I had a weekend of old-time fandom over Memorial Day. Those of you who came of age in the past twenty years probably assume that it is a natural thing to know every detail of a sporting event as it happens, but us old folks know that it is possible to go for days and know nothing about the fortunes of your favorite team. In 1989 I went to Nova Scotia for three weeks. There was no television, and of course no Internet. When I left the Indians were hovering around .500 and on the fringes of the race; when I got back they were ten games under and the season was gone. The only way I could find out what had happened would have been to go to the library and comb back issues of the newspaper; who wants to do that?
This past weekend I was in Toronto, and while it wasn’t nearly as bad as twenty years ago, I had no cell phone service and the Canadian cable channels provided no more information than the score. I could read the Plain Dealer in my hotel room, but the only time I was there was late at night and first thing in the morning.
The weekend began with a drive across southern Ontario while listening to Tom Hamilton on WTAM. As advertised, the signal held all the way into Toronto, even when I would have preferred not to hear. At one point Hammy said that a ball hit (I think by Nick Swisher) “had double written all over it.” My wife commented that everyone would freak out if somebody really wrote “double”on the baseball. I suppose I am immune to Hammy’s clichés after twenty years, but since that point I notice every last one.
During the game on Saturday, I was sitting in a sports bar watching a soccer game and waiting for the score to flash every five minutes or so. The Canadian cable system has this channel with about fifteen boxes of information all crammed on one screen, with news, stock prices, sports scores, weather, and gossip all together on one screen, and commercials going nonstop in the upper left corner. So while you all were agonizing pitch by pitch with Vinnie Pestano, I was watching nonstop footage of the mayor of Toronto saying that the photograph of him smoking crack was somehow misleading and wondering why the bottom of the eighth seemed to take forever. Finally the score popped up 5-4 Red Sox, then 7-4.
The only consolation at that point was that the bar was starting to fill up with Blue Jays fans, who had come from the stadium about a mile away and watched their team lose to the Orioles. These folks feel a legitimate sense of outrage at how badly their team is playing, given the increased payroll and the World Series predictions during the offseason. The focus of their wrath is R. A. Dickey, who got barbecued on talk radio for saying that his knuckleball doesn’t dance as much in cold weather, turning him into a very hittable pitcher. I remember this being true with Tom Candiotti when he was with the Indians, so I was more sympathetic than the guy on the radio, who wondered if Dickey had warned the Jays before signing his big contract that he would only be effective for about six weeks of the season, which is how long summer lasts in Toronto (it was 48 on Saturday).
I was in another sports bar near the end of the game Sunday. At least this time the Jays were on TV, so baseball scores were popping up constantly. We got seated, though, at the one table that was not close to any of the sixty or so screens. So my wife got to watch me alternate between twisting around in my seat, leaning out into the aisle, and pretending I had to use the restroom so that I could check other screens. It seemed like a waste of time, since the score stayed 5-2 for so long. Then, just as we were walking out of the restaurant, I took one last look and saw that it was 5-4 and that the Red Sox had two men on base. I thought about just standing there until they showed the final score, but that seemed a bit much to ask of my wife, who had already gone to the Hockey Hall of Fame that day. Besides, I knew we would lose.
So we left, with about a mile of walking to our next stop, a comedy club. We got there too early and found that it would be a half hour before they would open the doors, so we strolled around the theatre district and I looked for a restaurant with a TV that was visible from the street. I finally found a place with an actual sports scoreboard on the side of the building, then I had to wait through five minutes of Indy 500 highlights (left turn, left turn, pit stop, left turn, crash, left turn) until I saw the final score.
In the old days, I would have known absolutely nothing about the game until Monday morning. In this case, I had the worst of both worlds, knowing enough to be nervous but not enough to have my nerves assuaged. The moral of the story, I guess, is that I need a better cell phone.
In the meantime, what to make of a weekend (plus Monday in Cincinnati) when the Indians blew games in every conceivable way? The foibles of the bullpen masked the fact that the offense was mostly stagnant and the defense was sloppy at many crucial points. I like Francona’s perspective about this: these are good players, they will figure it out. I am skeptical, though, about Pestano as closer. I would give him a couple of low-pressure outings to find his groove before I put him into the ninth inning of a one-run game. Right now the hot hands are Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, and Joe Smith. I would reserve the big outs for those three guys until Perez is healthy or Pestano has a couple of strong outings in a row.