Do you feel like the players just aren't giving it their all? They will now...
Being a Sports Writer is not like fiction writing, there are no story lines to follow, no characters to create and the ending never known in advance. Writing Sports is an unscripted who-dun-it where we watch every move and report to you - the fan - everything witnessed (of interest) so you will be informed of the action, or reason for the inaction.
Since the conception of the Incentive Rule - designed to enhance players’ performance by offering a reason to win other than monetary - I have found my role as Sports Writer much more intense and connected to the losers rather than winners of each competition. That is why I am here, at the home of the Worcester Hound Dogs, Harvey Field in the outskirts of half-a-mile high City of Worcester, dab nab in the center of Massachusetts. Tonight, the Worcester Hound Dogs are hosting the Pittsburg Redwoods, which I never understood because I doubt if there is a redwood within a thousand miles of Pittsburg. However, the boys of October are here tonight where one will advance, the other… the big sleep.
The field is aglow by four large towers holding banks of Westinghouse illumination aloft, bright enough to be daylight. The Dogs have taken the field minus starting pitcher Bruce Canproud who is on the disabled list. My guess is a case of the jitters, a common symptom since the advent of the Incentive Rule. Bruce is replaced tonight by twenty-one year-old rookie, Ralphie Stapleton, and I must admit a bit of confusion here, since I have Stapleton listed on my press package yet the guy behind me called him Simpleton and the announcer introduced him as Simpson… let’s just call him Ralphie until I figure this out.
Up at bat for the Redwoods is number Thirty-three, Carlo Sisto, a four-year favorite of the Pittsburg fans. Carlo has constantly batted an average .350 and plays second base with the agility of a gazelle, a fan treat to watch stretch, catch and tag.
Ralphie is ready for the first pitch. He looks, winds up… high and outside. So are the next two. Benny Fournier, the Dogs’ catcher, signals time then prances to the mound. Ralphie meets him half way where they converse through gloved covered mouths to the chagrin of lip readers everywhere. Benny returns to his squat behind home plate and Ralphie winds up again, releases and Carlos, along with the rest of us, still wait to see the ball. The ump cries striiiiikkkkkeeee!
Benny retrieves the ball from his mitt and tosses it back to Ralphie. Carlo is still standing like a statue with bat cocked over his shoulder waiting for the pitch, like me and the twenty plus thousand fans at Harvey field. We are in awe of the invisible pitch just thrown by this unknown rookie.
Carlos adjusts his stance. It was okay for one to get by, even if unseen, but he looks determined not to let it go again. Ralphie nods at Benny, looks to first, winds up and… striiiiikkkkkeeee…. Carlos is still ready to put that ball over the wall yet the same thing again bringing strike three. Carlo slowly walks from the box gazing in wonderment at the rookie relief pitcher.
Batter after batter visit the plate to face Ralphie Stapleton, Simpleton, Simpson… Batter after batter stand like inert statues, Mimes and mannequins displaying the correct batting posture as Ralphie’s invisible fastball easily finds its way over the plate into Benny’s mitt. Each batter unknowingly rubbed somewhere on their anatomy, possibly prepping for the pin - an arm, a shoulder, left or right cheek of their buttocks - an unconscious move but a dead giveaway the Redwoods’ sensed defeat. And defeat it was, the Dogs put six runs on the board against zero for the Redwoods bringing a devastating loss to the Pittsburg favorites.
I was aware of, but did not watch the excitement going on in the field - the mass huddle of players jumping in glee, the rousing ovation and cheers from the fans - I watched the decimated Redwoods file into the dugout, each head bowed. Some visibly shaken requiring assistance in walking, several security people helped as did medical personal attached to the Incentive Administrators of the Commissioner’s office.
Some of the players looked back to the field. Not to see the celebration but for a last glance at the grass, the night sky and take advantage of inhaling the wonderful, crisp, clean air… That’s where the story was, not on the field covering the mundane congratulations; good for them.
Yet the triumphant Dogs realize it could have just as well been them who received the Incentive; it could have been their team who marched hopelessly into the locker room where league doctors await with syringes, knick-named Pins. The locker room where greats like Carlo Sisto and his teammates will receive their pin ending their existence and meaning.
The Incentive Rule eliminates the need for trophies, titles or pennants with a simple motivation of each player to survive and keep something already in their grasp – their precious lives. This was their incentive to win, to remain alive. However, knowing the possibility of losing, and its ramifications, you gamble and sometimes you lose.
Until tomorrow night’s game, that’s sports… Good night!
Henry P. Gravelle is the author of The Igloo Boys, a novella currently under option and entering the whirlwind process of becoming a major motion picture... stay tuned.