Yet, it is a bittersweet time because I miss watching the games with my dear wife, who though not an avid sports fan, appreciated the excitement of the playoffs, especially if the home team was involved. I always encouraged her to ask questions if she didn’t understand what was happening on the playing field.
However, there was an exception: the timing of the question.
“Why do baseball players spit so much?”
She asked this question during the final game of the San Francisco Giants/St. Louis Cardinals National League Championship Series in 2002.
There is no good answer since it’s a question asked only by women and/or people who don’t watch much baseball. My wife did not ask rhetorical questions regarding sports, or anything else for that matter. I had learned over the course of a marriage that spanned two millennia that if I ignored her question a trial judge would pop up like a genie being released from a bottle and say: “The witness is instructed to answer the question. Furthermore, the witness is reminded he is still under oath from the last sports question your wife asked several months ago.”
What the genie/judge doesn’t consider is the timing of the question. My wife didn’t often sit down and watch a ball game with me, so when she did I liked to be as accommodating as possible, hoping it would encourage her to watch more often. Hence, I tried to share with her the zillion bits of trivia I’d gleaned from following baseball since the Tigers beat the Cubs in the 1945 World Series. For instance, she asked about the towels the Giant’s fans were waving. I told her they were rally towels, waved to inspire the home team to mount a counterattack against the opposition.
“Do they work?” she asked.
“About as often as waving four leaf clovers,” I replied, “but you can’t fit an advertising message on a four leaf clover.”
So, though her questions were welcome, they often were asked during extremely exciting parts of a game when tension was higher than a Barry Bonds pop-up. And because she didn’t understand the nuances of the game she sometimes didn’t appreciate a situation that was rife with tension.
Return with me if you will to the moment of her spitting question. It is the bottom of the ninth; the score is tied at one run apiece because of a clutch sacrifice fly delivered by Bonds in the eighth inning; there are two outs when successive singles by the Giants, Bell and Dunston, put the winning run on second base. Lofton steps to the plate. St. Louis Manager, La Russa, who has been playing mind games with Lofton since Game 1, is a master at getting inside an opposing player’s head. Earlier in the game he had Card’s pitcher Matt Morris plunk Lofton with a pitch. Now, La Russa calls for his tough left handed reliever, Kline, to pitch to the left hand hitting Lofton. The crowd of more than 40,000 is screaming and frantically waving their rally towels. Each of them is aware that this is the crucial moment of the game. If the Giants score they win the National League Pennant and go to the World Series. If the game goes to extra innings and the Cards win, the series and momentum shift back to St. Louis.
Television provides us with images denied to people at the stadium: A close up of a determined Kline looking in for the sign: he spits. A close up of Lofton: he spits. Cut to Dusty Baker who is spitting; then to Barry Bonds spitting sunflower seeds in the dugout. Spitting has nothing to do with the situation. But to my wife it is the situation.
“Why do baseball players spit so much?”
Kline stretches, lets loose with a blazing fastball. Lofton cocks his bat …
“Huh? Why do they spit so much?”
“They spit to annoy women!”
…and Lofton lashes a line drive to right. Bell scores from second. The Giants win the pennant and are going to the World Series. I’m jumping up and down. The dog is barking. The Giants are in a heap around Kenny Lofton. My wife. Sits. Silently.
“I suppose,” she says, with a tinge of sarcasm, “the rally towels are there to wipe up all the spit.”
Ahh, finally, she understands the nuances of the game.