By Michael Lewis
I realize that this might sound like blasphemy to many soccer zealots out there, but baseball was my first love.
After I came to grips that I wasn’t going to play center field for the New York Yankees or any major or minor league club at all, I did the next best thing. Well, I still haven’t covered a Yankee game, although I have been at Yankee Stadium to write about dozens of soccer games.
So, when I have had the opportunity to cover a baseball game, I grab it and enjoy every pitch.
During the early years of my career, I occasionally would get the call from the bullpen to motor on down to Silver Stadium in Rochester, N.Y. to write about the Rochester Red Wings.
In an emergency situation, I was asked to cover the Red Wings-Richmond Braves game on Sunday, July 19, 1981. John Kolomic, our No. 1 baseball writer, had another commitment and the second an third choices were unavailable. An assistant editor looked at the schedule and noticed I was to cover the Rochester Flash at 8 p.m. that night. So, why not cover two (in one day) for the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle?
I took the assignment and wrote about the Braves’ 6-4 victory over Rochester and got an opportunity to talk to future Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, Jr. days before he was called up by the parent Baltimore Orioles. I then journeyed over to Holleder Stadium to finish my unique doubleheader (I will fill you in on the particulars in a future piece).
On opening day in 1982, I was selected to write about a sidebar. As it turns out, I never took a step into the Red Wings’ locker room.
Instead, I wrote about fan reaction.
The chants started sometime in the third inning.
We want rain! We want rain!”
Definitely a rather unusual chant for the start of the baseball season but the fans certainly had a point. Their heroes, the Rochester Red Wings, already were down by double digits.
“When you’re losing 16-0 and you’ve just given up 10 runs, you have only one hope left,” Wings fan Lynn Barber told me.
And for good reason. The home team was en route to a forgettable 23-1 shellacking at the hands of the Tidewater Tides as the brave fans endured 43-degree temperatures, winds of up to 25 miles per hour and a wind-chill factor of about 20 degrees.
Exactly two weeks later on April 27, I was assigned to cover a series between Rochester and the Charleston Charlies. Two stories collided at once that night. First and foremost, Storm Davis, the team’s best pitcher (2.0, 2.77 ERA and 15 strike outs in 13 innings) was called up by the Orioles. Being a farm club, players always faced a revolving door in Rochester. The other story was that the Wings dropped an 8-5 decision in 10 innings.
Tim Stoddard, who was sent to Rochester on a rehab assignment, was the culprit, allowed all three runs in the defeat. At 6-7, 230-lbs. Stoddard looked very intimidating and of course, I had to talk to him afterwards. Here he was sent down and he blows the game, big time — in the minor leagues! He’s got to be in bad mood, I said as I ventured to the locker room.
Stoddard could not have been nicer.
Red Wings manager Lance Nichols said that Stoddard threw sliders on two pitches that decided the game.
“It’s even worse when he thinks they were sliders,” Stoddard said. “It was probably bad selection on my part.
“I’m not worried about what happened. I feel bad with what happened. It’s bad when you come in in a tight situation and something like that happens.
“I’ve come down to pitch and get some work. I’m not trying to screw things up. Tomorrow night I might strike three guys out. Tonight it looks bad.”
By the way, Stoddard had a pretty damn good major league career over 13 seasons as a reliever for the Orioles, Yankees, San Diego Padres, Cleveland Indians, Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox. He never started a game, but finished 262, according to baseball-reference.com.
In case you were wondering, Davis stuck with the O’s in 1982 and finished with an 8-4 record and a 3.49 ERA. He also enjoyed a 13-year career, forging a 113-96 mark and a 4.02. That included a 19-win season for the 1989 Oakland A’s, who their defeated cross bay rival San Francisco Giants to win the Earthquake World Series.
No two baseball games are alike. Everyone is different, whether it is a slugfest or a pitchers’ duel.
That’s one of the reasons why I loved to cover this game, no matter what the level.
As it turns out, no two soccer matches are alike. Everyone is different, whether it’s a wild, high-scoring affair or a midfield or goalkeeper duel.
That’s why I love the beautiful game, though it is difficult to forget your first love.