Baseball, Earlobes and Running Backward

Chapter 1.

In 2008, a Cubs road game scheduled for Houston got rescheduled in Milwaukee due to Hurricane Ike pounding the Texas coast.  Therefore on a beautiful early fall afternoon, Nick and I spontaneously decided to breeze up to Brewer’s field rather than trying to slog our way through traffic to the friendly confines of Wrigley field. 

I hadn’t been to a professional base ball game for a good 20 years, but I actually know a lot about baseball, mostly learned from grandfather in the 1960s as we sat and watched the Cubs play after big Sunday lunches.  I remember that I stunned a high school softball coach when I was able to explain the nuances of dropped third strike, infield fly rule and the fact that the batter has to make an honest effort to avoid being hit by a pitch.  But I had also had learned that without a time constraint, baseball could be maddeningly slow and you needed to have other diversions handy.  Typically this was a nap, waking up just in time for a dramatic ninth inning.  But different strategies were needed for the live event.  Before we left for Milwaukee, I frantically searched for my old baseball mitt – unfortunately unsuccessfully.  Besides being eagerly ready for a fly ball, you could also buy a program and keep score professionally, which my mother had taught me many years ago (why do you suppose that a strikeout is a “K”), but there were no Cubs/Houston programs for this hastily rescheduled game in Milwaukee.  Fortunately, I had remembered to bring my binoculars and knew that I could probably while the way the hours by people-watching.

We settled into our seats along the third base line along with about 20,000 other Cubs fans, all presumably joining us in playing hooky.  The man sitting next to us looked a bit sheepish as he arrived straight from his office wearing his coat and tie.  As I scanned the crowd for good people watching, I was transported back 30 years to a Cubs game that I went to with my younger brother Tim.  We were in the midst of a summer long discussion about ear lobes – which Tim had generally categorized as either “droopers” or “connectors.”   For example, statues of Buddhas all have exceptionally long droopers, since this is supposed to symbolize a wise man who is “all hearing.”  As a modern point of reference, Lyndon Baines Johnson had pendulous lobes that seemed to get droopier every year.   

Another prototypical drooper is John Madden, although I must warn you that you have to catch his lobes at the beginning of Sunday night football game because they are swaddled in headphones for the rest of the game.  

Connectors are characterized by an ear lobe that is fixed to the face along the length of the jaw line.  The ranks of celebrity connectors are thin, perhaps because droopers are a genetically dominant trait, but Gwyneth Paltrow is sporting a nice set of connectors.

At that particular game, Tim and I could hardly contain our excitement when right across the aisle from us we spotted a spectacular set of droopers sitting next to equally spectacular set of connectors.  I have no other memories of that game, but that is often the case with baseball games – there is plenty of time to do other things and the baseball game becomes an occasionally entertaining backdrop.

The missing words in the following poem are anagrams (i.e. like post, spot, stop) and the number of dashes indicates the number of letters.  One of the missing words will rhyme with either the preceding or following line.  Your job is to solve the missing words based on the context of the poem.  Scroll down to the bottom of the essay for the answers.

How would you categorize that useless blob handing from your —?

Does Johnsonian or Maddenesque come to mind, or even chandelier?

 — they so long that they swing and sway as you begin to dance?

Or could Lilliputians host a picnic on this vast and fleshy expanse?

Look at a Buddha statue from a bygone — do your lobes look the same?

 If any of these are true, you’re automatically in the Drooper Hall of Fame.

Chapter 2.

The people watching was mostly unsuccessful, so I turned to the baseball game.  There was not much going on – scoreless in the third inning – so I decided that I would intently watch one individual player.  In a prior Cubs game, I had decided to focus my attention on the second baseman Ryne Sandberg.  It must have been a low scoring game, since even though Ryne batted near the top of the batting order, he was only up to bat 4 times in the entire game.  He never got on base.  In the field, no ball was ever hit to him, so for the entire game all he did was stand around and swing the bat a couple of times – he never had to run and I doubt if he cracked a sweat during the entire game, all the while earning tens of thousands of dollars.  For this game, I chose to focus on the Cubs’ left fielder, Alfonso Soriano.  He ran around a little bit, mostly to and from the outfield, caught a few balls, and maybe got a hit, but the captivating action was how many times he adjusted his crotch – in fact he did it constantly.  It wasn’t as if his junk had gotten disorganized because he had sprinted or made a dramatic slide, he felt compelled to rearrange even if he was standing perfectly still.  In the business world, this would be akin to the presenter squirming and tugging on his crotch before every new power point slide. 

The other notable quirk was that Alfonso, as well as most of the other players, were constantly chewing or spitting – tobacco, gum, sunflower seeds or liquids – baseball players are truly oral folk.  I spent some time looking at the dugout with my binoculars and was horrified to see how untidy and slippery it looked.

 It was now about the 6th inning, the Cubs were ahead, and the Cubs pitcher, Ryan Dempster,  had a no hitter going, which was quite remarkable since his team mate Carlos Zambrano had pitched a no hitter the night before.  But still there was plenty of time for pleasurable day dreaming.  I have never cared that passionately about baseball one way or another – but there are certainly many that get all misty eyed talking about how baseball is American’s favorite pastime.  The word “pass time” would seem to undermine the image of baseball of a demanding sport, but it is probably America’s oldest organized sport and as such has contributed to the English vernacular:

  •  Can of corn (easy fly ball)
  • Texas leaguer (short fly ball that falls in for a hit)
  • Frozen rope (hard hit line drive)
  • Ducks on the pond (base runners)
  • Dying quail (similar to a Texas leaguer, but droopier)
  • Ball park estimate/figure (based on the fact that baseball parks are all different sizes)
  • Can’t hit the broadside of a barn (incompetent pitcher)
  • Stick a fork in him (similar to testing meat to see if it is done, to assess whether or not the pitcher should be removed)
  • Ride the pines (be a bench warmer [in itself a baseball expression])
  • Throw someone a curve
  • Step up to the plate
  • Out in left field/come from left field
  • Play hard ball
  • Be a switch hitter
  • Touch all bases
  • Right off the bat
  • Keep your eye on the ball
  • Out of your league/bush league
  • Bat one thousand, etc, etc.

 In fact, the most recent 2008 edition of  Dickson’s Baseball Dictionary has expanded their listings to 10,000 baseball expressions.  I just ordered a copy.

 With linguistic musings exhausted and the no hitter gone by the 7th inning, I looked for new entertainment.  I began to further ponder on my great idea to improve baseball.  I first began to think about this when I was a slow moving right handed batter in our ladies softball league.  I was always jealous of those left handers who were at least two steps closer to first base, and thought this could possibly account for the fact that I was routinely thrown out as I lumbered down to first base.  Our genial coach pointed out that I could best address this situation by becoming a switch hitter.  Given my limited right handed skills, I knew that this wasn’t going to work, so I came up with a plan to have a game where you would run the bases in reverse.  Let those left handers run that extra distance to third base! 

 This did not seem to be that much more preposterous than the designated hitter discrepancy between the American and National league, which has many subtle, but major impacts on the way baseball is played.   In the American league, pitchers are not pulled for pinch hitters and the line up of batters is much more formidable.  Why not throw another curveball and run the bases clockwise for a change?  While left handed pitchers are at a premium, there are limited opportunities for left handed infielders – with the exception of the first baseman.  Left handers are mostly delegated to the outfield.  This would all be changed if you ran to third base first.  Both the short stop and the 2nd baseman would almost have to be left handed in order to have the optimal angle to throw it to third base for a routine ground out. 

This also lead me to consider that in the right handed dominated world, the natural tendency is to run counterclockwise – for example, all races in the Olympics are run counterclockwise, which disadvantages left handers/footers in general.  So maybe every four years they should run the races in the opposite direction.  Whoever invented the clock made the seemingly arbitrary and counter-intuitive decision to have the clocks run from left to right.  And then why do we write from left to right – certainly there are many languages that read from right-to-left, notably Hebrew and other Middle Eastern languages, but clocks all run the same direction.     

 So many unanswered questions, but I ran out of time.  There it was, the last fly ball to Soriano and the Cubs won, essentially burying the Houston Astros on their way to winning the pennant.  We stood up, brushed the peanut shells off our clothes, kicked the drink cups under the seats and made our way to the exits.  Can’t beat a beautiful afternoon at the old ball park!

——- me a place in the baseball Hall of Fame,

 Because I have a great idea to spice up the game,

 This year, why not run the bases in ——-,

 Run clockwise instead and get to third base first!

 Even the fan who ——- the game knows it is an idea worth trying,

 Because baseball is slow and boring and fan interest is dying.








Chapter 1:  ear, are, era 

Chapter 2: reserve, reverse, reveres

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