"This is my
22nd year," Tschida says. "When I'm 55 that will be my 30th, and if I
feel good I'll keep going. I'll do it as long as I can. Few people in this job
just retire when retirement age hits. Mostly, we do it until it becomes
physically difficult to do it. Until we can't."
I know, especially
deployed at first base, I could very well be involved in the outcome of a big
league game. "If it goes extra innings," O'Nora tells me, "we don't
rotate. You stay at first."
I remind myself of
what O'Nora told me in the middle innings, when I was so eager to make a call
I'd give the out signal as quickly as a fly ball thwacked into an outfielder's
glove: Don't hurry. It's nothing until you call it. Even a big league
outfielder might drop a ball, and you wouldn't look too sharp with your fist in
the air and the ball on the ground. Slow down the game. It's exactly what the
better players do as the tension builds.
It's the bottom of
the ninth, and Boston's Alex Ochoa lifts a routine fly ball to centerfield.
Just as I sneak a peek to watch the catch before I make sure Ochoa touches
first base, Orioles centerfielder Adam Stern, fighting wind and sun, flat drops
the ball. O'Nora, cooly patient, gives the no-catch call. Ochoa reaches second
base. He advances to third on a groundout to second base--my last call, an easy
one--and scores the winning run on a single by Kevin Cash through a drawn-in
The four of us,
the umpires, depart the field through the same tunnel as the Orioles at the far
end of the visiting dugout. It's been a good day. I did not disable any
ballplayers. I stayed off my butt. My fly is up. Our dressing room is on the
right, the Orioles' clubhouse directly across the narrow hallway on the left.
As I walk into our room I hear a short, loud crash from the Baltimore
clubhouse, followed by an even louder shout of "F---!"
Not two seconds
later, the first words out of Tschida's mouth are these, softly: "I think
Schilling balked." His face is riddled with disappointment. "We get
paid to see that," he says. "I didn't see that. We will Opening
another day, another game. Tomorrow they'll be perfect.