Monday, July 11, 2011

Tragedy and Triumph in the Big Show

Let's see if I have this straight. The countries of the world have a competition every year to see who has the best tennis players and the winner gets the Davis Cup. And there was a quarterfinal match which ended yesterday between the U.S. and Spain. We got to pick the city (Austin, TX), and the surface (fast indoor). We have 99% of the fan support, while Spain has to play without their top guy, Nadal, who can beat anyone on the planet on a given day. But he's too tired from the last big event (Wimbledon) to travel to Texas, so he stays in Majorca, where he lives.
They get down to business and play some furious matches, but when it's all over, the Spaniards have somehow throttled the Yanks by a score of 3 matches to 1. I have two suggestions based on this experience. First, don't dust off the spot where the Cup should go because we won't be seeing it for quite a while. Secondly, why not just forget you ever heard the term "Davis Cup"?

Baseball players refer to the Major Leagues as "The Big Show", partly because big, often unexpected things happen there all the time. This past week was especially eventful, both for good and bad.
Josh Hamilton was the Most Valuable Player in the American League last year. He's a big, powerful guy who is, of course, respected but also quite popular in Texas, where he plays the outfield for the Texas Rangers, a team based near Dallas in Arlington.
There was a big crowd on hand last week, but somehow a local firefighter and his son seated near the outfield got Hamilton's attention, asking nicely for any foul balls that might come Hamilton's way. He nodded back, saying in effect that he'd try to honor the request.
Sure enough, a foul later came rolling around the left field corner where Hamilton fielded it casually, then turned towards the bleacher seats and tossed it toward the dad. That's where something went horribly wrong, because the father, 29 year old Shannon Stone, caught the ball, but lost his balance and toppled over a 3 foot high railing, falling about 20 feet onto exposed concrete. He died of his injuries within the hour at a nearby hospital.
There was no negligence, no unlocked doors or careless ushers, and no one was diminished by alcohol. It was just a tragic accident, perhaps completely avoidable, but completely shocking. Hamilton, too, was shook up, but declined the team's offer of time off, at least for the time being. The next day he hit a "walk off" (which ends the game) home run that traveled over 450 feet. Stone's funeral services are scheduled for this week.
Big things are done by big names in New York, and when the week was over, Derek Jeter had earned a seat alongside the other Yankee greats. A year or so after surpassing Lew Gehrig as the all-time Yankee leader in hits, Jeter reached the next goal, gaining his 3,000th career major league hit last Saturday, during his 16th season as a player. This, folks, does not happen very often. In over a hundred years of play, less than 30 hitters have reached this level, which is considered overwhelming evidence to election to basball's Hall of Fame.
Over the decades, all kinds of people play the game. They all have certain physical gifts, but not all are leaders or keep their focus where it belongs - finding ways to (fairly) win close games by using the tools of anticipation, exploiting (again, fairly) or simply leading in order to make your teammates better. Jeter is well known for these qualities, and has always seemed to be at his best under pressure situations.
The 3,000th hit was a home run, something not expected much from shortstops, and it was his second of five hits for the game, another rarity. His achievement comes just as baseball pauses to celebrate itself during the annual All-Star break.
There was some doubt during the off season that Jeter could come to contract terms with the Yankees, who were reluctant to pay the big bucks to a shortstop past 35 years old. But for now, EVERYONE is glad they did. Maybe even the Red Sox.


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