Tuesday, October 11, 2011

I Heart Rick Reilly

I just got back into town (more on that later) so I'm kinda cheating today. Back to our regularly scheduled bullshit tomorrow!
For years and years, I would subscribe to Sports Illustrated mostly so I could read the Rick Reilly article at the back of every issue. He's still one of my all-time favorite writers. This column made me tear up when I read it, back in July 2001. To this day, it's still one of my all-time favorite sports related pieces. Hope you enjoy it as much as I do!
When word got around that a local couple was going to donate a real baseball field to our Denver neighborhood, there was much joy among the Nuts. The Nuts, if you'll recall, are the Catholic Youth Rec baseball team that I've been coaching for eight years and that has consistently led the league in:
1) Jokes told. We require one joke per nine-man mound meeting. The most recent was by Drewski, our first baseman, who, during a very tense situation, asked, "What's brown and sticky?" Nobody knew. "A stick!" beamed Drewski.
2) Rally rituals. These include, depending on how many runs we need, caps turned exactly three inches to the left (if we're close) and right pant legs hoisted above the knees (if we're getting creamed).
3) Ground balls in the mouth.
We've always played on the worst baseball field this side of Chernobyl. It had a 40-year-old backstop, a buckled dirt field and the largest variety of North American weed this side of Berkeley. It also was the only baseball lot around for miles. Every piece of decent parkland has been gobbled up by the evil sport of soccer. And people wonder why baseball is dying in the cities.
Then the Nuts heard that this shiny new ball field would be built on the very spot of our hideous old one. They had only one design request: a 30-foot-high root beer mug just beyond left-field. After every home run a random Nut would slide down the mug into a giant pool of root beer.
The rest of the neighborhood, however, was underjoyed by the couple's offer. "You're not going to want a fence, are you?" the director of parks and rec asked the couple.
"A ball field?" a woman whined. "We don't want that kind around, do we?"
"I hear there are going to be lights and a concession stand!" one man wailed at a public meeting. "Won't that keep us awake?" I replied, helpfully, "No, I heard they had to lose that to make room for the chopper pad."
But enough arms were twisted and secretaries' dogs kidnapped that, little by little, a field started popping up with stuff the Nuts had never known: A mound! Dugouts! Infield grass! A backstop that actually stopped the ball! A regulation home plate! An outfield fence! Even a hand-operated scoreboard!
It was christened Fishhack Field, for reasons only the couple knew. Unfortunately, two weeks after the construction crews were gone, Fishhack resembled a dead mackerel. The sod was yellow, home plate was a swamp, and the infield dirt had more ruts than deer-mating season. Still, I loved Fishhack. It was our home field.
The Nuts and I took it upon ourselves to try to turn Fishhack into Coors Field. We mowed it. We raked it. We even lined it with a bag of flour one of the Nuts got from his mom. When we were done, the field actually looked worse—like a tractor pull had torn through the Pillsbury Bake-Off.
That's when I asked the head groundskeeper at the real Coors Field, Mark Razum, if he'd mind dropping by to take a look. After he laughed for 10 minutes at our doughy baselines, he offered some pointers on grooming the field and promised equipment and a day of his crew's time. Mark Razum is God.
Things have gone Nuts ever since. Grounders suddenly found their way into Nuts mitts. Nuts butts no longer got splinters from sliding across our old wooden home plate. Nuts home runs were followed by Nuts home run trots (occasionally backward). The Nuts didn't lose at Fishhack Field on their way to a 9-1-1 record and the regular-season title. If that can happen, can the 30-foot root beer mug be far behind?
Sadly, the Nuts will never be a team again—they'll all be too old next year at 15—and the trophies will soon be buried behind pictures of girlfriends. But pant-leg-up rallies and mound jokes, they last. So, too, will Fishhack Field.
Now the neighborhood is hooked on Fishhack. People are playing family reunion games on it, holding company softball games on it, planning fall leagues on it. Take that, soccer.
The wife and I even changed our morning walk so we could go by it. Turns out we kind of like having that kind around. The other day we saw only two people on Fishhack—a father throwing batting practice to a little girl almost taller than her bat.
We both thought, Best money we ever spent.

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