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· Birthday-Baseball Triple Play ·

You might recall that two days ago was this site's first birthday. Last September, with Wetting the Line, Whetting the Points, I began my takes on style and have been at them since, happily and productively. I thought to add that it was my birthday Sunday, too, so I thought to celebrate with a John Updike passage triply fit to my also taking in the season's last Seattle Mariners' game.

So how did it go? Just great! The M's beat Oakland 9 - 3, Jamie Moyer collected his 21st win, and Edgar Martinez — "Poppy," as we call him — may have batted in his last game. "It doesn't get any better than that," as I told my son, but since I have seen Roger Clemens pitch his 300th, and read John Updike's Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu, I have known, of course, that occasionally it does.

Updike's great passage recounts Ted Williams' last time at bat. "Understand," Updike recalled of that magical September 28, 1960, "that we were a crowd of rational people. We knew that a home run cannot be produced at will," but this "was one of the times, which you now and then find in sports, when a density of expectation hangs in the air and plucks an event out of the future."

Updike's two paragraphs describing Williams' achievement are gems:

There it was [he writes]. The ball climbed on a diagonal line into the vast volume of air over center field. From my angle, behind third base, the ball seemed less an object in flight than the tip of a towering, motionless construct, like the Eiffel Tower or the Tappan Zee Bridge. It was in the books while it was still in the sky. Brandt ran back to the deepest corner of the outfield grass, the ball descended beyond his reach and struck in the crotch where the bullpen met the wall, bounced chunkily, and vanished.

 · Hurriedly, Unsmiling, Head Down · Like a feather caught in a vortex, Williams ran around the square of bases at the center of our beseeching screaming. He ran as he always ran out home runs — hurriedly, unsmiling, head down, as if our praise were a storm of rain to get out of. He didn't tip his cap. Though we thumped, wept, and chanted ''We want Ted'' for minutes after he hid in the dugout, he did not come back. Our noise for some seconds passed beyond excitement into a kind of immense open anguish, a wailing, a cry to be saved. But immortality is nontransferable. The papers said that the other players, and even the umpires on the field, begged him to come out and acknowledge us in some way, but he refused. Gods do not answer letters.

I told my daughter-in-law Sunday, "If Edgar hits a homer" — it was the bottom half of the 8th — "he's almost sure to retire. If he doesn't, certainly we'll know soon." And so we're waiting.

Forgive me, but stylistically and substantively, this is one 60-year-old "Poppy" speaking.


Thank you for this memory of Ted Williams by Updike. We're having our own bit of baseball nostalgia here in Phillies territory — last season, last game, in our old stadium.

And happy birthday — both to Styles and to Yougotstyle!

Posted by Mary Lee on October 2, 2003 02:58 PM

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