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7. Triples Acquaint You with the Real Estate
Nooks and crannies are good for triples. Fenway is still a good park for triples, which is one reason Boston's Nomar Garciaparra, the opposite of a fat man walking—he is, in fact, so energetically fidgety at the plate that he looks like a rawboned, long-legged Little Leaguer who has to go to the bathroom—at week's end had 13 triples, one behind the major league leader, the Twins' Cristian Guzman. There's a big V-shaped recession in Fenway's right centerfield stands where a ball that gets past the centerfielder can roll and roll. And a visiting fielder who misjudges the rebound off the Green Monster in left can see a drive go over his head twice; Garciaparra got a big triple that way in June when the Cardinals came to town. In the rightfield corner, says Trot Nixon, who patrols that garden for the Red Sox, "sometimes the ball takes on a life of its own." On its way to the corner it can tick off a little protuberance near where the ball girl sits, or it can come into the wall at the 302-foot point and hug its way around the barrier as it rapidly deepens to 380. Below where the wall is padded there's a concrete bit off which the ball can come back at the fielder like a rocket.
That sort of thing is to be expected in a park as quirky and venerable as Fenway, but even many of the newer fields are surprisingly varied in their conduciveness to triples. In San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium, for instance, balls can get up under the benches in the bullpen in the rightfield corner. And there's that flagpole hill out in centerfield at Houston's Minute Maid Park. On the other hand, when Yankee Stadium was remodeled in 1976, it changed from a great triples park possessing many odd and fascinating depths to something blander, tighter—well, let's not call it a bad facelift, let's just say it wasn't good for triples.
8. When a Triple Is Over, It Isn't Over
You hit a home run, there's a big explosion of noise like one that ends a movie that nobody can think of any other way to resolve, and you trot around the bases and disappear. You hit a triple, and you're still a presence, basking in hurrahs or boos, dusting off, taking a lead, jigging around 90 feet away from pay dirt.
Or you're rolling around in the dirt with the third baseman. In the first inning of the deciding game of the 1977 American League Championship Series, the Kansas City Royals' George Brett (sixth among living triplers, with 137) drew first blood with a two-run triple, slid hard into third and without missing a beat began whaling away at the Yankees' fully reciprocating Graig Nettles, all in one continuous motion, as if this were a big-game triple's natural blow-back. The Yankees won the game, though.
Shoeless Joe Jackson had a great triple-aftermath back in the early days. His triples inspired poetry, for instance:
Jackson, Joe, was a dashing young beau,
Jackson inspired another scribe to write, "His triple was a pippin, and his two-bagger was a peach."
Jackson himself was illiterate. Once (there are other, ruder versions of this story, but this is the most mellifluous) he was being ragged by a fat lady in the seats near third base: "Hey, Jackson! Can you spell Mississippi? Hey, Jackson! Can you spell Mississippi?" Jackson smote a mighty blow, came steaming into third, dusted himself off, and hollered, "Hey, fat lady. Can you spell triple?"