Friday, October 14, 2011

How big and grand is baseball: A line drive to left, perhaps, off George Brett's young bat in 1977

I've always been intrigued by the sense of space in baseball. Visually, the expanse of grass and dirt seems to go on forever, especially if you're a hitter in a slump or an outfielder chasing down a ball in the gap. So, in 1977, I rambled up to the press box and shot a few frames looking down on the field. This is one of those images.

What I saw from there that I liked was the cool interplay of lines and circles. This game was played on carpet, not grass, which seems more obvious from this perspective. Look closely and you'll see it's George Brett at the plate, Thurman Munson catching and Greg Nettles at third -- all three plus the pitcher, in the throes of action-- the kind of orchestrated motion that composes a baseball game.

Looks to me like a line drive into left from Brett. If it is, this is probably Game Four, bottom of the fourth inning and this was a line out to Lou Piniella to end the inning. It is Sparky Lyle on the mound. The Royals scored two runs in the inning, battling back from a 5-0 deficit, though the effort proved futile.

I took my mother to a Royal's game a few years before she died. She was in her mid-80s at the time. She had watched a lot of baseball, from the wooden stands at Klamn Park to metal bleachers at Stony Point... and a lot on television after I discovered girls and got too old -- 17? -- to play. She followed the Diamondbacks when Randy Johnson was there and she followed Curt Shilling to Boston because his pitching motion reminded her of mine. You should always be a hero to your mother, if no one else.

We helped her down to her seat in the right field bleachers at Kauffman stadium and she was quiet for a while, just looking around. "John," she whispered in my ear, "It's a lot bigger than I thought it would be."

That put a tear in my eye. What she meant, I think, was that watching baseball on television all those years sort of put a little box around the game. But in person, well, it was expansive, beautifully so, and it was grand -- so much more grand than what you could see in your living room.

I sure wish I had taken her to the park more often.

Well, the Tigers are fighting back now. It's 9-4 in the fifth. For some reason I don't think this game is quite over. And I realize that even in high definition on a big screen television, the size of which my mother could not even have imagined, the game is smaller and less grand than it would be in person. I hope this image captures just a little bit of the size of the game.


Photograph/ John Lofflin

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