July 8, 2011
My Night in the Dust
Let’s face it; sometimes the action off the field is more entertaining than the action on it. This is especially true when watching complex league baseball, as the talent is more often than not immature and the flow of the game reflects the level of refinement of the participants. These specific conditions can lead to long periods of daydreaming, misguided focus, and general ennui, which in turn can leave your memory of the game [itself] heavily weighted by outside influence. On Tuesday, July 5th, I traveled to Goodyear, Arizona to watch the AZL Indians host the AZL Rangers in a battle of AZL foes on an AZL field in front of AZL personnel. Not exactly a happenin’ scene.
Upon arrival, I noticed that the sky looked awkward, with discolored clouds giving off the scent of rain and a wind that sat in pose like a coiled snake. I’m not the most knowledgeable man when it comes to weather because it doesn’t interest me a great deal, but I could tell that the environmental conditions seemed a bit ominous. As someone who spends a large chunk of my time at ball fields in Arizona, the premonition was specific to rain, or perhaps some lightning that might delay the game for a few minutes, but nothing that would greatly affect the evening’s event. I was wrong.
It was the second inning, and the Rangers’ projectable lefty Luis Parra was looking good; the 19-year-old Dominican was sitting in the 90-92 range, touching 93 on a few occasions and locating his pitches, albeit with decidedly more control than command. Facing a quality Indians team, Parra was much improved from spring training, when he looked like a prospect, but one just barely above the waterline, mostly on the strength of his projection and handedness. Around the time Parra’s strike-throwing ability started to wane, the sky turned to rust and the winds started to whistle biblical. It was about to get real.
As Parra took the sign and came set, the now 70-grade wind blanketed the field (and surrounding area) with a blast of dust and debris, knocking over trash cans, ripping hats off of heads, and transforming the backfields in Goodyear into a location set from the movie Dune. While this is happening, Parra delivered a strike on the outside corner. 91 mph. I could barely see the mound. The wind soon found a calm, and life returned to normal.
After a few more innings of up-and-down baseball and up-and-down wind velocity, the sky once again took on an apocalyptic hue, and the tone of the evening went from “Man, that wind was pretty crazy. Cool experience” to “Man, that wind might be dangerous. Should we take shelter?” From my spot behind the screen (right behind home plate), I couldn’t see anything beyond the infield, and I couldn’t hear anything over the sound of the tarp slapping against the fence. It was ferocious and violent, with intermittent periods of stillness and silence. Nature was toying with our senses. Then the sky blew a prolonged kiss of dust, with winds that were reported to be in the 50-60 mph range, choking all visibility and sending any object not loaded with enough ballast off its base. It got chaotic, and it got there in a hurry.
The personnel on the field quickly scurried off of it, forming makeshift cliques near the dugouts and tables that ran alongside the third base fencing. As the wind reached its most aggressive attack, lightning started dotting the sky, and large pellets of rain began to mingle with the dust on its way down to the surface. Soon the personnel cliques turned into bands of fleeing refuges, and I joined them, running for the safety provided by the Cleveland Indians’ indoor batting facility, where our dust-worn faces found respite from mother nature’s sweet embrace.
The game was banged after 15 minutes of continued intensity, which wasn’t surprising given the fact that the sky was vomiting dust faster than undergrads on Spring Break vomit their dignity. Still trapped inside the hitting facility, the players once again formed their cliques, with some taking reps (for fun) in a cage, while others made fun of those who decided to take reps (for fun) in a cage. After the dust settled (You just knew I would get that in at some point, right?), I made the walk to the parking lot to discover my friend’s pickup truck, factory white only a few hours earlier, giving off an undesirable two-tone aesthetic shared by every car in the lot; clean on one side and Baja, California on the other, The wind was still present, and the dust caked my skin and clothes, but the conditions were habitable and the journey back to the hotel in Surprise was logistically possible.
I didn’t make any scouting notes during the game, but I did take video of some AZL level players running from the wind like campers running from a bear, so the event did produce something of value:
I needed two showers to remove all the dust from my hair and face and will probably need several more, as I continue to find debris in caverns of my body that I didn’t know existed. Not much to report* other than mere survival, and of course the comedy that occurs when you get a front-row seat to watch teenaged athletes react to a real-life situation. It was hilarious, and scary (for a brief second), and uncomfortable, and awesome, and a waste of time, and the best of times rolled into a three-hour window. I love complex league baseball.
*Look for a detailed AZL (scouting) recap at some point in the near future.