KISS YER SIS, CO – The sun is out. The snow has almost completely melted off my front lawn. The leaves are budding. Short Matt is back to drinking beers. This means it’s time for the greatest sports season of the year. Fly fishing season.
I spent last weekend rigging my boat and all winter filling my boxes. I have been waiting in anticipation for the ice to come off the river and for the temps to rise just enough for the first float of the year which happens to be next weekend. There is something spiritual about the sounds of the stream, the line going tight, and the dance you play with the fish to bring it in on 6x tippet. Most of you probably haven’t ever seen a trout that isn’t named Mike, and the only rods you all play with are nowhere near a foot long let alone nine feet. Most of you have never played a game with no beginning and no end.
When I go golfing my wife can call me and ask what hole I am on. This subsequently means she assumes I will be home by x o’clock. When I go to a football game she can call and ask what quarter it is and assume I will be home by x o’clock. When I go fishing she can call and I likely won’t even have service. If I do have service, and I answer, I tell her I will be home when I am done fishing. The only mainstream sport that had analogous spiritual feeling and an undetermined ending was baseball. That was until Robb Manfred and Moneyball ruined it.
Up until last year, if my wife called me while I was at a game I could say well it’s 2-2 in the 7th and it’s looking like bonus baseball. I’ll be home when it’s over. Up until 2020 I could look at the roster and try to manage from the seats. Who would I put in to pitch in the 10th? How would I handle the double switch in the 12th? Which position player can throw strikes in the 16th without hurting themselves? These questions are null and void now. The elegance of an untimed ending is gone. The suspense is gone. The justice or lack thereof is gone. Along with it has gone the soul of baseball.
The harbinger of this ending might as well be Paul DePodesta. The replacement of feel and spirit in the recruiting process with numbers and charts was the beginning of the end. Baseball teams are no longer built to be ball clubs. They are built to be ball machines. Gutsy ball players that could hit .280 and play solid defense have been replaced by brutes who can hit .230 and pipe 25 bombs a year. Pitchers that could throw three innings to stretch or close a game have no place on a roster. Unless you throw 95 plus you can’t even get looked at. Imagine a world wherein Greg Maddux didn’t get a shot to play. Imagine a league that saw no place for Omar Vizquel. The beauty of the game is gone.
In the Cardinals game the other day, Nolan Arenado came to the plate with runners on first and second with no one out in the first. Before 2010, Nolan Arenado bunts that baseball and the Cardinals are guaranteed a run or two with contact. Instead he flew out failing to advance the runners. I was reminded of this by Angry Ward’s comment yesterday of needing more Scooter Rizzutos. It’s not that the league doesn’t have them. It’s that the machine tells them not to play that way.
On Opening Day, Judge swung for the fences with runners in scoring position twice. He fanned both times. He then made an error to lose the game. In 1999 Paul O’Neil would have come to the plate looking for solid contact to extend the inning, move runners and if lucky they score. He also would have caught that ball in right field.
The memories we have of baseball as it was meant to be played have become finite. This new era of strikeout/homer ball that makes sure the evening news can start on time is the marking of the end. I will still be a die-hard Cardinals fan and I hope they lead the renaissance of small baseball. However, I don’t hold out much hope that the game will return to its roots of a gutsy, dirt under the fingernails grind that I grew up loving.
So I fish. The closest thing I have to guessing a pitching appearance or managing a double switch from the seats, is choosing which midge to tie below a size ten San Juan Worm in Crimson. Maybe it will be warm enough next weekend to run a size twenty BWO emerger below a size 12 paradun. I won’t know until I turn over some rocks on the bank. Yesterday’s baseball was as close to fly fishing as it gets. Chess, not Checkers. Finesse and strength trying to find an elegant balance. Today’s baseball might as well be fishing with dynamite and four out of every five sticks doesn’t go off.
Write to your congressman. Call your local little league. Make it known that extra innings and sacrifice bunts are some of the most important parts of baseball. If that doesn’t work buy a 9ft 5wt rod and find peace in the woods.