The batsman who can be most relied upon for a single-base hit is worth two of your home-run class of hitters. –Henry Chadwick, The Art of Batting
Chadwick wrote this in 1885, when baseball was different, as was our understanding of it and much else in the world. Thanks to the Internet, I am reading his words 128 years later on a device that did not exist then, in a large metal contraption that allows humans to soar eight miles above the once-uncrossable Pacific Ocean. (Albert Spalding’s world tour to promote our national pastime would have been so much easier with such technology.)
Kona is warm when we land–low 80s and humid. It’s the same when Mrs. Ducksnorts and I walk into Kailua the next morning to celebrate our 18th anniversary with a tour of Kona Brewing Company that includes several unique beers. After the tour we enjoy kalua pork nachos and a few more beers.
At one of the local shops that we visit and support faithfully each year, I buy a book of 400 songs for ‘ukulele to keep me occupied back home. Mrs. Ducksnorts has endured my version of Jeff Buckley’s “Eternal Life” long enough. If I want to celebrate a 19th anniversary–and Padres fans will recognize 19 as a sacred number–I’d best diversify my repertoire. Maybe I’ll really impress her and stop playing the instrument altogether.
* * *
After a few days with my family, we fly to Honolulu for a second Thanksgiving with the in-laws. I’m wearing a Portland Beavers hat. Not the one I wore last year, but one that Woe, Doctor! gave me just before we left. I’m wearing the hat of one defunct PCL team in the town of another, a reminder of what has been lost.
The trouble with the Islanders, and why they ceased to exist after 1987, was one of economics. It is difficult for folks in Hawai’i to conduct business with folks on the U.S. mainland. This is why your bank isn’t here.
We drive past Aloha Stadium, the Islanders’ old home. Tony Gwynn, of the sacred number 19, hit .328 here in 1982. It looks like a nice batting average until you realize that Dave Anderson, a year younger than Gwynn, hit .343 for the Albuquerque Dukes that season.
Gwynn’s skin color would have prevented him from playing in the big leagues in Chadwick’s day, but the latter’s words seem to be written with the former in mind:
When the professional fraternity have gone through the “slugging” era, and the ambition to excel in the home-run style of batting has been superseded by more scientific work in handling the ash, the coming batsmen of the future will look back with surprise to think that they should, for so many years, have neglected so valuable an adjunct of really effective and successful batting.
Aside from the delightfully flawed premise that one base is better than many bases, this sounds like a preemptive defense of Gwynn. How did Chadwick know?
* * *
We eat dinner at Uncle Mike’s on the hills overlooking downtown. The skyline view from there is ridiculous, hypnotic. Mike’s wife and daughter–junior bridesmaid at our wedding, now with a law degree–are here, as are most of Mrs. Ducksnorts’ brothers.
Mike tells great stories. Tonight’s is about a “big white guy.” His wife points out that I’m in the room. “Oh, sorry,” Mike says and changes it to a big Japanese guy. We all laugh at Mike, who laughs at himself. I have no idea what his story is about, only that there was no big Japanese guy.
Everyone knows I write about baseball, so local hero Shane Victorino’s name gets mentioned. Apparently he hit a grand slam in the postseason, which I didn’t watch because I was busy–and irony never gets old–writing about baseball. I’m tempted to point out that Victorino started with the Padres, but nobody cares. They just like that he hit a grand slam.
* * *
Brad Brach, Jaff Decker, and Miles Mikolas get traded. I wonder how this will affect my player comments for Baseball Prospectus 2014, which I wrote while Victorino was busy offending Chadwick’s sensibilities and winning a championship.
Decker’s comment mentioned his first big-league homer. Mikolas? No clue. Brach’s was an extended riff on him and Brad Boxberger as baseball versions of Shakespeare’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, which is now probably as dead as they are.
* * *
We pass Aloha Stadium again on Sunday. A day earlier the University of Hawai’i football team won its first game of the season to finish 1-11. It was a bittersweet victory for the Warriors, as running back Willis Wilson drowned in the ocean that same morning.
Everyone in Hawai’i has lost someone to the sea. For Mrs. Ducksnorts it was an uncle 30 years ago. The water that surrounds these islands brings life and also takes it away.
Other warriors wage battles of their own. For years her mother, known as “The Fruit Lady,” sold produce to locals and visitors from her farm on Kaua’i. One of her regulars, a “big white guy,” came looking for her once when I was there.
I searched for her in the fields, but returned with only apologies. He thanked me for the effort and introduced himself as Glenn Mickens. He’d grown up in Los Angeles and pitched for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1953.
He asked if I’d heard of Tyler Yates, from Koloa on the island’s south side, a Braves reliever at the time. I had. Mickens told me about Tyler’s younger brother, Kirby, who was then in junior college and recovering from Tommy John surgery. Mickens was enthusiastic about the younger brother, whom he once called “the best prospect I’ve seen in 15 years.” Kirby Yates hasn’t yet reached the big leagues, but he has fanned a third of the batters he’s faced in the minors and probably deserves a shot.
* * *
My mother-in-law has since traded the farm for a care home on O’ahu. She has family nearby, good people helping her, and a cast of characters for neighbors: the man who asks everyone for a penny, the woman who walks into other people’s rooms and takes their things, and the happy woman who calls my mother-in-law “The Girl with the Million Dollar Smile.”
Once, when the common room television wasn’t working, the happy woman asked me to fix it. I’m the least mechanically inclined person on the planet but I couldn’t refuse.
“Bruddah go try fix,” she announced to a dozen blank stares.
Bruddah go try. Bruddah no can.
She thanked me anyway.
My mother-in-law does have a million dollar smile. She also has the heart of a warrior.
* * *
On Monday we take the 55 bus from Ala Mona to Kane’ohe. One guy gets on with his dog, which rolls around on the floor. The woman next to him rubs the dog’s belly. This looks like an agreeable way to ride the bus and I make a note to try it sometime.
Our ride is about 70 minutes, followed by a 20-minute walk. The bus is full, like Petco Park when the Yankees come to town.
It starts raining in the hills. We buy the last $5 umbrella at 7-11. It’s worse than the $8 umbrella I bought in Chicago and later used as a metaphor for the Josh Johnson signing. The $2 “ponchos” that are glorified plastic bags? I don’t even get a metaphor out of those.
Our shoes are soaked through by the time we reach my mother-in-law’s, but that doesn’t matter. It’s hard to complain about anything there.
“Are you John Ritter?” asks one of the more able-bodied men. He stops shuffling along the hallway to wait for my response.
I shake my head no.
“Oh,” he says and resumes shuffling.
I don’t have the heart to tell him the bad news about Ritter, who has been dead 10 years.
* * *
We took my mother-in-law to a Padres game once. She rooted for the home team even though the opposing pitcher was a big Japanese guy. The Padres won, and she smiled.
I wish I could watch a ballgame with her again. I wish I could see Gwynn lacing line drives all around Aloha Stadium. I wish she could return to her farm.
I wish a lot of things. And I’m thankful for many more.
Still, I’ll keep grumbling about stupid stuff like wet shoes and signing broken pitchers and trading for Seth Smith when you already have Will Venable. It’s petty when you consider the bigger picture, but it passes the time.
Kind of like life.