Yesterday I went to the third game in the Red Sox’ four-game series against the White Sox, thanks to the kind invite of Joe Stillwell of Stats, Inc. In the first inning, after the first two White Sox batters reached base, Paul Konerko lifted a blooper to short right field. My eyes went to the right fielder, JD Drew, who was racing forward but who clearly would not be able to reach the ball before it landed. The ball hung in the air long enough for me to feel sorry for myself. All season long I’d been looking forward to the Red Sox lone visit to the city where I live, and they had lost the first game of the series 12-2, had gone down with barely a whimper in the second game, a 5-1 loss, and now this: first inning, bases loaded and nobody out. But as I was going through this litany of self-pity, Dustin Pedroia appeared as if from nowhere, lunged, and made a spectacular running catch. He then whirled immediately and threw a strike to the shortstop, Alex Gonzalez, doubling off the White Sox leadoff man, Scott Podsednik, who had strayed several yards from second as the blooper neared its seemingly sure resting place in the grass. In an instant too quick to take a breath, what looked to be a disastrous start had quieted to two out and a man on first.
Beside me, Joe remarked on the alertness of the second act of Pedroia’s play, and of baseball players in general. This morning, as I was turning the play over in my mind, I thought about my own athletic history, and how I periodically punctuated my anonymous, generally ineffectual efforts with a stupid play of one sort or another. Again and again, my mind wandered, or got lost in the flurry of activity, or just went into a blind white panic. The next moment, when I would come back to myself, always felt like the stunned and queasy moment after a minor accident. Eyes would be on me, for once, but not in a good way.
Well, nobody’s perfect, and even professional athletes make bonehead plays, but the amazing thing about these athletes is that these mental miscues are the rare exception to the norm. Labor Day seems to be a good time to celebrate this element of the major leaguer’s job skills, so I thought before spending the rest of the day lazing around and watching baseball players work, I’d briefly turn my own wandering focus on a current baseball star who epitomizes the impressive mindfullness of professional athletes.
Yesterday this player got his 2,000th hit, reaching the mark in fewer games than anyone in baseball history besides Al Simmons (Ichiro needed 12 more games than the 1930s basher). Barring some unforeseen calamity, Ichiro will collect his 200th hit of the year in a few days, which will set the record for most consecutive seasons (nine) with 200 or more hits, a record he currently shares with Wee Willie Keeler. I haven’t had the opportunity to watch him much, but I have to think, judging from his hitting and fielding records, which are not only remarkable for their constancy but also as close to flawless as the failure-riddled metrics of a baseball player can allow, that he’s had few, if any, moments when he didn’t know exactly what to do at any given moment in a baseball game.