Heartbreak at third base

Conner has struggled all year with baseball. Not with his play, which has been really good for a first-year player, but with how seriously he takes things. I place no expectations on him for each game other than to play hard and have a good time. Get a hit or strikeout. Catch the ball or miss it. Just play hard and have a good time. Nothing else matters.

But it does to him.

Every chance he has to play matters to him. He takes the weight of the world on his shoulders. A strikeout to him is devastating. It doesn’t seem to matter how hard we try to convince him that he’s doing well. And trust me, we’ve been trying.

Tonight, during batting practice, the coach decided to try a different stance for him. It worked wonders for his hitting. The first time up he hits a single and then made it home a few plays later. He started the season batting .500 but has since dropped a little. It was nice to see him more confident at the plate.

Unfortunately the rest of the team just wasn’t hitting tonight. It happens sometimes. Baseball teams can just hit strikeout slumps. Tonight was that night for us. If we scored five runs in the final inning, we would tie the game up. Conner was due up to bat third in the inning. I was nervous about the potential last out being in his hands.

Jace, who’s having a rough night, is the first kid up and strikes out.

One out.

The second kid up, Bryce, take a few pitches then hits a great shot and makes it to first base.

One out, runner at first.

Then comes Conner. I want him to get a hit so he can end the game on a high note. He takes the first two pitches. He has three pitches left and the coach tells him to swing at all of them. Two more pitches, two more swings, two more strikes. Last pitch. He has to swing no matter what.

I watched as the ball left the pitcher’s hand. Conner began to turn his hips and bring the bat around. It connected perfectly and was driven down the third base line. Conner ran as I prayed it would stay fair.

It did. One out, runners at first and second.

Dane walks to the plate. Another rough night, another strike out.

Two outs, runners at first and second.

Here comes Charlie. Charlie can get some good hits, and he does. He smashes the ball into shallow right field. He is safe at first. Conner is safe at second but it looks like Bryce might be thrown out at third. The throw comes in high and goes over the third baseman’s head.

The coach waves Bryce home and tells Conner to take third. Conner runs harder than I’ve ever seen him run. He kicks up dirt as he goes. The left fielder picks up the ball and turns to throw it to third. It’s going to be close. Conner’s extra burst of speed from deep down drives his legs and, almost in slow motion, he runs for the bag as the ball comes in.

His left foot touches the bag a second before the third baseman catches the ball.

He’s safe!

The crowd roars.

His right foot goes past the bag and lands on the dirt.

His left foot follows off the base.

The third baseman tags him for the final out after he leaves the base.

In unison, the crowd’s cheer turns into a long, disappointed “aaawwwww.”

Conner looks around not knowing what happened, but the coach’s angry reaction tells him it was bad. He had never been in that situation and didn’t know you had to stay on the base or you could be tagged out. Now he knows. He also knows that was the final out of the game.

He breaks down in tears when he realizes what he did.

I want to cry for him.

Two great hits for the game and all he’ll remember is the heartbreak at third base.

The comeback

For the first time this season it looks like the Rangers can actually come back late in a game to win. It seems like this entire season if they get down by a few runs it’s over. Now in the past week they’ve done it several times.

The comeback is my favorite brand of baseball. Sure it’s a blast when your team wins 20 to 5, but I would argue the comeback is a more exciting to watch. The problem is, utter disappointment is also a possibility if they can’t complete the comeback.

Up until last week, an opponent’s lead late in the game, no matter how small, seemed an insurmountable wall. Now we’re getting key hits when we need them and it feels good. This is fun baseball to watch.

Note: Why the picture of Nolan teaching Robin Ventura a much-needed lesson? It doesn’t really have anything to do with comebacks, but it is Rangers related and makes me smile.

A note on civility toward a young, misguided Yankees fan

The Yankee Rebellion

Just a note to everyone planning to be at tonight’s Round Rock Express game: My oldest son will be in attendance and wearing his New York Yankees hat. His love of the Yankees is just a misguided youthful rebellion. I’m sure some day he’ll get over it.

Now, being Texas, I’m going to ask everyone to refrain from the things you would normally do to someone wearing a Yankees hat.

That means:
(“The Yankees suck” is mild enough and true, therefore acceptable.)

(This isn’t prison.)

(Looking at his hat and derisively spitting on the ground is fine.)

(I understand the urge, but resist it.)

One day we’ll cure him of his Yankee obsession. Until then, thank you for your tolerance.

All-Star Game quote-of-the-day

Writing about the flawed nature of the All-Star selection process and the fact that we can’t do anything about it:

“So a sizable chunk of baseball fans want to see the rapidly aging corpse of Derek Jeter propped up between second and third for one last hurrah? Big whoop.”

— via the amusing American McCarver

“That’s just how baseball goes.”

“That’s just how baseball goes.” You’ll hear that quote at a lot of post-game news conferences from the Texas Rangers’ manager, Ron Washington. And in a sense, he’s right. Baseball is just about as unpredictable a sport as there is. Players constantly rotate in and out of hot and cold streaks. You just hope that enough of your favorite team’s players are hot at once to string together some winning streaks.

Which brings us to the 2010 American League champs, the Rangers. They are playing about as inconsistently as it gets. One night they’ll score 15 runs. The next, none. I understand it happens to all teams at times, but I think the expectations are very high for this season. Texas had a taste of the World Series last year, and we liked it. It reignited my love of baseball.

So I have to ask, three quarters of the way through this season if the Rangers are still playing like they are now, is Ron Washington still employed as the general manager? I’m not calling for his head, I’m just wondering, if they keep the same pace, do the cries for his firing grow too loud to ignore? Let him have the All-Star break, where he has to manage the AL team, then give him a month to get the ship righted. If it’s not, I wouldn’t be shocked to start hearing those cries. Someone has to be blamed. Heaven forbid it be the multi-millionaire players. That leaves Wash.

Besides, “that’s just how baseball goes,” the common answer you hear from all the players is “we just have to get back to playing our brand of baseball.” I agree. We love the Rangers’ brand of baseball. That brand is decent pitching (doesn’t even have to be mind-blowing) combined with a ridiculous amount of runs. It’s a blast to watch. But if I didn’t know anything about the Rangers and just started watching this year, I’d think their brand of baseball was mediocre pitching combined with inconsistent bats for a 500-ish team. Seems a far cry from the team that carried us to the World Series last year.

But we’re still in first place you say. In the American League West, that’s not saying much. I’m pretty sure I played for a Little League team when I was nine that could be in first in the AL West right now. If this team is still playing like this come the playoffs, I don’t like their chances. If the schedule happens to hit when they are hot, they can make it deep. If not, well, that’s just how baseball goes.

Again, it’s probably a lot of worrying for a team that’s technically tied for first place. I just don’t see the team winning consistently enough to still be playing in October.