases like a greyhound and was certified dope at short. He was  Barry Larkin.

Foremost in mind when securing those inaugural season tickets was the novelty and excitement of an indigenous ballteam.  Our team was the thing but that weekend, Larkin drove home something besides runs.  I had also invested in individual virtuosity and athletic grace.  I thought of Larkin in terms I’d never really thought of a player, or a man, before. He wasn’t just a great player. He was beautiful.  Like a ballet or a song. 

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Paul Goldschmidt is a different kind of beauty.  Not sleek like a decathlete.  Round features remind one more of a big boned teen.  When he’s the most polished player on the field, which has been often, he seems almost physically uncomfortable that anyone would actually say so.  Fellow Arizonans have reminisced about Goldy’s memorable home runs and cathartic playoff victories.  My lasting impression is a little different, and apart from Larkin's aesthetic ideal. 

 It’s not a particular moment, but more a composite of a hundred routine games.  Maybe it's June. Or September, and like so many Sonoran summers, we’re already out of it.  Late in another mechanical night.  A sliced pop arcs down the right field line, well past the bases and bends toward mostly empty stands.  Our rightfielder du jour and nimble second baseman take perfunctory lines. And from just behind first base, a third, larger body turns its back to the plate and sprints. His are peculiar, choppy strides, tilling the ground with purpose, and they never quite stop.  He is the franchise player, but looks desperately over his shoulder, like an old wishbone wideout, intent on a rare, fleeting arc that could make or break his name.

Far from his station, Goldschmidt's  torso arches way back.   Like a locked in hound, he usually plucks it, with little reaction in either case. He doesnt crash into the stands.  Too showy; poor risk/reward. The play’s the thing - and the play is done. He jogs back, almost sheepishly, to his position. A camera lingers on him too long, like an old sentimental fan. He sets in silence, as a hundred thousand times. No voice, no song. The generative dance of a desert bloom, indelible, as Junes and Septembers dissolve.

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