A game of Faith’s Perfection

With apologies to Gus Van Sant, Sean Connery and Rob Brown, last night’s Pittsburgh Pirates at Los Angeles Dodgers game was for me, a distinctively faith-based enterprise.

I’m relatively new to baseball mania. As a kid, I went to a few games, my first was at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh in 1974. The Cardinals beat the Bucs 3-2 in that game and I remember being somewhat disappointed, though not heartbroken.

When we moved to Los Angeles in 1975, dad had season tickets to the Dodgers and though I never grew to be a fan, I loved going to Dodger Stadium and watching that line-up: Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell, Ron Cey, Steve Yeager. But other things caught my attention in adolescence and I fell away from baseball for a very long time, only occasionally keeping an eye on what the Pirates were up to. I didn’t know players or scores and I didn’t know stats or histories and I didn’t care.

So it was as much a surprise to me as it was to anyone when a couple of years ago, I found myself caring again about baseball. I’m not even sure when or why it happened. It did coincide with the Pirates making the playoffs in the past couple of years, but that’s as distinct as I get.

I don’t know what spurred me in May of last year to grab tickets to a Pirates v. Dodgers game and invite my dad along. He accepted and the two of us went and had a great time together. The Pirates won that game 2-1.

Interested enough in the baseball experience by now, though not sold on the expensive and crowded Dodger Stadium games, I opted to expand my southern California baseball stadium experience and go to see the Angels in Anaheim play. It’s a longer drive to Anaheim, with traffic (and there’s always traffic) it can be close to three hours in the car. But my friend Scott and his sons and Shannon and I headed down to see the Angels play Baltimore. We had seats in the outfield along the third base line for less than $20 and that included a hot dog and a soda. Parking was cheaper and easier and the stadium is really quite beautiful–nicer than Dodger stadium, if not flecked with the same kind of history. And the Angels are a championship team in general, though not this year. The Orioles won that game 5-0.

Emboldened by the experience, I saw on the Angels’ schedule that the first place Toronto Blue Jays were due to play the Angels and I bought the same tickets I had previously along with Sue and my friend Brett. The Blue Jays did not disappoint and while I rooted for the Angels, I went home disappointed with a 12-5 blowout of the halos. My baseball interest was being properly tempered by the truism: You can’t win them all.

The Bucs came to San Diego in May this year, it happened to be one year later to the day when dad and I saw them in L.A., so I invited dad again and to my unending surprise–not only did he come along, but so did Sue and Shannon and we met Sue’s brother and his wife’s brother at the game and completed my southern California stadium experience at Petco Park. Once again, the Bucs won and I was two for two on the west coast. I watched later via the Internet as Pittsburgh swept the Giants in a three-game series and while they weren’t scheduled to play the American league teams on the west coast, they’d made a clean sweep of the National League.

Last night, the Bucs were at Dodger stadium, game two of a three-game stand and the Friday night game was a typical Dodger blowout. The first place Dodgers are an impressive looking team and they beat up on Pittsburgh 6-2. I was given tickets to the game by my former principal, Glenn Lipman, who is a Dodger season ticket holder. I learned only on Friday night that the great Clayton Kershaw would pitch for the Dodgers against the Bucs southpaw Francisco Liriano. It was my chance to see one of the great MLB pitchers in action, though I wouldn’t be rooting for him, and the seats Glenn gave me were spectacular–loge section along the third base line.

Kershaw did not disappoint. He is truly a marvel to watch. Tall and lanky, he was built for the job and when he winds up, he pulls his left arm back and digs into some reservoir of speed and fear and timing and he bullets the ball toward home plate with a kind of eagerness that isn’t really apparent on any other team.

I’m not a sportswriter–but come to think of it, that would be a cool gig. I’m a writer though, and it would be hard not to describe the game. Dodger Stadium has loyal, loud and boisterous fans. The energy is electric and since the stadium is so large–holding more than 50,000 people, the thundering and persistent power of fanatical waves of blue and white are overwhelming for a guy wearing the other team’s hat.

The Dodgers scored first and did so in style as Justin Ruggiano scored on a smash to right field by Howie Kendrick. But while they scored one more point in the seventh inning, the Bucs scored two when Andrew McCutheon whacked a double in the third inning driving home Mercer and Liriano. The Pirates scored one more time in the eighth inning and held the Dodgers to two. The 9th inning had me on my feet, biting my nails and yes, even praying–as the Bucs’ Mark Melancon took the mound and in flawless fashion pulled three up and sent three down. Note: I don’t recommend praying for your team–I know people do. But it didn’t feel right to me.

The electric energy spun into a deafening whir as Corey Seager grounded out to third and the hordes let out a collective sad sigh–and headed for the parking lot. In deference, and perhaps out of misplaced fear, I doffed my Pirates cap until I walked out of the stadium. But I never stopped smiling–and my faith in the Pirates—in baseball—was bolstered.