The Critical Mass

12,729 tacos!

Even  the anguished death rattle in Nancy Grace’s voice after the Casey Anthony verdict, choking the planet like kudzu vines, cannot jar the zen-like calm that has descended upon me after finally seeing my first live baseball game of the year. True, it was the International League North Division’s last-place team, the Rochester Red Wings, taking on the third-place Pawtucket Red Sox. Not exactly what the scribes like to refer to as a “highly anticipated” matchup.

But baseball, nevertheless. The grass was that same awesome blanket of green that I remember as a kid at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. The mostly anonymous players had numbers on their backs, although the Red Wings wore special jerseys with red stripes on the torso and white stars over a field of blue on the sleeves, making them look suspiciously like peanut vendors.

Pawtucket was held to a meagre four hits. Of course, two of them traveled a combined 780 feet, and each came with two runners on base, so the Wings lost 6-3.

When the local squad is having an off year – and the Red Wings have done plentyof research in this department over the last decade – distractions are welcome. “Never mind that pitcher’s pickoff attempt sailing past the first baseman and down the right-field line, how about those three interns dressing up like giant hot dogs and racing each other between innings!”  And we enjoyed a special moment when one of the eight people in our group, local record-store magnant Dick Storms, was one of the people called down to the field  to compete in the post-game “Dizzy Bat.” That’s where two people each put their foreheads on the knob of a baseball bat, while holding the barrel on the grass or close to it, spin around 10 times, then run to and back from an orange cone about 20 yards away. Hilarity ensues as the contestants stumble around while trying to regain their equilibrium. Storms was eliminated in the first round, losing his chance at winning a bicycle, but retaining his dignity. I e-mailed the Wings Wednesday morning, inquiring if anyone had ever vomited while competing in this event, but the team has thus far declined comment.

Next, fireworks!  It was the Fourth of July, and after the game the field was cleared of players and the Dizzy Bat wounded, the near-sellout crowd stayed around to watch the night sky explode to traditional patriotic music and John Wayne’s lumbering narration of “Why I Love America.” Quite inspiring, although I suppose only the high-end businessmen in the luxury boxes were swelling with pride at the sight of  the small crackling display near second base replicating a local bank logo.

But perhaps no promotion is more hungrily followed than the “Taco Bell K-Man.” One of the visiting players is selected, and if he strikes out during the game, your ticket stub is good for a free taco at one of the corporate Mexican instafood outlets. So each time Pawtucket’s third baseman came to bat, his image on the giant screen in left field was surrounded by tasty-looking video tacos. By the time he came up to bat in the top of the eight inning, hitless in his first three at-bats, we still hadn’t been rewarded. “C’mon dude,” I muttered, “you’re winning 6-2, just whiff so we can all eat.”

Maybe he did it on purpose. And sure, it was a little discomforting that our taco hero was named Hector Luna. But the bottom line was, he went down swinging in his last at-bat, good for 12,729 tacos.