"People talk about the run differential, people talk about the numbers
that don’t make sense. But there’s a
reason why it doesn’t make sense. It’s because this is a team. I don’t
think that in professional sports you’re not going to find more of a
team than what you’ll find here."
–Eric Byrnes, fracturing the English language a la W, but you get the point.
The Arizona Diamondbacks have clinched a playoff berth with tonight’s 4-2 victory over the Colorado Rockies, coupled with the Mets 7-4 loss to the Florida Marlins. They will make their first playoff appearance since the 2002 season.
I admit that my doubts were running wild going into today’s game. First of all, the D’Backs had just dropped 2 of 3 to the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates. Then, although most times the thought of Brandon Webb starting is a comfort, I knew that he’s had a rough time with the Rockies this year. To top it off, the Rockies had won 11 straight.
But then, just before the game started, I heard that 7 of the 11 victories were against the Dodgers who used the occasion to audition a number of not-ready-for-prime-time MLB hopefuls. The whoever-it-was sports host I heard on KTAR (a Phoenix radio station) was just livid about it, accusing the Dodgers of tanking. Suddenly, the Rockies streak didn’t seem indicative of a team of destiny.
And they weren’t. Brandon Webb turned in a quality start — 2 runs in seven innings. Augie Ojeda, Conor Jackson and Stephen Drew drove in the runs, with CoJack hitting his 15th homer. It came off Rockies starter Jeff Francis; CoJack has his number. Then on came Brandon Lyon for his 35th hold in the 8th and Jose Valverde for his major league leading (and uniform matching) 47th save. The D’Backs victory was their 90th of the year.
Eric Byrnes doubled off the third baseman’s glove (30th double, 179th hit), with one out, then stole third with two out. (That’s called taking a big chance. One is not supposed to make the first or third out at third base). The D’Backs loaded the bases then. But they did not score. This is not good going into the playoffs. In October, you can’t load the bases and not score and expect to win. So the Snakes should use the next two games to iron out the kinks.
But for tonight, they can enjoy their first step into the post-season. Just don’t do anything dumb while you’re partying!
"Micah’s offense is a joke. He takes
[batting practice] twice a week and steps up and rakes big league
pitching. It seems like he’s on [every pitch]. It’s fun to watch."
— Eric Byrnes, who could stand to take some hitting instruction from the Diamondbacks pitcher.
Micah Owings and Stephen Drew led the Diamondbacks in a slugfest win over the Pittsburgh Pirates 8-0 at PNC Park earlier today. Brandon Webb was supposed to pitch for the Diamondbacks. However, with threatening weather, the D’backs brain trust decided to hold Webb back so that he wouldn’t end up pitching a few innings, be taken out after a long rain delay, and be unable to come back during the Colorado series, which closes out the season.
Owings was lights out on the mound, pitching 6 1/3 scoreless innings before a rain delay forced him out. He was also on fire at the plate, going 4-4, with three doubles and three RBI. Nothing like a pitcher who can help his own cause, especially when the team has not been hitting. But offense was not the problem today. Fellow Georgian Stephen Drew joined the hitting party, going 3-5, with three RBI and two runs scored. His solo homer in the first inning got the Diamondbacks on the board. Augie Ojeda went 2-4, with a walk, and three runs scored. Tony Clark contributed a home run.
Eric Byrnes finally remembered what it’s like to get an RBI (83), when he singled (178) home Stephen Drew in the second inning for his first RBI since September 12. However, he got picked off first on the third pickoff attempt, after taking very aggressive leads off first. To make matters worse, he hurt himself sliding back into first on the second pickoff attempt. I don’t know exactly what was the problem, but the camera showed him grimacing. His other at-bats were anything but memorable. He stranded 4 runners. One time he struck out after running the count to 3-0. It looked like he swung at ball four. And while we’ll take an RBI single any day of the week, it would be nice if he remembered once again what it’s like to get an extra-base hit. Diamondbacks broadcaster Daron Sutton mentioned the dipping back shoulder that Mark Grace pointed out during the last homestand. That it’s still there means that either no one has brought it to Eric’s attention, or he hasn’t been able to break the habit. His batting average is now down to .288. Maybe Byrnes needs to get Micah Owings to give him some tips on hitting doubles. Why not? They’re both right-handed hitters.
Arizona and Pittsburgh played the first game of the day in the major leagues. So their results are known to the Padres, Rockies and Phillies as they go into their contests.
The bad weather in Pittsburgh now allows Arizona ace Brandon Webb to go up against the Rockies. He starts the first game of the series tomorrow against Jeff Francis.
Do you need the Heimlich Maneuver?
You haven’t won since Saturday. The lead is only one game over the Padres and two over the Rockies with four to go, including three with the Rockies.
You are not supposed to be losing to a team that has lost 90 games and is in last place in its division, 15 games out.
There might be a tendency on the part of some people to say that this young team just didn’t learn to close it out. But I won’t buy that. At this time of the year, the rookies aren’t really rookies anymore. And some of the blame for you guys folding like origami this week lies with the veterans.
Livan staking the Buccos to a 4-run lead doesn’t help. Two games in a row where you were faced with scoring at least 6 runs to win. Not good. Especially when your bats are A.W.O.L.
This means you, Byrnes. In the high summer I would have been fine with what happened yesterday: another single (177) stolen base (49) run scored (103) sequence, and an outfield assist (12 a new personal best). But you left four men on base, including Chris Young at third. I wish that Young could have read the throw into the infield a but better, but there I will chalk it up to inexperience and he was better off being careful. But you could have made things easier by at least hitting a fly ball deeper.
It was a game the Diamondbacks might have won had they been in the American League. Starter Doug Davis allowed only 2 runs in his 5-inning, 69-pitch outing, both of them in the first inning. But manager Bob Melvin lifted him for a pinch-hitter in the top of the sixth in an unsuccessful bid to score a run in a game that was 2-1 Pittsburgh at that point. Pinch-hitter Jeff Cirillo struck out.
Then in the 7th inning, Tony Pena gave up 3 runs.
The Diamondbacks tied the score with 4 runs in the top of the eighth, but failed to get more when Eric Byrnes ended the rally by grounding out to third with runners on first and second. He also flied out, struck out, and GIDP in this game. (Chris Snyder GIDP twice). When Byrnes singled (176) and stole 2nd base (48) with two out in the third, he was stranded as Mark Reynolds grounded out.
Brandon Lyon gave up Pittsburgh’s winning run. A 1-out double, a balk that moved the runner to third, and a ground ball single to left made the score 6-5 Pittsburgh, and Pirates’ reliever Matt Capps pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning for the save. (Saloman Torres got the win).
And thus the D’Backs continue the disturbing habit of losing the first game of a road trip or home stand. This one was a particularly bitter loss because a) the Pirates entered the game with a 9-game losing streak; b) the Diamondbacks left 10 runners on base so this wasn’t a case of the Pirates pitching lights out and c) the Padres, who were down to their last strike, came back to beat the Giants and the Rockies earned a come-from-behind victory against the Dodgers. The Diamondbacks therefore failed to lower their magic number; it remains 4.
With the Rockies so hot, the Diamondbacks cannot afford to lose either of the next two games in Pittsburgh before they close out the season in Colorado.
Thanks to the Giants for holding down the Padres last night.
The Diamondbacks open a three-game series against the Pirates tonight at PNC. A sweep of this series would be nice going into the season-ending series versus the red-hot Rockies in Colorado.
Doug Davis starts tonight. He claims to have found a flaw in his mechanics that has rendered him ineffective the last three starts. Let’s hope he’s fixed it. The team needs the DD that was pitching about a month ago.
And speaking of fixing things, Byrnesie, your batting average is doing its annual year-end swan drive. The team doesn’t need that from its MVP going into the playoffs. Get that back shoulder up and start hitting line drives again. You haven’t had an RBI since I last saw you in San Francisco.
Line drives, EB, line drives. Those 50-story fly balls you hit look majestic when they go over the wall, but they look pathetic when they are caught by an infielder.
Yeah, I know, there’s one more game left in the series. But the Diamondbacks eliminated the Dodgers from the race for the NL West division crown with tonight’s 6-2 victory. You should have heard the crowd of 47,673 shout "Beat LA!" They are as good at it as the giants fams in San Francisco.
It was Brandon Webb’s 17th win, a career high. Chris Young led off the game with a homer–his 9th lead off homer of the year and 32nd overall–and the Diamondbacks never looked back. While Webby kept hanging zeros on the board–he didn’t give up any runs until the 7th inning–the D’Backs scored in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, and 8th innings. Mark Reynolds hit a solo homer and Webb helped his own cause with an RBI single.
Webb also benefited from stellar defense, including a final play of the game. Mark Reynolds climed the ladder to snare a line drive.
Eric Byrnes had two singles (174 and 173), extending his hitting streak to 6 games. He also had back-to-back stolen bases, running up his total to 47. And he scored two runs, bringing that total to 102. Plus he made a fine defensive play–an over-the-shoulder catch that saved an RBI double.
However, in the 8th inning, after the Snakes had scored one, Byrnesie popped up with runners on second and third to end the inning. He hasn’t had an RBI since Sunday the 12th in San Francisco. <drumming fingers impatiently>
The Rockies also beat the Padres tonight. Thank you, Rockies, for pushing the Friars back some more, also by a 6-2 score.
Tomorrow the Diamondbacks go for the sweep behind Edgar Gonzalez. It’s Chad Billingsley for the Dodgers.
(Photo by Ross D. Franklin/AP)
"TC came up big right there with the two-run home run, and it seemed
like that swung the momentum our way and we just kept on swinging from
— Diamondbacks third baseman Mark Reynolds.
Tony Clark, the man who coined the phrase "Anybody Anytime," was the Anybody-in-Chief tonight, batting in 4 runs, including two on a homer, as the Diamondbacks BEAT L.A.! (Stick a fork in them; they’re done). Mark "The Sheriff" Reynold knocked in 3, with 2 of the RBI coming on a homer, and Chris Young also hit a 2-run homer.
Livan Hernandez got off to a shaky start, giving up a run in each of the first three innings, but TC tied it with his homer in the bottom of the third and Livo slammed the door on the Dodgers over the next three innings. He also helped his own cause at the plate by hitting an opposite field single to score Augie Ojeda, who had tripled ahead of Livo with two out. He’s now 11-10.
Eric Byrnes has a strange day at the plate: a sacrifice bunt(!) first time up. A popout, a swinging bunt for a single and then he was hit by a pitch. It caught him near the elbow and we heard him yell, so it had to have hurt real bad.
(Photo by Ross D Franklin/AP)
The big news was that he scored both times he got on base.
ERIC BYRNES HAS NOW SCORED 100 RUNS!!!!
If anyone reading this actually talks to Eric, please give him the message below:
Mark Grace has an answer for you!
Your hitting looked awful but that’s where Gracie comes in. He told us that you were dipping your back shoulder; we got the side views of you so we could see what he meant. It’s the cause of the early uppercuts in your swing that cause all the pop ups and foul balls.
Talk to Gracie, ASAP!
The Dodgers will get tangled in the Webb tomorrow. <heh-heh-heh>
The Rockies beat the Padres in 14. The D’Backs magic number for a playoff berth is now 6, to win the division outright, it’s 8.
by beating the Giants 6-4 to take the series 2-1. It looked for a while as if they would enlarge their lead over the Padres, but SCOTT HAIRSTON (remember him?) hit a walk-off, 3-run, pinch-hit homer.
Chris Snyder again made the highlight reel by going 3-3 and a walk, with 3 RBI. Mark Reynolds went 3-5 with 2 RBI. Conor Jackson hit a solo homer for the first D’Back run of the game.
Eric Byrnes got 1 hit, a single. It was his first hit ever off Barry Zito (Finally! Congrats!) and it was hit no. 172 on the season. He has 9 more games to get 8 more hits for 180, which was the minimum I hoped he’d get. He blew his chance for 200 by batting .230 in August. He also scored run no. 98 tonight. The last time the Diamondbacks had someone score 100 runs was in 2002; Junior Spivey scored 103 then. Eric should be able to score two more runs somewhere in the next 9 games.
Tonight was Byrnesie’s 151st start, so kudos and thanks to all of you who helped me visualize 150+ starts for him this year. He’s on target to get his 600th AB Saturday against the Dodgers.
Here are some other things I would like to see him do over the next 9 games.
1 double for a total of 30.
1 outfield assist to set a new personal best of 12.
2 triples for a new personal best of 10.
5 stolen bases for a total of 50.
5 homers would give him 100 in his career.
6 homers would give him a new personal best of 27.
8 RBI for 90 on the year.
I’d also like to see him get enough hits in the estimated 36 AB’s he’s got left in the regular season to finish with an average of at least .295. He’s barely clinging to .290 now. Remember how last year he dropped off until he fell below .270 and finished with .267? He’s doing the same thing again only twenty points higher. But I don’t want to see the same thing even if it is twenty points higher. That’s the wrong kind of consistency, especially in a playoff race.
C’mon, Byrnesie! The Padres aren’t going away. The team needs your bat to wake up!
He just pitched a 2-hit, complete game, shut out, the first shutout of his entire professional career.
With that, the D’Backs beat the Giants 5-0, to set up the rubber match of the series tomorrow.
And Owings hit a double for good measure.
He faced only one batter over the minimum, thanks to two double plays.
Owings got all the run support he needed in the first inning, when the Snakes scored 4. The big hit in that inning was a 2-RBI single by Chris Snyder.
The fifth run came in the sixth inning on a home run by Mark Reynolds.
The fly in the ointment today was base stealing. Eric Byrnes was thrown out trying to steal second in the first inning. That snapped a string of 30 consecutive steals for Byrnes. Then in the sixth inning, Chris Young, who had doubled, was thrown out trying to steal third.
It was an important win as the Padres are leading the Pirates as I write this.
The recently-concluded 3-game series between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the San Francisco Giants marked my seventh, eighth and ninth appearances at "Ballpark by the Bay." That may be a lifetime record; it is certainly the most games I have attended in one season as an adult. My thanks to Tigger, Pat and Red Sox Chick for coming up with tickets for me. It’s getting entirely too expensive for someone who doesn’t have a high-paying job to get to the games, even in the bleachers. (I’ve got a big rant about that, but that’s for another article).
Going to a ball game is really a mixed bag for me, especially now that I have MLB.tv, and not just because watching on computer is cheaper than going to the park. It’s because I get more out of the game by watching it on the tube, with the centerfield camera shots, replays and commentary. (I tried taking a radio to the ballpark on a few occasions, but that didn’t work for me, primarily because on the more difficult plays for which I wanted the radio to help with scorekeeping, the crowd noise drowned out the radio). I’m not such a total geek that I am into sabermetrics such as VORP, R27, and replacement value, but I like watching how a pitcher is pitching a batter, where the catcher is setting up, and how the batter is swinging, especially if that batter is Eric Byrnes.
On the other hand, it’s good to get outdoors once in awhile and away from the computer. On Sunday afternoon July 1, during batting practice for the third game of the second series, I stood at the left-field wall taking in the sunny weather, and noticing my head was clearer than it had been in days. Being in front of the screen practically all day, be it for work, watching baseball, or engaging in other computer activities, can make one’s brain foggy. I felt fine. Little did I know that I would collapse at work three days later. Having the September series to go to gave me a goal in recuperating. I’m not one of those "life is a journey" kind of people. I need definite goals and knowing that series was coming up helped me to work on getting better.
And of course, going to the park meant having a chance to meet Eric Byrnes, but more on that later.
The Giants have a couple of cages in which you can test your pitching speed and hit a few soft toss balls for a reasonable price. Much to my dismay, I couldn’t throw the balls far enough to make them reach the radar gun. But the hitting was another story. I’m 52 years old, health-compromised, and I literally haven’t touched a bat in 30 years. The bat at the stadium is a plastic affair and the pitches coming from the machine were a little low — like Byrnesie, I like the high strike — the cage is really for smaller kids although anyone can participate. I made contact eight out of 10 times. That the hits would have been weak grounders back to the box had I been playing an actual baseball or softball game meant nothing. It just felt really good to have a bat in my hands again after all this time.
I had a Polish link the first night, a bratwurst the second night, and a hot dog the third night, each with yellow mustard and onions. (Yeah, I know, sodium and cholesterol. But I don’t go to the ballpark every night, and I don’t eat those things at home). By far, the hot dog was the best. The Polish link, which I bought before the game started, was dried out and overcooked. The bratwurst was OK, but a little greasy, kind of bland, and the most expensive. The hot dog was the least expensive, and it was freshly cooked and just right.
Stadium photographers took my picture each night, but I didn’t buy any of them. Paying $9.99 for a 4 x 6 snapshot like you can get at a local drug store is really a bit much. Lee Tinsley, first-base coach of the Arizona Diamondbacks, was shagging flies in left field during batting practice. Just before he went back to the dugout to get ready for the first game, he gave me a baseball. It is a lovely ball with only one scuff mark. Tigger said that those kinds of balls are called "pearls."
After the second game, I stood outside the media and visiting players entrance with two other Diamondbacks fans and we caught the attention of Arizona broadcaster Daron Sutton. When he came over to talk to us, I told him to look in the left field bleachers the next day because I would have a sign. In Arizona, Daron is always exhorting people to bring signs to the ballpark. I was true to my word.
The A’s in Anybody Anytime approximated as best as I could the Diamondbacks’ "A" logo, given my minimal drawing talent and fact that I was doing it while sitting on the sidewalk outside the stadium’s Marina Gate. Heeeyyy! and Gaaasss! are Mark Grace words. The first he uses when the Pro-Trade win probability figures are flashed on the screen. Gaaasss! is Grace’s description of a fastball. "Let’s get some runs!" is Daron Sutton’s call, especially in the latter part of a game when the D’Backs are down but the starter has had a quality start or the bullpen has held the line after a poor start to give the Snakes a chance to slither back into the game. I did not get to talk to Daron after the third game so I don’t know if he ever saw the sign. Did anyone watching the game on TV see it?
The Diamondbacks took 2 of 3, and they should have swept. They left too many men on base in the second game. But it was the best result of the three series they played here, and just in time. I saw some interesting things. Emilio Bonifacio, a September call-up (second baseman), got his first major league RBIs; Jailen Peguero, a rookie relief pitcher who’s been up and down with the club couple of times this year, got his first major league win. Jeff Salazar, a waiver claim who was with the big club earlier but was sent down in the numbers game and then called back, hit his first home run of the season and only the second of his career. It was a bomb to right center where I’ve seen Barry Bonds hit a few.
I listened to the bleacher creatures rag on Eric Byrnes: "What’s the matter with Byrnesie? He’s a bum! What’s the matter with 22? He’s a bum!" They got on his case for walking around with his glove off between pitches. "Circles! Circles!" they cried out. And "Put on your glove and get in the game! Focus!" They rode him especially hard in the second game; a guy in the next section over in left field was yelling so hard early in the game that I thought (and hoped) he’d bust a vocal chord. Later on he got himself a sign that said, "BOO!" That might have been because, in the second game, Byrnesie went three for four with a stolen base, so they didn’t like that at all. Naturally, I loved it.
But I’ve saved the best for last. What made this series the best for me was the opportunity to interact with Eric Byrnes. I had first met him during the April series when he waved at me, signed my cap, and complimented the latest edition of the Byrnesblog jersey, which has a picture of him from spring training on it.
In June-July, he waved at me in the stands again. I’m just about the lone voice out there there who says nice things to him while the others around me take potshots at him for not being Barry Bonds… or Marvin Benard.
But this time was special. He was taking fielding practice the first night and exchanging banter with the boo birds in section 139 (left-center, where Tigger and I usually sit), when Tigger mentioned me and he asked if I was there. I said, "Yes, I’m here." And he came over and said to me, "Do you remember that letter you sent me in the spring?" I had sent a letter to Tucson Electric Park in March. Or more accurately, a friend of mine mailed it for me because I never made it to the post office. I had intended to go to the post office after I finished eating lunch at a local restaurant. But I suffered a TIA at the restaurant and ended up in hospital instead. I kept a sharp eye on the package that I wanted mailed to Eric, and when my friend met me at the hospital, I gave it to her. The package contained a letter to Eric and a copy of my poetry book, "Near the Ragged Edge of Earth," which is dedicated to a local political activist and to Eric.
Eric told me that the suggestions I had made in the letter for ways for him to get better actually helped this year, although he acknowledged that he had to get better still. (That desire to always improve as part of why I like him so much). He said that he showed the letter to an advance scout and the scout said that I was 100% right and that I really knew my baseball. That phrase came up several times as he signed autographs for fans in left field. Eric must’ve said at least three times that I really know my baseball. What a tremendous compliment, coming from a major leaguer! He said he keeps the letter by his bed and has re-read it 4 times. He also said the book was "awesome." Then he signed my glove. (Having a web cam that takes still pictures is convenient).
Tigger asked him when he was going to give me an interview for my blog. And he said I knew that he’d give me an interview (huh?) and he said to meet him when he gets to the park early. He said two o’clock.
The next morning was crazy. I was asked to file a headline for Free Speech Radio News and was unable to put it off to the next day as I had hoped. I got it in just four minutes before the noon deadline because the person I wanted to interview was not available earlier. That messed up my plans to buy a single-use camera; I did go to two drugstores, one in Oakland and one in San Francisco, but the lines were too long and I did not want to be late for meeting Eric. I managed to buy batteries for my recorder when I got to Embarcadero in downtown San Francisco and I hopped on the light rail for the short ride to the stadium and quickly reviewed the questions I had planned to ask him. Because of the headline, I had not had the chance that morning to really think through some great questions. This was only my second interview ever with a sports figure, the first coming a few months ago when I spoke to 1974 Cy Young Award winner Dr. Mike Marshall about pitching injuries, and that was an interview of a totally different flavor.
I got to the driveway of the visitors entrance at Third and King at about 1:50 p.m. I stood on the side of the driveway opposite the few autograph hounds who were also waiting for early arrivals. Tigger came along about 15 minutes afterwards. And we waited. And waited. After a while, Tigger was sure we had been stood up and she was furious. But he did show up. About an hour late, but he showed up. And how! He drove up in his cool, gleaming, steel-gray-with- metallic-speckles Corvette convertible, top down, with his pretty fiancee, Tara, riding shotgun.
And since he signed that $30 million contract extension, his hair no longer looks like a used Brillo pad. It’s styled and it looked like it had been washed recently. He wore black wraparound sunglasses, a gold shirt tails out, light slacks, a very pale beige. At least that’s the way I remember it. I can’t tell you what shoes he wore because I didn’t look down that far. He and Tara, who I’ve since discovered is a former Miss California, looked like the very picture of the California beach lifestyle in that Corvette. A Beach Boys soundtrack should have been playing as they drove up. After he got out of the car, walked over to a garbage can to throw out a plastic water bottle, came back to kiss Tara goodbye, and she drove the car away, we shook hands and he was all set to talk to me.
I nearly blew it. I asked him my first question and he was just starting to answer when I look down at the recorder and noticed that while the power was on, it was in pause mode and not running. So I quickly stopped him and got the machine started for real. (That happens from time to time with MiniDisc recorders; not catching it is a typical rookie mistake and since I haven’t been out in the field more than twice in the last three years, I’m back to being a rookie). We got started up again and went through without a hitch. Click here to download it. If you have Quicktime, it will start in just a couple of seconds. It’s a little over 8 minutes. I’ll arrange for streaming as soon as I can get hold of some out-of-the-box code that this blog won’t rewrite when I try to save this file. Anyone out there have some?
I made sure I saved the recording, and when I got home close to midnight that night, I put it in my computer. And for a second I stared at the sound waves scarcely believing that I had Eric Byrnes’ voice on tape, that he answered questions for me as he would any other sports reporter. Then I played it back — yeah, it was all there — and that was Eric Byrnes talking.
He also took two pictures, one with Tigger and one with me, with Tigger’s conventional film camera.
When she gets it developed, I’d add the picture to the blog. Tigger called Saturday afternoon to say the pictures did not come out. Seems there was something wrong with the last few shots, including one or two she took the last time she used the camera. C’est domage!
Eric and I shook hands again as he left. "Thanks for everything," he said. Tigger later said that the autograph hounds on the other side of the driveway were staring at me like "Who the **** is she?" Well, if they’d check out MLBlogs, they’d find out!
Eric had gone 0-4 the night before. But on that second night, he went 3-4, and got stolen base number 45, off Benji Molina, of whom Eric has spoken with great respect for his ability to throw out would-be base stealers. Eric’s first hit that night established a new personal best for total bases.
As exciting as getting the interview and the photograph was, he found a way to top that on the last day. I went down by the visiting dugout during batting practice, in the hopes of handing him another letter. This time it was mostly good wishes for the rest of the year and the playoffs, a couple of more observations I have of his play, best wishes to him and Tara for their upcoming marriage, stuff like that. When he came into the dugout after playing catch to loosen up his arm, the very act that inspired the poem that got me to thinking it was time to publish a book, I handed him the letter. He wanted to know what was in it this time, but I didn’t want to get into all of that, so I just said, "Stuff about your fielding." And he said, "What? I’m fielding good." I turned away and started walking back up the stairs. I had autographs; I had my interview; I had the knowledge that he had gotten and appreciated the letter and book I sent him in March, and I had just put another letter into his hands. So I figured it was time to leave him to the other fans who wanted his autograph and picture. But then I heard my name called, and I turned around. I was a little surprised that anyone down there knew my name, but it was Eric. And he said, "I’ve got a baseball for you. How do you spell your name? K-E-L-I-A?" I said,"two L’s. K-E-L-L-I-A" and walked back down the stairs as he inscribed the baseball. When he finished, I took it, said thank you, and went back up the stairs. Here it is:
I’ve kept it close by ever since. It’s gone to work with me and it’s gone for a walk. It has an honored place on my altar when I’m home. (I’m Wiccan. Members of that religion typically have an altar at home). I have the ball in my hands right now. (I use a dictation program for long writing projects). He really didn’t have to do that and I sure wasn’t looking for it. It’s really nice to know he connects my name with my face. And if, in fact, anything I’ve written to him has indeed helped him become a better player this year, well, then we are even. He’s been more help than he could ever know during the various health crises I have had lately.
Eric saw my sign. I brought it to the left-field wall when he came out to play defense the first time. I could see him reading it, then he tugged on the bill of his cap in acknowledgment. Later in the game, he got an RBI, the first one he’s ever gotten in my presence. He was hoping to get four over the course of the last two games of the series, but it was not to be. The RBI was on a sac fly with the bases loaded. The fly ball was to left-center field, not far from where I was sitting. A bit less height and a little more drive and he would have had his four RBI, his first grand slam. When he came out to left for defense after that at-bat, I shouted to him that one beats none and that I would take it. He signaled to me that he just missed it, and I nodded my head to let him know that I knew that. But I know some day that grand slam will happen. Maybe even in this year’s playoffs. In the meantime, four hits (.296, 168 hits), a stolen base (45), an RBI (82), and a run scored (95), in a series that his team won (83-64, in first place in the division by 4 games over the Padres) is just fine.