Thursday, April 29, 2010

I Don't Know. Third Base!

Writing humor when you live in the South is mostly just reporting.

Same goes for writing drama, really.  Do you think if William Faulkner had lived in Brooklyn he could have made up a story about a family trying to take their mother's body home for burial in a horse and wagon across a flooded river because her husband wanted new false teeth?   Trust me, you can't make this stuff up.

Take this morning, for example. My wife and I had coffee and pastries at Weaver Street Market, as we do a few times each week. Our routine is precisely honed. She selects pastries while I grab a tray and two cups of coffee. While I stand in line to pay, she claims a table in the dining room and begins reading the Raleigh newspaper so I can have the New York Times first.

This morning, I got in line behind a middle-aged woman in a long cotton dress who waited until her purchases were completely rung up before beginning to search for her wallet, the paying part of this transaction apparently having come as a complete surprise, and then she began to dig for a small change purse. The change purse was inside a small bag with a zipper that was inside a larger purse stuffed into the bottom of her backpack, which looked quite fashionable with the long cotton dress and white gym socks, I should add.

Now, I have waited for women to search diligently for precise change at checkout stands all over this country. (Men, on the other hand, will throw down a twenty for a pack of gum when they have exact change in their other hand.)

In other parts of the country, this might seem an annoyance. I remember a tightly-strung woman from Northern California ranting a few years back that toll booth signs saying “Exact Change” don’t mean, “do you have exact change?” but rather, “do you have exact change that you might be able to lay your hands on in, oh, the next ten minutes or so?”

I see her point, but Southerners are generally more laid back than that. I haven’t heard a car horn blow in the past five years and we generally just smile at times like this. Worst case, we shake our heads nearly imperceptibly to express total outrage. Getting to tell the story later and laugh about it is an inexpensive and reliable form of entertainment around here.

So is keeping your ears open while you read the paper so you can catch gossip like this little gem I picked up from the nice ladies sitting next to us this morning.

“She was runnin’ short of cash so she sold her banjo to her ex-husband.”

There had to be a story there. I laid down the business section.

“Excuse me, ma’am”, I interrupted, “but could you hold the rest of that story until I refill my coffee?”

My friends know that I spend a lot of time at UNC baseball games and at six bucks, there is no better value for your entertainment dollar. In fact, after the third inning, they stop selling tickets and you get in free.

Midweek games like yesterday’s contest against High Point are frequently laughers, but last night’s was entertainment with a capital “E”. At one point, Coach Fox brought in a reliever in a tight situation with High Point’s power hitter at the plate.

The pitcher promptly skipped his first throw off the top of the batter’s helmet. The hitter was awarded first base, but I suppose that’s better than giving up a home run in a tight game. Seems like the starting pitcher could have done that, too, though. No need to bring in a specialist.

When the kid’s second pitch hit the dirt in front of home plate, Fox practically ran back out to the mound. It’s the first time I’ve seen a pitcher yanked after just two throws, but no one seemed to disagree with the decision. One smart-ass fan even yelled, "What? Did he reach his pitch count?"

The main event occurred a few innings later, though, when Carolina should have easily scored runners from second and third on a single to right field. As the runner from second rounded third with plenty of time to score, Coach Fox stood waving his right arm frantically in a huge circle to send the runner on to home. It’s fun to watch a grown man excitedly imitating a high-speed windmill anytime, but last night’s event was special.

The runner may have made the turn at third a bit wide, but not excessively so, while in his excitement Coach Fox had hopped out of the coach’s box and a bit too close to the base path, again with his right arm flailing in a huge circle. The runner crashed directly into his coach, falling to the ground and having to stumble back into third base instead of scoring the run.

Meanwhile, Coach Fox fell backward into a complete reverse somersault, somehow keeping his cap in place over his silver hair. The fans, at this point, were completely focused on Laurel and Hardy at third base and lost track of the play on the rest of the field.

Had the runner scored instead of being tackled by his own coach at third base, Carolina would have won the game in nine innings, but that wasn’t to be.

Coach Fox walked over to the runner on third, who was bent over at the waist and apparently in some pain, put his arm around his player and whispered to him. I can only imagine the conversation went something like this.

“Son, we just made total asses of ourselves; well, maybe me more than you since you were actually supposed to be on the base path. On the other hand, they announced attendance of just 500 and I’m damned if I can count more than a hundred fans or so, so we have that going for us. YouTube might be a problem; I thought I saw a guy pointing his cell phone at us. Keep acting like you’re a little shook up— people seem reluctant to laugh at someone who’s been injured. OK, I’m going to walk away now. Just nod your head and act like we were talking strategy.”

The next few innings might have been a little boring except for a pitch to a Carolina hitter that crossed the plate about two inches above the ground and that the umpire inexplicably called a strike. The “crowd” went crazy and Coach Fox began arguing with the plate umpire. Arguing balls and strikes is a no-no and Fox was quickly ejected.

In that strange tradition of baseball, coaches who have been ejected reserve the right to argue a while longer, figuring they have nothing further to lose. One advantage of the pathetic attendance was the fans’ ability to hear every word of the tirade and they became eerily quiet to take advantage of the opportunity.

Coach Fox kept screaming at the umpire that he should be ashamed to eject a coach over so minor an objection and that the umpire was now going to have to “wear that”. He said it several times, but I never quite got it. As Fox walked off the field, the fans roared their approval and began shouting, “Wear it, Blue!” The fact that we had no idea what it meant made it that much more fun to yell.

Having had no ejections, unintentional beanings, two-pitch outings or physical comedy on the base paths for two entire innings, our boredom was broken in the seventh when a UNC fan got into a screaming match with the popcorn vendor and again, since the crowd was so thin, we got to witness every word.

The fan involved is a regular, an older gentleman with a huge paunch and an entire wardrobe of UNC Tar Heels paraphernalia, including stadium seat with shoulder strap, all in powder blue.  His regular seat is near the popcorn stand and his constant yelling at umpires and players seems to irritate the vendor, who apparently feels the need to remind the fan at every opportunity, night after night, that it’s “just a game”.  F-bombs and threats by the fan to stick the vendor’s popcorn machine where the sun don’t shine ensued and Security had to ask the fan to leave.

By the way, women love a really big fella in all baby blue, which explains why Tar Heel defensive linemen get the pretty girlfriends.  I bought a three-piece suit in that hue with matching suede shoes and belt and a light blue print tie, but I wore it with a white shirt.  (You don't want to overdo it.)  All I got from the ladies were rolled eyes and grimaces.  The look just doesn't work for a skinny guy.

Coach Fox having. . . shall we say, “held up” the earlier potential go-ahead run at third, we entered extra innings with the score tied at 2.  High Point’s pitcher gave up two singles and Carolina’s third batter in the bottom of the 10th reached on an error.  With the bases loaded, the pitcher ran the count to 3 and 2 against Ryan Graepel.

With the bases loaded in extra innings, a walk would have ended the game.  High Point’s pitcher had to throw a strike and “Grape” jacked a walk-off grand slam over the left field fence.

I was telling all this to the lady at Weaver Street Market this morning while she searched interminably for her change purse at the checkout stand.

“You really should go to a game," I told her.  "It’s hard to find three hours of comparable entertainment anywhere for six bucks. . . and, if you can’t find your wallet by the fourth inning, they’ll let you in free!”

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