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Pat Neshek Takes a Walk

By: Holly M. Wendt

Phillies reliever Pat Neshek is most noteworthy for his peculiar delivery, a stiff sidearm sling above a barely lifted foot, but he’s also got a habit of taking a little walk after every pitch: down from the mound and then a circuit of the mound’s front left quarter, drawing a neat slice of pie with his steps.

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On Saturday night, in the eighth inning of the Phillies’ eventual walk-off loss to Washington, on grass perfectly lush following a rainy week in the mid-Atlantic, Neshek’s perambulations were on display. What, you might ask, occupies Neshek’s thoughts on these mobile meditations? This Short Relief exclusive offers an inside look:

  • “The creator of Namor the Sub-Mariner arrived at the name by writing ‘Roman’ backwards, though the vowels take on different values in ‘Namor’ than they do in ‘Roman.’ Tap Kehsen. Keeh-sen? Keh-seen? Or I could do the long a—nah. Can’t call myself ‘Tape.’ Tape’s a catcher thing.”

  • “What the heck does ‘haver’ mean?”

  • “After every pitch, the mound turns to lava for eight seconds. But no one can see it but me. Cassandra’s burden is a heavy one to bear.”

  • “When Samwise Gamgee says, ‘If I take one more step, it’ll be the farthest away from home I’ve ever been,’ every single step he takes from that point on, all the way to Mordor, is one step farther from home because the journey is constructed in a linear fashion: there and back again. It’s Campbell’s monomyth, an archetypal romance; Frodo and Sam go and return, bringing with them a return to harmony for Middle Earth. But because the mound is a circle, all steps I take around the dirt’s perimeter, no matter how many I take, bring me neither closer nor farther from the pitching rubber. The ball goes out from my hand, and the ball returns to it, and the pitcher, as long as he pitches, returns to this place. Baseball is cyclical. It resists narrative….But it sure would be cool to pitch wearing the One Ring. Talk about getting a different look—invisible’s real different.”

  • “At least my raspberry-hued socks don’t look like raw flesh.”

  • “ ‘The beauty of the world is the mouth of a labyrinth. The unwary individual who on entering takes a few steps, is soon unable to find the opening plate. Worn out, with nothing to eat or drink, in the dark, separated from his dear ones bullpen, and from everything he loves and is accustomed to, he walks on without knowing anything or hoping anything, incapable even of discovering whether he is really going forward or merely turning round on the same spot. But this affliction is as nothing compared with the danger threatening him. For if he does not lose courage, if he goes on walking, it is absolutely certain that he will finally arrive at the center of the labyrinth. And there God Bryce Harper is waiting to eat him.’ ”

Bottom of the Ninth

By: Trevor Strunk

Last night, the Philadelphia Phillies lost to the Washington Nationals by a score of 6-5 after a painful blown save off of a 2-run home run by Michael Taylor. The previous day, the Philadelphia Phillies lost to the Washington Nationals by a score of 4-6, after a painful 2-run home run by Bryce Harper won the game for the Nationals in the bottom of the ninth.

Unsurprisingly, when things like this begin to happen, fans, even of teams as woebegone as the Phillies, begin to get a little antsy. No one likes to watch a game through to the 8th or 9th inning only to have all the rugs ripped out from under their unsuspecting feet. Who would enjoy that? Not even the most hoary of early 00s Royals fans would be immune. And so, it perhaps should come as no surprise that local Philadelphia radio host Jon Johnson, at his wit’s end, turned the blame to the Phillies’ recently extended skipper Pete Mackanin:

In case you’re twitter averse, Johnson suggested that the loss was on Mackanin because he pitched to Harper instead of walking him to put a man on first and second. Now, far be it for me to be a voice of reason in the wilderness of reactionary strategy, but it seems like this might be a bad suggestion! Or at least a bit of a rough one — after all, hindsight being what it is, we know that Mackanin would have been better off walking Harper, but in the moment, we had no such assurances. As many people pointed out, a bloop single from Ryan Zimmerman could’ve scored the man on second, which was far more likely than Harper sending one off to — hold on, consulting my Chris Berman atlas — Silver Springs. It just seems like Mackanin did in fact play to the numbers in this one and just got burned.

So, Johnson looks a little reactive here. But to his credit, many people agreed with him! And all sorts of people in the Philadelphia area want a solution to these bullpen woes. So I’ve come up with a few, for your consideration, that I think everyone will find amenable:

  1. The Phillies send out three pitchers to the mound, but only one has a real ball. After all three do the windup, only one pitch gets knocked into the seats, or the outfield, or like caroming off of the shortstop’s glove into left field. But, just like the story of the firing squad with only one loaded gun, no umpire or fellow player knows which player lost the game! Hence, no blown saves, ever again.
  2. So, not a fan of that one? Okay how about this — every game, just before the final half-inning, if the Phillies are losing one fan is designated to point to the back of the stadium and yell “Hey, it’s the guy who gives out free home renovations for that TV show. That one we all like! Let’s go ask him some questions!” When the crowd is momentarily distracted by the promise of sweet, sweet granite countertops and farmhouse sinks, the Phillies will all leave the field and, since they are no longer actually able to play, they can’t actually lose.
  3. Fine, last idea. What if we made the worst possible team in an effort to get the Phillies…sold, yeah, to the highest bidder and moved out of Philadelphia. But it turns out the team we built has just enough pluck and vigor to give the league a run for its money and end up in the World Series, a bunch of ragtag has-beens and weirdos! Major League? No, I’ve never seen it, I don’t really care for the cinema.

Ah, jeez, well maybe it’s harder to talk sports hypotheticals than I thought. Tell you what — if Mackanin tries one of my ideas, let’s have him try Jon’s as well. It’s only fair.


The Contract, A Review

By: Patrick Dubuque

THE CONTRACT

By Derek Jeter and Paul Mantell

151 pp. Jeter Publishing, $3 (from local thrift store)

When I was young, the selection of children’s literature was still quite bare. With the exception of a few subversives like Dahl and Lloyd Alexander, the genre was still very rooted in its origins, and even the exemplary works like Superfudge felt stuck in what a children’s story was Supposed to Be. I don’t know where that changed, with Philip Pullman or the Cartoon Network, but at some point people realized that children’s stories could be simple and still feature interesting storytelling.

The sub-subgenre of young adult sports fiction has not noticed this trend. Take, for example, Derek Jeter’s first half-foray into writing (alongside co-author Mantell, a genre veteran). The story is Derek Jeter fan-fiction written by Derek Jeter about what it was like to be Derek Jeter. But substitute a couple of details, change the names, and this book could just as easily have been written in 1914 as 2014. The baseball youth novel is as ritualistic as the game it covers, if not more so.

Jeter makes no attempt to disguise that this book is a moral-driven text with some play-by-play as dressing. Before the introduction he lists his 10 Life Lessons, which include 1. Set Your Goals High, 5. Don’t Be Afraid to Fail, 7. Be Serious But Have Fun and 9. Be a Leader, Follow the Leader. Jeter then sends little Jeter (an eight year-old playing second base on his Little League team) off to employ each of these virtues as bluntly as possible. It’s a pleasant sermon: Lil’ Jeter comes across a problem, struggles internally, then Does the Right Thing. He wants to complain to his coach, but doesn’t. He wants to blame others, but doesn’t. And in the end, he’s rewarded for his good behavior and hard work. It’s Horatio Alger all over again, because Horatio Alger will never, as long as America exists, ever die.

The work, as a whole, is perfectly capable. Half is eighties sitcom, half is randomized play-by-play, and it’s surprising how readable play-by-play is as long as you’re told who to root for, even fictionalized.

But more than anything, it makes you appreciate the courage and brilliance of the 1976 Bad News Bears. Not for being kids be bad, or even capable of being bad, as Derek Jeter would find impossible, but for having a baseball movie that is more about people than it is about baseball. So much baseball fiction is caught up with glory that is baseball, and the transformative arc of its characters is actually a dehumanization, as they cease being flawed people and become beautiful, perfect representations of the game, baseball players. THE CONTRACT is just the latest in a long history of works employing baseball as a moral handbook for the Protestant Work Ethic, and it succeeds in that aim. Soon we will need another, apparently, and we will have it.