Friday, July 31, 2009

Mike Schmidt Flipped My Father The Bird

(crossposted in my LJ)

30 years ago, Mike Schmidt flipped my father the bird.

For those of you who are baseball fans, this is probably amusing and/or impressive. For those of you who are not, Michael Jack Schmidt was the perennial all-star third baseman for the Philadelphia Phillies teams of my youth, a Hall of Famer and the man widely regarded as the greatest third baseman ever to play the game.

And he flipped my father off.

Not that Dad didn't necessarily deserve it. He was at the game with some friends when Schmidt booted a routine grounder. Dad, being Brooklyn born and bred and heir to the legacy of Hilda "Cowbell" Chester and her Bums-loving cohorts, shouted "Way to set up the double play!" Since Dad and his friends were in seats right on the field, Mr. Schmidt heard him, turned, and made what Monty Python used to refer to as "a splendid gesture".

I've been telling that story for years. It amuses the hell out of me for numerous reasons - Dad's heckling, Schmidt's perfectly understandable reaction, and the pure Philly-ness of it all. It couldn't happen today, of course - someone would throw the video of Schmidt's extended middle digit up on YouTube, there would be an artificially generated controversy that would rage across sports talk radio until another football player ran over a llama while watching porn on his SUV's dashboard DVD player, and there would be insincere apologies all the way around. But no, I like it the way it happened. Dad made a smart-ass comment, one that stuck to the events on the field, stayed clean, and didn't touch personal matters or family - in short, what heckling is supposed to be. Schmidt responded. End of story, except that it's a great story.

Fast forward three decades.

Dad and I are at Five County Stadium, watching the latest incarnation of the Carolina Mudcats run themselves out of a ballgame they should be winning handily. Half the lineup is staring up wistfully at the Mendoza line. The starting pitcher spends the third inning grooving belt-high fastballs at 91 MPH, which get turned into wall-rattling doubles with startling regularity. Matador defense is the order of the night, with multiple errors called and more there for the calling.

And after a few more innings, the Mudcats' third baseman boots a routine grounder. I figure, what the heck, give Dad a laugh. The guys in the rows in front of us are heckling like crazy anyway, so why not jump in?

So I cup my hand to my mouth and shout, "Way to set up the double play!" The folks sitting near us laugh. Dad turns around and says, "That's my line from thirty years ago." He's grinning. So am I. We're too far away from the third baseman for him to have heard us, so no birds are flipped, and we all get a good laugh.

Until the next batter comes up and rips a shot down the first base line. The first baseman makes a spectacular play, then flings the ball to second. The second baseman catches it and makes the exchange from his glove hand in the instant before the runner from first barrels into him. He lauches a throw wide of the first base bag and the pitcher, racing to cover it, goes nearly vertical to snag it while dragging his foot across the bag.

Double play, 3-6-1 as the kids might score it. Inning over.

Dad and I, we don't say anything. We don't need to, except, a little later, "Helluva game, isn't it?"
Post a Comment
There was an error in this gadget