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Staying for Two

By: Holly M. Wendt

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On any given summer evening, millions of mayflies cloud the lights of ballfields in proximity to fresh water. Creekside Little League and slow-pitch alike know that living haze. For the hatchlings that emerge in the lee of the Susquehanna River’s City Island, there is only one place to go: FNB Field, home of the Harrisburg Senators.

A modest Double-A stadium, FNB Field is dwarfed by the scale and execution of its major league counterparts, but for the individual Pale Evening Dun or Golden Drake mayfly setting out for its ephemeral adulthood, it’s a universe.

To a mayfly, a regular bobblehead is a nodding behemoth. At FNB Field, the Life Size Bobblehead Hall of Fame looms past understanding, but the jutting crag of wooden Matt Stairs’ helmet is a refuge, safe from brushing hands and crushing feet. The painted shadow of Bryce Harper’s iconic eyeblack offers respite from the fatal allure of 150,000 lumens and electric heat.

Most mayfly species come to adulthood with no functioning digestive system, their guts all airy hollow. Some may sip the water they’re hatched from, a small nourishment in a life of procreative frenzy. Ballfield mayflies may find something sweeter: here a cola drip, here a cerulean wash of melted Slush Puppy. Their six legs and forked tails rest on salty sunflower seed chaff, split seed-casings the same size as their translucent wings. By morning, mayfly bodies will carpet the warning track and the bleachers, softened shells themselves, but for now, there’s baseball. The Harrisburg Senators are going to play two beneath the lights.

For the players, fourteen innings tonight are not all of life. There is a day game tomorrow. There is a future in Triple-A Syracuse or in Washington or at least in Major League Baseball. Or there is a future somewhere else entirely—in a realty office, in a classroom, in uncertainty. There were years before: some spent theirs in a steady upstream swim from signing to Double-A, or others followed other paths. Senators outfielder Darian Sandford was drafted in 2010 by the Kansas City Royals, the 1409th player to be selected that year. Sandford played two seasons in the Royals’ system, and then spent five and a half seasons playing on ten different independent teams before the Nationals signed and assigned him to Harrisburg in mid-June.

One temporary denizen rests between the blue light of a scout’s phone and a radar gun’s red blink. It’s hard to say whether the mayfly even sees Darian Sandford’s pinch-hit single in the fifth inning of the first game or Sandford’s single in the third inning of the second, whether the ball’s white against turf green means anything to an insect’s compound eyes. As the darkness fills in around the stadium, the floodlights teem with the swarm’s churning hum. The mayfly’s hours shorten, and when the game ends, the field will return to its unstirring darkness, but there are still some innings to go. Beside the mayfly, the scouts make their notes, careful hieroglyphs for the future. There is time enough for all things.


What’s in a Name

By: Meg Rowley

On June 28, it was announced that Mariners pitcher Drew Smyly would undergo season ending Tommy John surgery. The news was met with regret, trepidation for Smyly’s future, and just some of the most awful puns you’ve ever heard. Drew Frwnly! He’s not so Smyly! It went on.

Aptronyms are names that correspond closely to the profession or personal attributes of their owners. For normal people that’s fine; it’s at most a joke among co-workers at the weather station if the chief meteorologist's last name is “Storm.” But no one writes daily headlines about meteorologists. Baseball is littered with pitchers whose names raise the stakes of the game; one bad pitch, and their name is a weapon to be used against them. Smyly is the freshest example, but who are the others? I combed the 40-man rosters of all 30 teams for the pitchers whose names presented the most dangerous potential aptronyms, then ranked them to find game’s worst. I took into account:

  • The likelihood the player’s name would be used against him by assigning points to his DRA (lower is better);
  • The headline punability of his name; and
  • The name’s general Aw Shucks-ness, that feeling that compels us to pat the shoulder of a stranger in hopes they’ll feel better or go away.

The highest (worst) possible score was 30.

1. Homer Bailey, Chance of Use: 11, Headline Punability: 10, Aw-Shucks-ness:9, Total Score: 30

A novice would go after Homer Bailey’s home run rate. A master would note that a different Homer wrote of a different ten-year war of which there were many heroes but few survivors.

T-2. Ryan Merritt, Chance of Use: 9, Headline Punability: 8, Aw-Shucks-ness: 8, Total Score: 25

Marty DeMerritt was a right-handed pitcher drafted by the Cardinals in 1971. He pitched for six seasons, peaking in Double A. Wikipedia says that after his minor league career ended, he worked construction and was a bounty hunter (!) before becoming a pitching coach. He isn’t related to Ryan Merritt as far as I can tell, but I hope if Ryan ever suffers a “De-Merritts” pun after a rough outing, he thinks of Marty, and realizes he could always track down criminals. It’s a living.

T-2. Mike Morin, Chance of Use: 6, Headline Punability: 9, Aw-Shucks-ness: 10, Total Score: 25

I think if my son told me he wanted to be a pitcher and “More-in” was a play on our name, I might encourage him to be a slugger or a shortstop or an ophthalmologist.

T-2. Fernando Abad, Chance of Use: 5, Headline Punability: 10, Aw-Shucks-ness: 10, Total Score: 25

If I were a stadium DJ, and Fernando Abad were in town, I would play Chris Isaak’s “Baby Did a Bad, Bad Thing” anytime he gave up a run. I would then be fired and be embarrassed to tell my mother why.

5. Drew Smyly, Chance of Use: N/A, Headline Punability: 9, Aw-Shucks-ness: 15, Total Score: 24

🙁

6. Rookie Davis, Chance of Use: 8, Headline Punability: 6, Aw-Shucks-ness: 8, Total Score: 22

Rookie Davis’ full name is William Theron Davis. He has no one to blame by himself.

7. Casey Fien, Chance of Use: 7, Headline Punability: 5, Aw-Shucks-ness: 9, Total Score: 21

Once a week, someone calls an off-Strip casino in Vegas, wishing to place a bet on which will remain active longer: the “This is Fine Dog” meme, or Casey Fien. No one ever answers the phone.

T-8. David Goforth, Chance of Use: 2, Headline Punability: 10, Aw-Shucks-ness: 8, Total Score: 20

In this time of partisan rancor, there is something noble in a man issuing an instruction to his opponents so deleterious to his own cause.

T-8. Koda Glover, Chance of Use: 3, Headline Punability: 9, Aw-Shucks-ness: 8, Total Score: 20

Both Koda and Glover carry with them great potential, somewhat undone by how unlikely it is that headline writers will have need of either.

9. Taijuan Walker, Chance of Use: 4, Headline Punability: 8, Aw-Shucks-ness: 6, Total Score: 18

I wonder if his last name looms larger for Taijuan whenever he’s in a 3-2 or a 3-0 count.

10. Jonathan Holder, Chance of Use: 5, Headline Punability: 7, Aw-Shucks-ness: 8, Total Score: 17

When Jonathan was a young boy, he probably dreamed of being a starting pitcher. The concept of “holds” didn’t matter much. Then he moved to the bullpen. I bet he worries about different things now.

11. Mychal Givens, Chance of Use: 3, Headline Punability: 6, Aw-Shucks-ness: 7, Total Score: 16

The worst feeling in the world for a fan is knowing that your reliever is going to give up runs. Thankfully, with Mychal, that’s hardly a Givens.