Sunday, September 03, 2006

Three hours with an old pal

Fell in love again tonight with an old flame.

She is seductive that way. Just when you've gotten her out of your mind, put her away in that place you put such things, her allure proves too much.

Baseball is like that.

Hadn't cared much for my first love this summer. Not sure why, really.

Part of the blame goes to Fox Sports, which purchased Turner South earlier this year, meaning Atlanta Braves fans have to suffer through Bob Rathbun most nights, instead of being treated to Skip Caray and Pete Van Wieren, who have forgotten more than Rathbun will ever know about baseball.

Part of it is the loss of tradition. You never know who is going to be playing for your club anymore. Time was I could have told you the Braves' starting lineup in my sleep. Now, you just don't know. Free agency and bottom lines have changed the game forever.

Ignore all that, though, and it's still great fun. .

Didn't feel too good tonight. The migraine lingers for a fifth day. Settled in on the couch, pulled up the covers, and flipped on Kentucky and Louisville. But the Wildcats, as they tend to do, faded quickly.

That's OK, though, because the Tigers are on ESPN 2. Here it is September and Detroit still has the best record in the American League. The last time that happened, I was six, just starting the first grade at Brickey Elementary School.

The Tigs start Wilfredo Ledezma. He looks good for six solid innings, surrendering two runs, one on an incredible line drive home run by Los Angeles Angels slugger Vlad Guerrero. You watch the ball sail into the Tigers' bullpen, barely clearing the fence, and stare in awe.

Even Tigers manager Jim Leyland is amazed.

"That's a man, isn't it?" he says of Vlad when Jon Miller and Joe Morgan interview him in the 6th.

Baseball doesn't bring with it the short, spasmic bursts of action like football. Watching the Vols dismantle California last night, the blood pressure shot up to stroke level when Robert Meachem scored a couple of those touchdowns. You learn to deal with it.

No, the national game is a little more laid-back, which fits me just fine tonight. I take some medicine, turn out the lights and shut my eyes, hypnotized by Miller's play-by-play.

When Ledezma throws a seven pitch sixth inning, I smile, remembering quite well why I love this little boy's game.

Comparing baseball to a lover isn't quite right. Naw, it's more like an old friend. Always there six months out of the year when you need it, offering its simple pleasures and "let's just hang out awhile" rhythms.

Yeah, it changes, just like people do, but you can always count on the important things --- three strikes, three outs, three times three innings, peanuts and cracker jack, stretch in the seventh.

"The other sports are just sports," Bryant Gumbal said once. "Baseball is a love."

Thanks for being there tonight, pal.

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