Sunday, September 28, 2014

Staging the end of baseball eras

It was some time about 1:25 p.m. Sunday (Central Time, depending on how accurate my time piece was) when New York Yankees star Derek Jeter came to bat at Boston’s Fenway Park.

While at U.S. Cellular Field, Chicago White Sox star Paul Konerko had his first plate appearance for the season’s final game against the Kansas City Royals.

BOTH THE YANKEES and White Sox are out of the pennant race. Neither is going to the playoffs, or has a chance at a league championship and World Series appearance.

But both Jeter and Konerko are long-time players of some prominence who have said that 2014 will be their last season as professional ballplayers – although Jeter was the one whose farewell made the cover of Sports Illustrated. So Sunday was it.

I wasn’t at a ballpark. I was parked in front of a television set, and was flipping my set back-and-forth between the two games – going from listening to Jerry Remy narrate the Jeter hoo-hah, while Ken Harrelson gave us the accounting of the Konerko finale.

It literally turned out that the two men came up to bat simultaneously – leading to a pitch-by-pitch flip back-and-forth between the Comcast Sports Chicago broadcast and the carrying of a New England Sports Network broadcast of the Yankees/Red Sox affair.

BOTH OF THE announcers played into the storyline that the ballclubs wanted their stars to go out with a bang – both were prepared to immediately remove their player if he managed a base hit of sorts. Let him go out on a high note.

All throughout “the Cell,” the chants of “Paulie, Paulie” could be heard for Konerko, while Jeter got to hear Red Sox fans do their imitation of that “Der-ek Jet-er, clap-clap, clap-clap-clap” chant that Yankee Stadium crowds regularly give him.

Which is quite a concession from the Boston crowd, since I can remember when Red Sox fans used to taunt Jeter with the chant of “No-mar’s Bet-ter,” in reference to their own almost-as-good shortstop Nomar Garciaparra.

Jeter had already managed one at-bat in his game (those East Coast games start earlier than Midwestern ones), and had cracked a hard line drive that the shortstop had to make an amazing leap to catch.

SO COME THE third inning, Jeter tried again, and managed to get a relatively weak single past the Red Sox’ third baseman that drove in a run. It’s not exactly the “Kid Bids Hub Adieu” of Ted Williams’ home run in his final at-bat in 1960, but it sufficed for Yankees fans who got to see Jeter trot all over the field to congratulate everybody in sight  (including Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz) before leaving the field.

Somehow, I don’t think any body’s going to lambast Jeter for leaving early the way they still do Sammy Sosa’s Cubs departure of 10 years ago.

Just a few seconds later in Chicago, Konerko’s first at-bat of his final game ended with him suffering the same fate of the Mighty Casey – he struck out to Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura, and wound up striking out a second time, then grounding out to third base before being removed from the game in the sixth inning.

White Sox fans wound up giving him a standing ovation even though he didn't get that final base hit and Jeter-type finale that would have got him a couple of seconds worth of air time on ESPN Sunday night.

ALL BEFORE BASEBALL moves on to its rounds of playoffs that make the season seem endless and always create the potential for an early-season snowfall to knock out a game or two of the World Series.

Which might well be the only reason fans ought to root for an all-Los Angeles (suburban Angels versus city-based Dodgers) matchup come World Series time. Better weather -- even though a Baltimore Orioles/Washington Nationals matchup would give us "true" World Series-type weather.

One plus is that it would make the rest of the baseball world appreciate how superior an all-Chicago World Series would be by comparison if the improving White Sox win a league championship in the next few seasons – and if the Cubs actually do amount to anything close to all the hype their fans are falling for these days.


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