Darryl P. Skeeby: Or How I Came To Love The Bat

If you don’t read this you probably still play Pokemon GO.

The truth, huh? Alright, I’ll start with the truth, but truth can be a tricky thing when you’re face to face with a bull gator and nothing betwixt you and a bony dinner but the home-made poultice of orange-rind and cinnamon that Momma P. made for warding off the spirits. If you want the truth, it’s simple – Ol’ Darryl was knee deep in his evenin’ pastrami and egg sandwich when my pager went off.

Beep. Beep. Bop. Boop. Boop.

That’s how you always know it’s gonna be a good one. That late-night buzz. I know what’s coming next, I do.

A ring-a-ding-a-ling and what do you know, a familiar number flashes across the screen of my brand new Apple Watch, a gift from my Cousin Gus. A voice I know all too well, low and severe, like a riptide on the Snake River, cuts through the late-night air of my penthouse Motel 5 room,”Darryl, we need you.”

If I had a nickel for every time I heard it, well, I’d be one Dapper Dan. Which is to say, I’d have enough to purchase a can of pomade.

“What’s the skinny, Jules?”

Julia Peffercorn is the toughest chief investigator I have ever had the displeasure of knowing. Sure, most elevated to the position have some sort of chip, or bag of chips, on their shoulder, but her chip was more a whole plate of nachos. She never took “No,” for an answer, and never tried my herbal tea mix that I promised her would knock a possum out a tree at midday sun.

“Someone stole Griffey’s bat.”

It was then I knew that trouble was afoot. Steeped deep in my stories and a long cup of the self-same herbal tea mix I just described, I knew it had to be mere minutes past 10:37PM. The time for perfect crime. Quickly, I reached for my notebook.

Flipping through important sketches of 3D cubes I had made while waiting to get a hold of a real person at Comcast (I don’t trust robots) and a grocery list for the butler detailing the seven different beans I needed to make Mama Skeeby’s Famous Bean Salad for weekend supper, I came to my List of Lists.

Yes, dear reader, any detective worth their salt and pepper has a good, old-fashioned List of Lists. In there are all the learnings of a life hard-lived. I have pros and cons on purchasing a yellow car, hats and their proper occasions, different uses for paisley, and a whole sublist of lists containing best chili recipes. Having so many lists, I finally got to the one I was looking for: Reasons for Stealing A Bat.

What follows are trade secrets on motives for stealing a bat:

  • Researching origins of mammalian flight
  • Vampire breeding
  • Echolocation – I think that speaks for itself
  • Infect enemies with rabies
  • Too many insects in a room
  • Lonely – if you’re all alone a bat would be a fine pet, I suppose

The rest of the list has been redacted due to the explicit nature of the content and the potential of compromising Deep Cover friends. I still care for you, Barney. I called Julia back, certain I knew exactly who did this: Daniel Paul Valencia.

The motive was obvious. Who could more clearly be trying to master echolocation in order to find the strike zone again? Who could be more concerned with mammalian flight than a man in his mid 30’s looking to regain strength to “fly” across the outfield grass. Lean in closer, dear reader, and let me show you exactly how I know it was him.

In the Spanish League of soccer, known to the cosmopolitans amongst us as “La Liga”, the team representing the beautiful and cultured city of Valencia Spain has the following mascot:

Valencia

A bat, indeed, Daniel.

Full of culture and dreams of tapas, I call Julia.

“Ken Griffey Junior’s bat from the statue, you idiot. I swear to G-”

I quickly hang up, I cannot take her scorn. Embarrassed, I return to my List of Lists. This time, quickly searching for a list I made when I was a younger man, playing semi-pro ball in the lesser-known Cape Halibut League. Oh, the fish and chips we’d have. Simply sublime it was in those days. Lost in visions of lemon wedges and tartars, that’s when sleep became me.

I arose the next day with renewed strength and ambition. After a particular dream I called Julia again, sure that my night terrors had given me the answer to the case at hand. Ready to prove my worth to the investigator who just hours before had scoffed at me.

“Julia, I kn-”

“Darryl, let me stop you right there. We caught the vandal and the bat has been safely returned. We’ve had enough of your help on this case.”

Sensing this for the cover up I knew it to be, I pleaded with her for one more consideration. Sure that there was no chance they had apprehended the real criminal, I played my cards.

“The man you’re looking for is Daniel Paul Valencia, former first baseman of the Seattle Mariners.”

She waited a beat, released a short chuckle, “How do you figure, Mr. Skeeby?”

“The answer is quite obvious, Julia.”

I waited a pregnant pause.

“He still needs a bat.”

 

 

The baseball season needs to be like the soccer/football/futbol/calcio season

Baseball, in an attempt to remain relevant in everyone’s eyes (despite the fact that the postseason is currently going), recently revealed the prospect of two expansion squads entering the field, and the subsequent changes that would accompany it.

Most importantly, if baseball expands, that would mean that the Seattle Mariners would be joined by two new teams to one of the most futile stains in all of baseball–the few, the sad, the ones who haven’t made the World Series.

One of the key aspects of the expansion plans involve restructuring the divisional makeups, leaving us with 16 teams in each league, and four teams in each division. That would immediately have implications on the playoffs, and all around, the whole thing could become a giant mess.

As it stands now, the Wild Card is a necessary evil to making the playoffs work, otherwise you are constantly rewarding a team like the 2005 San Diego Padres with a chance for offseason greatness, over the likes of many more, better teams (three in fact!). SPOILER: If your system rewards the Padres, the system is broken.

What if we could get rid of the necessary evil/Padres? What if we could get rid of all evil in the world? That is right. I’m talking about a soccer system, the sport of unparalleled virtue and moral cleanliness. I’m talking about making every single game count, not just the ones your No. 1 and No. 2 starters make. I’m talking about constructing a team that is built to win throughout the entire season, not just in October.

In the past 20 years, the overall regular season champion has only won the World Series four times. It is even more rare for the World Series to include the overall top two teams in baseball.

This is an opportunity like no other. Abolish the playoff scenario that so many of us are addicted to, because the end of the season dramatically would become that playoff race. In seven of the past 10 years, including this season, the top two records in MLB have been decided by two games or less.

The entire experiment would be an exercise in equity and fairness. Rather than have the NL West be murderers row while the Washington Nationals (thanks for not making the World Series) and the Chicago Cubs are busy padding their stats against the cellars of their divisions, this inventive system would level the playing field.

This could happen in a multiple of ways:

  • Each team plays each team five times: two home, two away, and ONE NEUTRAL LOCATION (why I have no idea) (So Spokane can get some games Go Zags)
  • Each team plays each team six times: three home, three away.

The overall season length remains relatively the same, if not a bit shorter (whoops the owners probably don’t care for that). If anything, the playoffs no longer somehow drag into November, because people only care about October baseball, not November baseball. The rest of the atmosphere would remain the same. If you are a garbage team, you can still play spoilers for those that are in the race for the top. The glory is there for the team that is truly the best team in baseball, not the team that just happens to have Madison Bumgarner on it. Baseball isn’t broken yet, but its not like it is completely fixed either.

Perhaps you are sitting there, and thinking (because you are a well-informed, global, multi-sports viewer), hold on a second! How can we even discuss the idea of a soccer/football/futbol/calcio table without even broaching the subject of relegation. Well that, my friend, is an issue that is too complex to approach in this blog post. The discussion of how to improve baseball is far from over. We are just getting started.

 

The Case for Giancarlo

On July 28th, 2033 Giancarlo Stanton was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. As his time came to speak the hulking man – the rare physical specimen for whom time seems only to adorn regality, and take nothing at all – sat quietly, a look of mild distance in his eyes.

There were ten, maybe fifteen minutes to encapsulate a seventeen year career of hitting baseballs like no one ever had before him. A few moments to speak of his time playing baseball on opposite corners of the nation; seven in Miami, ten in Seattle.

He had always been more than just another power hitter. The rules of baseball indicate any ball clearing the fence on the fly in fair territory is a home run. Plenty of players did that, and so did Giancarlo. But he used his home runs as an instrument of psychological terror.

His home runs were more than runs, they were oppression, torment; annihilation. Giancarlo Stanton home runs were Marshawn Lynch up the middle, or Shawn Kemp on the break. Oh we tallied them of course, this is baseball. “That’s home run 500!”, “Wow exit velocity of 120.3 MPH”, and so on, but these were the desperate attempts of we baseball disciples to capture gospel on the page. We wrote them in red, so people would notice, but no ink or page was sufficient, nor could it ever be.

He strode to the microphone to speak, and paused. Among the masses gathered to see him was twenty-seven year old Julie Graham, a rising star in the White Sox analytics department. Despite the ongoing season, and her employer currently leading the AL Central, Julie had been planning this trip since last summer. She was smart and ambitious, with an eye for a general manager position someday, but this was bigger even than her career.

This was about the summer of 2018, spent in a small, WWII trackhouse on Trenton St, on the east side of Bremerton, WA.

*****

Julie’s parents had split up when she was six. She lived mostly with her mom, in and around the Orwellian-sounding City of Industry in California. Her father had a tough time keeping a job, and as such his life was in the state of perpetual instability that made primary custody an easy decision for the court. But by 2016 her dad had settled in Kitsap County, and found steady employment at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. It was good, union pay, and by the summer of 2018 he was able to pay off enough debt to afford renting that small rambler on Trenton St., and convince the court and Julie’s mom to let her come stay with him for the summer.

She hated it, of course. She was twelve, the dawning of the age when hate is the default setting for most things in life. She hated the small house, the small town, the way the rain stuck around into July. She hated her dad, and his friends, and the few kids she saw around the neighborhood. One Saturday a guy at the yard had a few baseball tickets he couldn’t use, and when Julie’s dad drug her to Safeco Field she was fully prepared and capable of hating that too.

They trudged to their seat, about halfway up the left field bleachers, and sat down. Julie was annoyed; the sun made it impossible to see her phone screen. Without speaking a word to her dad she got up and walked all the way to the top of the bleachers, where some shade would allow her to see, and thus escape.

THWACK

Julie’s head jerked up, something had smashed into the bleacher behind her, about twenty feet from her head.

CRASH

Once she had visited an aunt in Texas, and through a torrential Texan storm learned about baseball-sized hail. But this, this was a storm raining actual baseball-sized baseballs.

Where could it be coming from? Julie looked around her, then down to her dad, who pointed towards the other side of the stadium. She squinted down. All she could see was a tiny collection of blue and white spots. One of the spots, admittedly the least tiny of them, was standing close to home plate. Vaguely she saw a flash of something and this time, paying attention, she heard it; a menacing hiss and the accompanying whoops of the people around her as it go closer. The ball smashed about two rows in front of her, and a group of four or so immediately fell upon it.

Julie put down her phone.

*****

Giancarlo stood at the podium. The trade to bring him to Seattle was foolish, reckless, irresponsible even. All the home runs – 400, 500, 600, and on – had not turned around the franchise. They had finally broken that awful playoff-less streak by squeaking into the Wild Card in 2023. They even won the Wild Card game, but were swept out of the divisional series by the Rangers, and quickly returned to mediocrity afterwards.

Seventeen years, an MVP, Silver Sluggers, All-Star games, one of the most transcendent talents in the history of the game. But only four playoff games, no World Series, and no titles. His accomplishments lay as communal testament to his enduring greatness, but seemingly little beyond just that.

Julie Graham stood in the sun, and sweat. She drug her dad to Safeco that whole summer, all those years ago. When the next summer came she did it again, and the one after. Her newfound love of baseball made her want to know more about it, and that led to the discovery of a love of and gift for mathematics and statistics. The full ride to Stanford, the internship with the Padres, the steady progress of her career was traced back to a summer in Seattle, where a Child of Zeus himself reshaped the confines and boundaries of reality with his swings.

Giancarlo began speaking, and Julie looked around. She was far from alone.

Shohei Otani and Three Magic Words

My junior year of undergrad I had a professor, we’ll call him Mr. Williams. He was in his early 30’s, energetic, passionate, and opinionated. His class at my small bible college was one on the Book of Revelations, the Bible’s lowkey signing off on recreational drug use.

A major topic in Revelations, one debated by scholars for centuries, is whether the Rapture, the event in which God calls his still living faithful from earth to heaven to create a new heaven and new earth, is to occur before or after The Great Tribulation, a period cataclysms and horrors set to wipe out a vast swatch of humanity, and signal The End Times.

The two camps of this argument are shorthanded in Evangelical scholarly circles as “Pre and Post-Trib”. Mr. Williams was Pre-Trib, and was to such a passionate degree that you could almost forget that brilliant men had been arguing over this, a prophesy written in a foreign language scribbled down by a guy most likely under the effect of hallucinogens while sitting around on a small Greek island, for hundreds of years. In all that time there has never been a consensus opinion to emerge, and that probably has something to do with the fact that Koine Greek is a bit of a bitch, and that the future is, per my experience, inherently unknowable.

Nonetheless Mr. Williams was unshakable in his belief that the only possible reality was that God would spare his Faithful the horrors of the Tribulation. It was in that class that the largely dormant, but very much alive, seeds of speculation in my mind began to grow, and has led to a philosophy of stubbornly resisting passionate argument, probably too much so.

It was in that class I formed the opinion that the best and most correct answer for something as unknowable as the Tribulation/Rapture debate was one Mr. Williams seemed unable to see, let alone arrive at:

“I don’t know”

***

Shohei Otani is a unique player, in a unique situation. The perplexing and shortsighted willingness of the MLBPA to negotiate away the earning power of future players has put a cap on what teams can pay international free agents. As such Otani, who has made it mostly clear that he intends to come to MLB during this offseason, will most likely make the decision on where to play based on factors that have little or nothing to do with the terms of his initial contract.

As financial compensation is traditionally motivating factors 1-10 for deciding where an athlete is going to play, the absence of it in Otani’s case leaves a vast, gaping, crater in which we can pour our speculations, dreams, and hopes. This is a natural instinct. Humans like to know, and when we can’t we grow uncomfortable and oftentimes try to shape reality to our will.

We have seen plenty of exactly that with Otani this week: “Seattle is close to Japan”, “The Mariners have a strong track record with Japanese players”, or “Otani doesn’t care about money”. The latter is particularly fraught, as it can lead to assigning a moral superiority to a player accepting less money than he can theoretically extract from cutthroat billionaires, where in fact it’s easy to posit that getting every last cent possible out of them in order to use it for the ease of the suffering of the impoverished is at least as, if not more in line, with a highly-aspiring moral code.

The reality with Shohei Otani is we do not know. It’s entirely plausible Otani himself doesn’t know. We have no reason to believe the Mariners are any more or less desirable to him than any of the other 29 major league baseball teams. We do not know how much money means to him, nor should we ascribe a sort of Sunday School Morality to the possibility that he is almost assuredly giving up short term financial gain with the timing of his arrival in MLB.

We should allow Otani the dignity and mystery inherent in all the wildly complex depths of each human soul, and admit that we do not know why he is coming to America at this exact moment, and we do not know where he will choose to play. To attempt to distill the human spirit into simple cultural and/or moral archetypes to fit our predispositions does him and us a disservice. This is the most honest appraisal of the situation, and as it is so often with honesty, the most freeing.

Shohei Otani could become a Mariner, and he most likely will not. While we can read whatever we like into how much money he lives off of in Japan, or channel a Western understanding of Japanese culture into motivations for him to feel honored/dishonored by this or that, doing so plays into many of our worst American/Western/Imperialistic instincts. Real information will come in due course. For now, the best course of action is to embrace the three magic words:

We don’t know.

 

To Know Someone

(In the spirit of this post we wish to direct our readers to where they may donate to the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, an excellent charity working to defeat cancer for all.)

As we stumble through life we have slowly, haphazardly, developed a rough system of determining the quality of a person. Of course, we acknowledge that perfect knowledge of a human’s personhood is practically impossible, thanks to the incredible depth and complexity of the human spirit. This is part of its appeal, and a great contributing factor to many of our trials and tribulations, in our estimation. However, with what little time and exposure is afforded us, here is the cribbed version of our person evaluation process:

How does the person treat other persons when no other persons are watching?

Some years ago we were traveling on the ferry, heading home after a Mariner game. We had consumed somewhere between one and ten beers, and the way we were feeling indicated it was toward the upper levels of that range. At departure from the Fauntleroy Ferry Terminal our traveling companion sat up with a start and said, “That is Angie Mentink, you must go talk to her.” Having just started writing about the Mariners on the internet at the time, we and the beers were in no position to disagree, and so off we went.

Introductions were barely completed when Angie said, politely though briskly, “Great. Can you walk and talk?” Due to our beers this was more of an open question than is typical, however we said yes. During the 20 minutes between Fauntleroy and Vashon Island, Angie did two things ceaselessly: She did not stop walking in circles VERY quickly, and she did not at any point treat us as a hassle or unwelcome interruption, although we surely were.

We have no illusions that Angie remembers this interaction, or a single word we spoke, but we do not care. In the busy excrutiations of adulthood, there is a very real kindness and charity to projecting the illusion of care, whether or not care actually exists. Angie was extremely kind to us in this way, for no other reason other than we were there. We do not forget that.

How does a person respond to the unexpected, and/or that which is out of his/her control?

We have some mild experience with public speaking, stage place, and public performance. The process demands the utmost exactitude, combined with the ability to make everything seem organic and natural. When things go sideways, and surprises pop up, it can be extremely jarring, and we believe reacting to such things with grace and humor belies a strength of spirit, and peace with oneself. These are excellent qualities, and ones we wish we contained to a greater degree.

On July 22nd, after a walkoff win, Angie Mentink was doing her job and interviewing Mariner outfielder Ben Gamel, when:

Danny Valenciea’s poor aim, far from throwing Angie off her game, led to one of the great moments of the season, and perhaps the finest tweet of 2017:

As a mild postscript we remember that, after a walkoff home run on June 7th Angie, a former softball player at the University of Washington and no stranger to how athletes congratulate each other, smacked Mariners catcher Mike Zunino on the ass. This was, in the absurd modern world we exist in, cause of some consternation. We like to think Angie has not spent one moment worrying about that, and we also acknowledge we would very much also like to smack Mike Zunino on the ass.

How does a person react to hardship?

In the case of Angie Mentink, it’s just grace and humor, all the way down:

It has been said many times and ways, but we will repeat it here: A local baseball team’s broadcasters, more than any other sport, become family. They are daily guests in our home and lives, part of the rhythmic routine that marks our days. In this way we grow to appreciate their presence, a comforting salve which we apply over the aches and pains of existence. Their words are like a nightly nip of brandy for the soul, and we are very grateful for that.

***

We said at the top of this that a human’s capacity for layers and depth makes them all but unknowable, at least in the fullest sense. The act of choosing to love will always contain risk, because the possibility of darker, previously unseen nature is always lurking, regardless of how much time we have spent with a person. But we still choose to love, and sometimes we don’t need to see much to feel comfortable making that decision.

Angie, we love you. We believe you to contain a strength and fire that burns hotter than any disease or malady can defeat. Whether we do so in person, or from afar, we look forward to celebrating your triumph over cancer, and we stand by you in your journey to do so.

Festina lente

On hurrying, slowly.

There’s a lot of writing about baseball that opens up the sport as an allegory or metaphor for something large, something obtuse. Baseball as love, as heartbreak, as life itself. This can be quite powerful and evocative for both reader and writer alike. I’m quite guilty of it myself. The sport lends itself to daydreaming between the pitches. Three hours is an awfully long time to be doing anything. You’re bound to muse, if you’re so inclined. Lately, though, I’ve begun to think something else. What if baseball is simply its own space to be left alone? What if something could plainly be what it is and nothing else? Isn’t that just as special, if not more so, than allegory or metaphor?

I’ve come to this sentiment as I’ve come to a similar view within my own life. That spaces don’t always have to be shared. What if I could only make a beer? Forget style, forget pleasing customers, forget costs. Forget all of that. Does the intensification of a singular act allow for a better process? And what is a better process? Optimization and singularity are often spoken of within the same breath. While I cannot claim expertise or even a remote sense of completion in this line of thinking, I can ruminate on the recent months of my life. Perhaps I have recently found joy by taking things more plainly. Perhaps, if I could do the same with Baseball, the same thing could be said. What if I could go back to simply playing catch in the backyard. To the slap of leather, the motion, and the toss. The unspoken trust of hurling a ball of leather towards a team mate, a family member, someone you love. What if I could break baseball down to this core value?

August is a time within the 162-game schedule for reflection, but only for a moment. July has passed and the heat of the day seems to magnify greatly the strengths and shortcomings of every roster. The point of the season has arrived where managers know exactly what they have in their deck of cards and all that is left to do is simply play the hand. For two months, inevitability and talent, and perhaps luck, are your guides down the river. Just don’t stop paddling. If you do, the rapids will take you; but if you paddle too hard, you won’t make it to the end due to exhaustion. Simply read the river, moment to moment. Be singular in your task. This is the sentiment for every game from here until the end of the season. Now is the time for this sort of single-mindedness within ourselves, too.

You can feel it in the morning air, can’t you? I know I find myself bracing for Fall. For the crisp mornings and the end of lazy afternoons. Often we hear of the awakening Spring brings, but there is also one in the Fall. Awakenings happen wherever change can be found. Within touching-distance of a playoff spot, perhaps it is time for the Seattle Mariners to have an awakening of their own. Maybe the simple act of a baseball game, won or lost, can transcend a million other simple acts until, finally, a city is alive with the buzz of October baseball. It takes many small events to go from scoreboard to city-wide energy, but it’s simple enough. It takes a focus. It takes structure for the sake of achievement. It is the same idea across any form of accomplishment: winning a baseball game, falling in love, or playing a game of catch.

And so that is what I am going to do. In a week I will take my first vacation in nearly two years and fly down to see someone I love in a place I once lived. It’s a simple thing, really. To make a journey to a destination worthy of the trip is an easy choice. We’ll do the things people do when they’re in love and in the same place. We’ll walk places together, talk about where we’ve been and where we’d like to go. We’ll focus on the moment. Packed in my suitcase will be my glove, as well. An old piece of leather that has seen better days and survived nearly a decade of constant use. It should be replaced, in all reality. However, the root of things shouldn’t always be discarded. Perhaps, if anything, it should be sought out again this time of year. Maybe that’s what we’ll seek together, her and I.

Maybe we’ll simply play some catch, too.

The Perfect Pitcher

4-11-06

There are a few things I want you to keep in mind about today, so in the interest of brevity, and rather than trying to sound like someone with a lot to say, or a poet, or someone else that I’m not, I’m going to just list them here:

1) Felix was coming off his first Opening Day start of his career, an 8 IP, 12 K obliteration of the Oakland A’s. In between those two starts he would turn 21 years old. Think for a moment about how preposterously young that is. Here are the ages of some of baseball’s current bright, young, pitching stars:

Luis Severino – 23
Jimmy Nelson – 28
Aaron Nola – 24
Marcus Stroman – 26
Michael Fulmer – 24
Gerrit Cole – 26
Kevin Gausman – 26
Dylan Bundy – 24

Felix Hernandez was 21 years, and 3 days old when he took the mound at Fenway Park. It was the 45th start of his major league career.

2) This was a coronation, but for once Felix had nothing to do with it. The Yankees and Red Sox were in the middle of their decade-long blood feud over the AL East, and the Red Sox were debuting their newest weapon of war, Daisuke Matsuzaka. Matsuzaka threw something called a “gyroball”, which legend made sound like a cross between Sid Finch and black magic, and he was making his second start of the season as well, after demolishing the Kansas City Royals on the road in his first start.

ESPN was on hand, Fenway was packed, and one of baseball’s glamor franchises was prepared to celebrate their newest hero.

In the middle of the 7th inning I was scrambling to a church youth function I’ve volunteered for and I was screaming at the guy there “You HAVE to get this game on TV! I am not missing a Mariner pitcher no-hitting the Red Sox in Fenway!” He got the game on, and as I walked in I saw Jose Lopez diving as J.D. Drew’s groundball finds center field.

Damn.

One inning later, Fenway is empty, figuratively if not literally. Its soul has been swallowed by the all-encompassing totality of Felix’s genius. There are two outs in the ninth, and two strikes on Kevin Youkilis. The play-by-play marks it as a swinging strikeout, but that was no swing. It was surrender.

Felix_Youkilis__2_

4-24-2015

When you’ve seen it, you know you’ll never see it again. But, you’re a hopeful kind of idiot, so you think, maybe, just maybe.

The 2015 Twins are supposed to be atrocious. It’s through three and not only has no one reached base, Minnesota’s hitters are approaching the batter’s box like meek, contrite, sinners come to suffer god’s judgment. Felix has six strikeouts, five swinging. The Mariners are winning at home, early into their most anticipated season in half a decade. New DH Nelson Cruz has homered. There is a crescendo building, a feeling that burns through the television, that something may be happening.

We’re into the fifth, and I’m writing the recap, and I’m thinking about writing a game story about the first pitcher in baseball history to throw two perfect games. This is the power of Felix Hernandez. His youth and talent, like Ken Griffey Jr. before him, made anything seem possible. Every achievement left unlocked for a pitcher in baseball history could be viewed with Felix as, “No pitchers has ever done X……yet”.

There is still, of course, no pitcher in baseball history to throw two perfect games. With two outs in the fifth Brian Dozier got a running, buzzing, chainsaw-with-seams on his hands and dumped it into rightfield for a single.

Damn.

Felix finished it out, he would not be denied his shutout. He spent the first three innings surgically removing the Twins’ heart, and the next six slowly feeding it back to them.

9 IP, 5 H (all singles), 9 K, 0 BB, 0 R, 102 pitches. Dominance upon dominance.

8-15-12

Like many, I left work. Though I was too far from Safeco to get there in time, Gameday and the radio were simply not sufficient. After the 7th I closed my computer, walked to an empty Mexican restaurant bar, and ordered a Dos Equis.

They were tolerant of me in there, if mildly annoyed. I got them to turn off a car race, and helped them find the channel the baseball game was on. Someone the bartender knew sat down, and they started talking about nothing in particular. There was no audio, and no music. No real sound other than the constant, ceaseless tapping of my feet on the ground.

Tap tap tap tap tap tap tap

The 8th is where it was going to live or die, you just knew it. Tampa’s best hitters were due up, Felix’s pitch count was approaching 100 and, Mariners being Mariners, the team had managed only one run on the day. Everything; Perfect Game, No-hitter, shutout, complete game, win, hung in the balance of the next three hitters.

Evan Longoria – Strikeout Swinging. Tap tap tap tap

Ben Zobrist – Strikeout Swinging. Tap tap tap tap tap

Carlos Pena – Strikeout Swinging. “YES! HELL YES!” Tap tap tap tap

***

Felix Hernandez has known, seemingly his entire life, the abundance of ability he possesses. You can, and many people have, debate the various nuances between cockiness and confidence, but I don’t intend to do that here. Felix Hernandez has spent his life believing he is the best, and whether it’s fate, hard work, good luck, genetics, or something else the simple fact is that for a very long time he was absolutely correct.

I have often thought about the picture of him finding out he won the 2010 Cy Young Award:

Felix

There are tears, yes. And joy. There is also something else, and who knows if it’s actually there or if I am, always the slave to narrative, simply reading too much into it. But I see relief.

Felix Hernandez spent his childhood and early career believing he was absolutely going to win awards and set records, and the 2010 Cy Young was confirmation he was not wrong. Preposterous talent brings preposterous standards, none more so than his own. He had met them. Partially.

***

In the 9th it was the split-change, or whatever that pitch actually was, that carried him through. Felix Hernandez’s changeup at its peak is unlike anything the game has ever really seen before or since. He used it to strike out Desmond Jennings for out number one, got Jeff Keppinger to ground out to shortstop with it for out number two, and you know, with two strikes, it was a hot-breathed demon sitting in the back of Sean Rodriguez’s mind.

tap tap tap tap tap

Felix stepped back, lifted his leg, and pivoted his torso slightly past 90 degrees from home, showing Rodriguez the 3 and maybe half the 4 on the back of his jersey. Perhaps the first pitcher since peak Pedro Martinez to possess four true out pitches, a player whose insistence on overusing his fastball famously got him an open letter written by a now famous baseball blogger, Felix Hernandez had worked his entire life to get one pitch from a perfect game. What is the one pitch he wanted at that moment, more than anything else?

Fastball, inner half, with movement. Hit it if you can.

Damn.

Five years ago, today. Perfect. No one has been since.

Hail to the King.