Monday, March 27, 2006
Real. Live. In-person. Baseball.
I can't even describe how happy I am right now.
Image-heavy post ahead. All images are clickable for a good viewing size, as per usual.
I approached Ray Fisher Stadium (locally known as The Fish) while the teams were still taking batting practice. From outside the stadium I could hear numerous cracks from numerous bats as they struck numerous balls. OK, so they were pings, not cracks, because this is college ball and they're still using aluminum. Pings. But still. I was outside of the ballpark and I could HEAR BASEBALL with my OWN TWO EARS for the first time this season and I had to stop. I literally had to stop and stand outside the ballpark and listen for a few minutes because I was so happy I thought I was going to cry.
This is a sickness, isn't it? What do I care about college ball? I know none of you lot care about college ball. But it's baseball. Different, slightly weird baseball, to be sure, but in a sense it's also maybe a more pure kind of baseball. And even if you don't know any of the people playing it (I recognized maybe three of the names on Michigan's roster-- Jeff Kunkel, starting catcher; Drew Taylor, starting pitcher for the day; and Ali Husain, lefty specialist pitcher), the joy that a truly ill addict can take in watching it is unbounded.
Leif Mahler charging down to third. Yes, we have a guy on our team named 'Leif'.
College ball is different from pro ball. There were a surprising lot of triples and a surprising lot of stolen bases, or singles stretched into doubles with speed. Michigan players kept getting plunked, although it was apparently without rancor, as there was never any retaliation and no one really got smacked. They were playing a double header, with each game lasting only 7 innings, and a 20 minute break between games. The field at The Fish is not too small in and of itself (400 to center, something like 330 to the corners) but it only has stands around homeplate and partway down the first and third base sides, with nothing but trees and the track building looming in the outfield. The entrances are unassuming and reminded me of nothing so much as the entrance to my high school football field, which was just a little fence door you went through that let you right onto the track around the field.
The whole attitude at the stadium was different from even a minor league game, too. The Fish is tiny, and you could probably use the word 'intimate' to describe it. When I got there I sat down on the visiting side to poke at my camera lens, and there were maybe 25 OU fans in the stands, and maybe 15 Michigan fans over 'round the other side. It filled up by the middle of the first game, but filtered off after that. Baseball players wandered off the field and into the stands to chat with their parents, or stopped to ask other people if they had seen their parents. One of the OU fans greeted one of the umpires by name as they were walking onto the field, and the umpire stopped to chat.
Derek VanBuskirk, outfielder, chatting with a fan between games.
I finally got my lens clean and walked over to the Michigan side, edging nervously past two fully uniformed Michigan players who were just sort of hanging out in the stands behind home plate. I sat down in the front row and nodded at the older woman behind me, who it turned out was the mother of one of the starters. A bit later I would go lean on the dugout roof with a few girls who were clearly girlfriends of some of the players, and who were pleasingly knowledgeable about baseball, grumbling about bad calls and sighing at high flyouts long before the old geezer sorts who showed up realized they weren't going out.
Michigan was wearing their maize jerseys today, which I heard some OU fans commenting on, claiming they were 'too bright'. Sure, when your team jerseys are shiny tan, I'll bet some nice maize yellow is rough on your eyes. They were on the whole however polite, and there was no heckling to speak of, not even when a Michigan player sort of struck out, but the ball was dropped, but he stepped on it, but he ran to first anyways, and the OU catcher, Andy Brinker, didn't throw down to first because he thought the guy was out, even though COME ON NOW BRINKER, you always throw down to first if you're not sure. The worst the OU crowd did was scoff and yell things like, "C'mon, he stepped on it! Check the ball! It's probably got cleat marks on it!" Michigan football game crowd this was not.
Brinker arguing the call.
So it was a very genial atmosphere for baseball, is what I'm sayin'. It was honestly just plain old pleasant to see a game there, and it was fun in probably the most old-fashioned, clean way I've seen at a sporting event since coming to Michigan.
Another large contributor to my happiness, of course, was the small size of the crowd. This meant that I could lean on the Michigan dugout as long as I liked, and I could wander over between innings to lean on the OU dugout too, for a different angle. And I don't have the Super Mystical Telephoto lens yet, alas. But I was so close to the game that I almost didn't need it for some things.
Doug Pickens, outfielder, fixes his hat. He had a huge homerun in the first game, and hit well throughout.
Adam Abraham has a look around. He DHed in the first game and didn't play in the second one, so he just hung out for a while on the top step of the dugout in his jacket, peering at everyone.
An OU player's hands as he rests in the dugout.
Brad Roblin, outfielder, up close and personal.
Mike Schmidt, outfielder, gets thoughtful. Actually, the story behind this one is pretty funny. He was standing at the top of the dugout steps just kind of leaning on the rail, right in front of me. At first I thought that was all he was doing, but then I noticed that whenever I aimed the camera at something his eyes would sort of jog, like he was tracking it. After several minutes he lifted his hand, paused, and very deliberately laid it on his chin, all Rodin-style. It was very much like he was posing for the camera, and I very nearly couldn't take the photo, I was shaking so hard from suppressed laughter. Makes for a nice shot, though.
What struck me more than anything, though, more than even Sox games where this is sometimes more apparent than elsewhere, was the way that all the kids playing seemed to just be having fun a lot of the time. It was a beautiful day for baseball, and they were beating the tan snot out of OU, and they were having fun. I hate to say something cheesy like 'it was so refreshing' but, to be honest, it kind of was.
Leif Mahler laughing and throwing a ball into the sun during warmups before the second game.
Derek VanBuskirk laughing and biting his tongue after making an out.
I really should sleep. Suffice it to say that it was an amazing day and Michigan played some very good baseball, if not particularly spectacular, and I got some great pictures because I was right on top of the dugout. I highly recommend you check out the whole photo gallery of the day, because there are a ton of baseball photos and a ton of good ones that didn't get posted here.
Photos, live baseball, life is good, no?
Labels: baseball, in attendance, Michigan, NCAA, photoblog, Wolverines