Sunday, October 3, 2010

Chemistry: Konerko's and A.J.'s Value you'll never see on the Score Card

The first definitions of "Chemistry" in  Webster's dictionary refer to the 3rd period class I had to take at Bowen High School in my junior year.  Thank God Suzy Fox and I were lab partners for every science class since 9th grade.  I loved getting my hands sticky and wet while dissecting frogs or worms in biology, or spilling chemicals and making a mess on the long, black desks under hot lamps.  Suzy, on the other hand, did the pencil and paper work, recording every move we made, & every hypothesis or theory we proved.  We both took time to flirt with which ever guys had the best- greased  hair that day.  Now THAT was about the 2nd definition: "A strong mutual attraction, attachment......"   I'm not certain if it was "mutual", but teenage girls can still fantasize. 

"Chemistry"  in reference to sports teams, however,  is relegated to the final definition: # 3b:  "interaction between people working together, specifically:  such interaction when harmonious or effective (a team lacking chemistry)."

Which brings us to Paulie.  Is there any White Sox fan out there who has not witnessed the  11 years of his chemistry with teammates?  How many times has he automatically reacted to hustling to first base as soon as a ground ball was hit anywhere in the infield? Or to every throw over his head or in the dirt (yes:  hundreds of recorded outs made by errant throws)?  Imagine Konerko knowing how close the thousands of runners have run towards him, feeling them pound 1st base, just inches from his left foot.

Paulie is THE target for  every White Sox infielder throwing a ball to his outstretched arm - for 11 years.  Let's list just a few of them here:  Uribe, Crede, Iguchi, Ozuna, Getz, Vizquel, Beckham, Teahen, Morel, Lillibridge, Viciedo,  and of course Alexi - who would have set the record for most throwing errors by a SS for the last 2 years in the league, if not for Paulie making "ridiculous"  plays to save his throw at least 5 feet from his glove.  Now THAT will not show up in any box score - ever. 

The two defensive plays which are neurologically encoded in my brain are 1)  Uribe's throw to Paulie off the bat of Orlando Palmeiro to bring us our first World Championship in 88 years and 2) Buehrle's under-his-leg toss to Paulie to start the 2010 season - the gold standard of  "ESPN's" Play of the Day" with their Buehrle-meter. That's chemistry. But the offensive play was Paulie's Grand Slam in Game 2 of the World Series.  My youngest son and I watched "a missile of a baseball" come shooting over our heads in left field, giving the Sox a 6 - 4 lead.  What a moment - and what chemistry, among all the fans at U.S. Cellular.

Which brings us to pitchers and their catchers.  Webster had some inkling in his 2nd definition about the "mutual attraction" and attachment which A.J. has developed with Buehrle, Garcia, Freddy, Sale, Thornton, Danks, Floyd, Edwin, J.J., Pena, and Peavy;  and even Garland, Marte, Polite, and Hernandez.  The pitcher- catcher "reading" of each other's movements, ever so slight, of details how a fastball, curve, slider, or knuckleball will go 60' 6", is something one cannot measure in any box score.  

  How can anyone forget A.J. making multiple trips to the mound with El Duque in the 6th inning of Game 3 v. the Red Sox, the reigning World Champions at the time?  Damon at bat, hair blowing in the wind, bases loaded, 2 outs, a 3-2 count, and Chris Berman saying that this was "the best moment in baseball, when everybody's moving, .....start your engines roaring."  Then more telecast booth conversation about how "A.J. took over the staff from the first day in spring training," and the outstanding job he had done "with this pitching staff." Who can forget Damon swinging, ever so slightly on a ball down and in,  just enough for strike 3, A.J. tagging him out, and punching his mitt in the air as the inning comes to an end?

Chemistry:  the eye contact, the body language, the ever-so-slight movement of one person, mirroring the other's "way of knowing." It takes time - a LOT of time (and sometimes years), to form these bonds, of working harmoniously to win the game, to high-five each other after the last out, in tune with the rhythm each pitcher and catcher have come to know with the other, to walk back to the dugout and into the dressing room, smiling and laughing, wiping the sweat and holding your mitt - all part of the "dance" that gets recorded in another "win" for the team.  A.J., you done us good, period. 

Sunday, October 3, 2010:  I know Chicago sports fans have moved on at this point in the year.  Bears v. Giants tonight, which has the most sports coverage in town, as it should.  But for this fan, no post-season baseball.  The buzz now is about who will be here next year, contracts, questions, hopes, dreams, saying goodbyes till next year, or saying goodbye to the park, its fans, its "feel," and accepting the loss of another season in the books.

William Rhoden, a New York Times Sports writer, wrote this week about Derek Jeter's value to the Yankees as "a spectacular...relationship," ready to expire.  He asks, "Now what?...young fans will look at his statistics. Numbers speak for themselves; intangibles seldom do."

So, what have been these intangibles which our Captain has brought to the White Sox?  What are the intangibles which A.J., day in and day out, have brought to all the pitchers, especially rookies just trying to stay on the mound with 2 men on and nobody out? How can one forget Paulie giving Jerry the baseball which he caught for the last out in 2005, at the parade?  And A.J. coaxing Buehrle to pitch his perfect game, even if Ramon was catching that day? And possibly, the play of the series which gets forgotten:  A.J. being called out on strikes but running to first base v. the Angels.  Even Joe Buck couldn't stop talking about it (though negatively) through the World Series games. 

To Kenny and Jerry:  don't let them go. Their words, their leadership, their numbers and stats, and the chemistry that won't be felt in the clubhouse, if neither is in uniform for that first day in Glendale.  This will be lost, and most likely,  may foretell of a  2011 season this southsidesportschick is just not ready to watch.

It took several years for this little girl to even be interested in the White Sox, after Aparicio and Fox were no longer turning double plays.   So this brings us to the first definition of chemistry, which Webster defines as " a  science that deals with the composition, structure, and properties of substances and with the transformations that they undergo."  This little girl's mind became composed, structured, and transformed to the love of baseball,  while sitting shotgun in her father's cab, and listening to games on the radio. This little girl watched Sunday double-headers next to her father, eating our corned beef on rye. This little girl was mesmerized and transformed, period. 

So, what about all those kids you see at the park, Kenny?  What will you tell them if someone other than Konerko,  is fielding balls from Gordon?  Where will you find a first baseman, whose numbers are  MVP-like?  What will you say, Jerry, when we don't see this blond -spiked up hair under the catcher's mitt, coaxing a 3rd strike from Danks, Floyd, Buehrle, Peavy or Sale? 

Chemistry:  The fans grow an attachment and connection to their team and their players.  the rhythm of a long season is composed and shared, between fans and their players - especially their stars.  The fans cheer for wins and high fives, and see the mutual smiles on the faces of the players after every majestic out performed with ease, between 2 ball players who have come to know each other through time.   It's made of the same stuff Suzie Fox and I had throughout our science classes at Bowen High.  And yeah, we did develop chemistry with those guys and their greased up hair.  We just didn't tell our moms about it.  But I'm telling you, 45 years later. 

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