The Dodgers made me hurt
By Eric Neel
Page 2 columnist

Here's the hell of it, here's the nasty, dregs-of-the-bottle truth of things:

There's no quitting the sorry Bums.

They can lose three straight to the Giants (and lose by one bloody run each time out, thank you very much); they can put two on with nobody out in the 11th on Sunday, only to rumble and stumble their way into bit parts in Yorvit Torrealba's bildungsroman; and they can make Marvin Bernard look like Zeus.

Dave Roberts
Dave Roberts and the Dodgers dropped three games in San Francisco this weekend -- all by one run.

Still, I got no outs.

They can twist my skin-and-bones body on a rack. They can tease me with the soft, slackened breath of hope in a leadoff single to right, and then stretch me, gasping and pale, with a turn of the double-play wheel.

And they can do it again. And again.

And still, I'm in -- every night; this week, next week, some desperate and painful mid-July seven years from now, and some lost but long-remembered weekend in the fall of '91.

They can have me in front of the bathroom mirror, rubbing my hands over three days of chin stubble and giving myself the talk: "You sad wretch, you cur, you yellow dog dressed in Blue. How much more are you going to take? When is enough enough? When do you walk? When do you suck it up and say no, Meat? When do you cut bait? 'Cuz you know there ain't no fish down there, there's just a deep, dark pool of heartache on the other end of the line. You know that. Don't you?"

No matter. I'm not going anywhere. I'm not even shaving.


Not because it's an early-season series and there's a lot of baseball left. Not because I think things are bound to turn. Not because a couple of bad breaks could give way -- like water for wine -- to good ones so that just like that I could feel like the chosen rather than the afflicted.


And not because I'm hoping winning will taste all the sweeter having swallowed the sour bile of losing. And not because I remember 1988. And not because I'm rational. And not because I'm a masochist. And not because I have faith. And not even because I was trained in the Dodger arts by a transplanted Iowan grandfather whose keel was always even and whose heart was always true.

Then what is it?

I don't know. I can't say. It's too buried to be unearthed, and too elemental to be spelled out.

It just is.

That's the hell of it.

* * * * *
The Rocco Baldelli update:

Rocco Baldelli
Center Field
Tampa Bay Devil Rays
50 0 8 0 15 .400

Nine for his last 19, .500 OBP and .684 slugging in the last week. Good, good, good.

Here's the bad news: 0 walks and 8 K's for the week, which brings young Rocco to a grand total of 0 walks and 15 K's so far.

Rocco, baby, take a pitch. Just to see what it feels like. Find your center, take a deep breath, go through your routine, and stare out at the pitcher like Michael in the subway, with eyes full of "you ain't bad, you ain't nothin'!" And then take the pitch. That's it, let it go. Now try another.

* * * * *
You know how in the early days of the season you're riding high on adrenaline and nostalgia? You know how you end up doing crazy stuff in these days?

Maybe you're sleeping with your glove, or adopting a Devil Rays center fielder, or watching "Sandlot" and "Rookie of the Year" back-to-back, or painting your bedroom wall to look like the Green Monster before your honey gets home, and thinking all the while that she's gonna love it?

Yeah, well, whatever you're doing, however amped-up and goofy for the game you're feeling, you've got nothing on me: I taped a Royals game on Saturday. Taped it and watched it Sunday morning before watching them play Cleveland. I've got it bad.

* * * * *
Tim Robbins goes to Griffin Mill with a pitch:

"I have this script," he says. "Two outspoken anti-war actors are set to commemorate their roles in a famous baseball movie at the Hall of Fame. Only the thing gets derailed, see, because the president of the Hall considers the actors a risk to national morale and troop safety and writes a public letter saying so. It's meta, it's Americana, it's got McCarthy undertones, it's now, it's then, it's sports, it's politics. What do you say?"

"Can't do it. It lacks certain elements that we need to market a film," Griffin says.

"What elements?" Tim asks.

"Suspense, laughter, violence. Hope, heart, nudity, sex. Happy endings. Mainly happy endings."

"Is that all?"

"Well, that and the fact that it's maybe the most ridiculous, implausible thing I've ever heard."

Tomo Ohka
Tomo Ohka and the Expos had some nice early returns in Puerto Rico and jumped into first place in the NL East.

* * * * *
I don't care where you're from or who you hang with. I don't care about your age-old allegiances or your traditional loathings.

And your feelings for (or more likely, against) Bud mean nothing to me.

Whatever your story, you should be an Expos fan right now, and all season long.

First of all, they're good. Second, they just kicked off their Puerto Rican schedule with a sweep of the Mets, and the joint was hopping -- there was a band roaming the stands, getting everybody all juiced up -- and folks were getting to their feet for nifty Alomarian stops in 8-1 ballgames and such. Third, they're young. Fourth, I'm telling you, they're good. And fifth, this is just a wacky, feel-good story in the making and you ought to be a part of it.

You know about Vlad, who swings at pitches in and out of the zone like he's swatting googlies with a cricket bat, and hits the ever-lovin' tar out of them. Keep your eye on Jose Vidro, too. He hits doubles and dingers. And maybe my favorite right now is Endy Chavez who's, you know, just kind of Endy.

If pitching's more your thing, keep tabs on Tomokazu Ohka and Javier Vazquez. Both throw mobile, searing stuff.

* * * * *
Vazquez and the Cubs' Mark Prior went head-to-head in the best pitchers' duel of the past week. Prior won it, 3-0, striking out 12 and giving up four hits in going the distance. Vazquez struck out 14 and surrendered only five hits through seven.

After the game, my friend Andy, a writer in Chicago, sent me an e-mail saying, "You need to see Prior up close, watch his simple motion and the jump on his pitches. Much like K. Wood before the injury, except that Woody made it look hard, like you couldn't possibly do it; Prior makes it look easy, makes you wanna go pitch against a wall somewhere."

Mark Prior

There it is: It's not just that the game generates numbers to follow, or that it's played out on idyllic turf. And it's not only that it inspires memories.

It's that the blend of easy release and precise control we see in it jumps across our own synapses. It's that the marriage of flow and pop we see fires our own impulses.

We want to emulate what we see. More than that, we want to sense it, or to think we could sense it if we threw long and hard and loose and sharp enough.

Here's to Prior up close and Wrigleyville walls, Andy. I'll be out as soon as I can.

* * * * *
Maddux was getting drilled, Pedro got shelled, and the Big Unit and Schilling started 0-for-'03.

I was all ready to write a little passing-of-the-guard dealio, how Pedro and Randy each gave up 10 runs on consecutive days. Talk entropy and aging, talk appreciation for what we once had, start looking around and looking ahead to young arms in Oakland, Florida and Houston.

Then 31 went out for Atlanta on Sunday and threw 59 pitches in six innings.

The ball dipped like it ought to, like Luke's shot into the heart of the Death Star. And like a mercury bead loose on a tabletop, it was skidding in on guys, and tailing away in its familiar, frustrating way.

Remember the scene in "Superman" when he flies faster and faster around the earth until he reverses its rotation, goes back in time and restores the earthquake rips in the ground and brings Lois back to life?

It was kind of like that.

Eric Neel is a regular columnist for Page 2. His Fan's Notes diary on the baseball season will appear each week on Page 2.



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