This year's baseball playoffs have been filled with childlike moments
Monday's walk-off grand slam by Rangers' Nelson Cruz highlighted fun in playoffs
Postseason has featured squirrels, sausage races, invocations of Al Albuquerque
Baseball can instantly evoke Silly Putty and the wall-mounted kitchen telephone
Baseball is a child's game, or so it's wrongly written -- not by people who've never seen baseball, but by people who've never seen children. Children don't play well together, can't work toward a common goal but will -- hallfway through a game that they're hopelessly losing -- pick up the ball and go home. Professional baseball isn't child's play. Professional golf is.
Baseball at its highest level is played and managed by grown men, men with neck tattoos, smoker's coughs and third wives. These men do everything children are told not to do: They spit on the rug, watch TV in their underpants and ignore with impunity Carol Brady's proscription against playing ball indoors.
There is much that is childish in baseball, less that is childlike. But this postseason, more than any in recent memory, has been one long daisy chain of childlike moments, among them the walk-off grand slam by Rangers' outfielder Nelson Cruz on Monday night, when he threw his helmet to the plate as if the third base line was a craps table, touched home only to have a cup of ice thrown in his eye, and was then pied in the face with shaving cream, which caused him to smile, which in turn exposed his braces. Given all these schoolyard trappings, it was hard not to think of Nelson Cruz as Nelson Muntz, of The Simpsons, shouting "HA-haw" as the ball left the park.
A few days earlier, a member of the Phillies was caught in super slow-mo in the NLDS blowing a bubble while swinging at a fastball. The moment passed without comment on TV, but it brought me out of my seat, for the man who can stand in against a 94-mile-an-hour heater and blow a bubble at the same time is truly and enviably carefree.
Which is more than can be said of his bubble gum: That bubble gum was most definitely not Carefree sugarless, but rather Bazooka or Dubble Bubble or Hubba Bubba, or some other hot-pink brand that's as fun to say as it is to chew. Perhaps it was Big League Chew, invented so children could mimic tobacco-chewing big leaguers in the backyard, but co-opted by big leaguers who now mimic children mimicking athletes in the backyard. And so Brewers' leftfielder Ryan Braun, after doubling on Monday, stood on second base and imitated Packers' quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who pretends to put on a title belt after every touchdown.
Two weeks earlier, Ryan Roberts of the Diamondbacks hit a game-winning grand slam against the Dodgers and hobbled around the bases pumping his left arm in imitation of his manager, Kirk Gibson, whose limp-off home run won Game 1 of the World Series 23 years earlier. Let's have more of these karaoke highlights, in which professional athletes imagine they are children imagining they are professional athletes.
If I can't remember a baseball playoff more fun than this one, it's because this is the first one in history to have featured, at the same time, squirrels, sausage races and frequent invocations of the name Al Albuquerque. The awesome mustache of Milwaukee closer John Axford hasn't hurt and necessitates the question: Why are the World Series and the World Beard & Mustache championships still contested as two separate events?
Those ubiquitous baseball mustaches are like those ubiquitous baseball Phiten necklaces: Everyone wears them precisely because everyone wears them. It's the reason my daughter wears Silly Band bracelets and peace signs: Because everyone else in second grade does.
The postseason had already been sufficiently evocative of childhood when a man appeared on TV on Sunday after Game 1 of the NLCS in a lilac blazer and paisley tie and psychedelic pocket square that billowed forth like the detonated air bag on Janis Joplin's paisley Porsche. Craig Sager's postgame interviews at Miller Park returned me instantly to the early 1970s, to my earliest memories of TV and sports, somewhere at the intersection of Willy Wonka and Willie Mays.
The next night, in the same park, manager Tony LaRussa called the Cardinals' bullpen from a wall-mounted phone tethered to 50 feet of coiled cord, the kind of telephone now found only in baseball dugouts and family Polaroids. The one in my kitchen was banana yellow, but baseball's phones are usually that "flesh" color -- not found in nature -- of Band-Aids, hearing aids and Silly Putty.
Baseball, alone among sports, can instantly -- often inexplicably -- evoke Silly Putty and Willy Wonka and the wall-mounted kitchen telephone, whose cord I could follow like a miner's safety rope to the relative privacy of the basement stairwell, where my sister at the other end twirled the cord and her hair while gabbing into a handset that weighed five pounds. It's a hell of a game that can do all this -- take you in a trice to childhood -- whether you're watching at home like me or jumping on home like Nelson Cruz.
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