14 Years

There is a scene in Field of Dreams where Ray Kinsella’s talking to Moonlight Graham. If you’ve seen the movie, you know what I’m talking about. Kinsella’s talking about Graham’s baseball career, which consisted of half an inning in the field for the New York Giants, and he says “It would KILL some men to get so close to their dream and not touch it. God, they’d consider it a tragedy.”

Graham replies, “Son, if I’d have only gotten to be a doctor for five minutes, now that would have been a tragedy.”

I thought about that a lot over the last couple of weeks.

Cory Aldridge was called up by the Angels. That doesn’t mean much to most people, but when I heard the broadcasters talking about him when he got his first at-bat since 2001, I perked up. Aldridge was batting .309 in Triple-A, the Angels needed a bat, and they called upon a kid (I use that term loosely) who had been in the minors for 14 years. He had gone 0-for-5 in 2001 with the Braves and quit baseball in 2007, played a year of indy ball in 2008 and somehow made the majors this year, in 2010.

When Moonlight Graham talked to Ray Kinsella about what he wanted to do as a major leaguer, he said he just wanted to wink at the pitcher, run the bases, stretch a double into a triple. This is my blog, so I can write how I want to write, and I’m going to digress. There is nothing better in baseball than a triple, the moment when the crowd realizes that there’s going to be a play at third base. There’s an awful lot of buildup in a triple. It gives you time. A home run, crack, it’s gone, and if you look up the guy’s rounding the bases. If you see a triple, you have time to look up, hear the crowd crescendo, and still see the conclusion of the play while you feel the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

So Aldridge gets up to bat last week. The Angels were on their way to a 15-0 loss and the stadium was, in all likelihood, empty. He came into the game in the sixth inning, hit a ball the opposite way, the left fielder chased into the corner and couldn’t come up with it. Aldridge never took off the gas and wound up on third base with a triple.

The funny thing about it, though. He had a look on his face that was a combination of happiness and relief. He had an out of breath expression that didn’t look consistent with being weary from running; he looked like he was almost gasping to avoid crying. In watching it, it seemed like the perfect facial expression.

He’s now 1-for-18. His career average: .056.

When I was broadcasting, I used to say I’d want just one inning, just one inning in the major leagues. Then I could say I’d gotten there. I only did it for four full seasons and change, but I paid some dues. Bus trips up and down I-29, marginal food, lousy hotel rooms, time away from family, and doing a job for less than minimum wage a lot of the time with the idea that I could somehow get a major league job. I got awfully close – I spent a lot of time doing television in a major market – but I never got a base hit.

I have much more in common with a Cory Aldridge than, say, Alex Rodriguez. That’s why I root for guys like that. Get him his base hit. Get me an inning.

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