Chemistry: Konerko's and A.J.'s Value Beyond the Score Card

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The first definitions of “Chemistry” in  Webster’s dictionary refer to
the 3rd period class I had to take at Bowen High School in my junior
year.  Thank God Suzy Fox and I were lab partners for every science
class since 9th grade.  I loved getting my hands sticky and wet while
dissecting frogs or worms in biology, or spilling chemicals and making
a mess on the long, black desks under hot lamps.  Suzy, on the other
hand, did the pencil and paper work, recording every move we made,
& every hypothesis or theory we proved.  We both took time to flirt
with which ever guys had the best- greased  hair that day.  Now THAT
was about the 2nd definition: “A strong mutual attraction,
attachment……”   I’m not certain if it was “mutual”, but teenage
girls can still fantasize. 

“Chemistry”  in reference to sports teams, however,  is relegated to
the final definition: # 3b:  “interaction between people working
together, specifically:  such interaction when harmonious or effective
(a team lacking chemistry).”

Which brings us to Paulie.  Is there any White Sox fan out there who
has not witnessed the  11 years of his chemistry with teammates?  How
many times has he automatically reacted to hustling to first base as
soon as a ground ball was hit anywhere in the infield? Or to every
throw over his head or in the dirt (yes:  hundreds of recorded outs
made by errant throws)?  Imagine Konerko knowing how close the
thousands of runners have run towards him, feeling them pound 1st base,
just inches from his left foot.

Paulie is THE target for  every White Sox infielder throwing a ball to
his outstretched arm – for 11 years.  Let’s list just a few of them
here:  Uribe, Crede, Iguchi, Ozuna, Getz, Vizquel, Beckham, Teahen,
Morel, Lillibridge, Viciedo,  and of course Alexi – who would have set
the record for most throwing errors by a SS for the last 2 years in the
league, if not for Paulie making “ridiculous”  plays to save his throw
at least 5 feet from his glove.  Now THAT will not show up in any box
score – ever. 

The two defensive plays which are neurologically encoded in my brain
are 1)  Uribe’s throw to Paulie off the bat of Orlando Palmeiro to
bring us our first World Championship in 88 years and 2) Buehrle’s
under-his-leg toss to Paulie to start the 2010 season – the gold
standard of  “ESPN’s” Play of the Day” with their Buehrle-meter. That’s
chemistry. But the offensive play was Paulie’s Grand Slam in Game 2 of
the World Series.  My youngest son and I watched “a missile of a
baseball” come shooting over our heads in left field, giving the Sox a
6 – 4 lead.  What a moment – and what chemistry, among all the fans at
U.S. Cellular.

Which brings us to pitchers and their catchers.  Webster had some
inkling in his 2nd definition about the “mutual attraction” and
attachment which A.J. has developed with Buehrle, Garcia, Freddy, Sale,
Thornton, Danks, Floyd, Edwin, J.J., Pena, and Peavy;  and even
Garland, Marte, Polite, and Hernandez.  The pitcher- catcher “reading”
of each other’s movements, ever so slight, of details how a fastball,
curve, slider, or knuckleball will go 60′ 6″, is something one cannot
measure in any box score.  

  How can anyone forget A.J. making multiple trips to the mound with El
Duque in the 6th inning of Game 3 v. the Red Sox, the reigning World
Champions at the time?  Damon at bat, hair blowing in the wind, bases
loaded, 2 outs, a 3-2 count, and Chris Berman saying that this was “the
best moment in baseball, when everybody’s moving, …..start your
engines roaring.”  Then more telecast booth conversation about how
“A.J. took over the staff from the first day in spring training,” and
the outstanding job he had done “with this pitching staff.” Who can
forget Damon swinging, ever so slightly on a ball down and in,  just
enough for strike 3, A.J. tagging him out, and punching his mitt in the
air as the inning comes to an end?

Chemistry:  the eye contact, the body language, the ever-so-slight
movement of one person, mirroring the other’s “way of knowing.” It
takes time – a LOT of time (and sometimes years), to form these bonds,
of working harmoniously to win the game, to high-five each other after
the last out, in tune with the rhythm each pitcher and catcher have
come to know with the other, to walk back to the dugout and into the
dressing room, smiling and laughing, wiping the sweat and holding your
mitt – all part of the “dance” that gets recorded in another “win” for
the team.  A.J., you done us good, period. 

Sunday, October 3, 2010:  I know Chicago sports fans have moved on at
this point in the year.  Bears v. Giants tonight, which has the most
sports coverage in town, as it should.  But for this fan, no
post-season baseball.  The buzz now is about who will be here next
year, contracts, questions, hopes, dreams, saying goodbyes till next
year, or saying goodbye to the park, its fans, its “feel,” and
accepting the loss of another season in the books.

William Rhoden, a New York Times Sports writer, wrote this week about
Derek Jeter’s value to the Yankees as “a spectacular…relationship,”
ready to expire.  He asks, “Now what?…young fans will look at his
statistics. Numbers speak for themselves; intangibles seldom do.”

So, what have been these intangibles which our Captain has brought to
the White Sox?  What are the intangibles which A.J., day in and day
out, have brought to all the pitchers, especially rookies just trying
to stay on the mound with 2 men on and nobody out? How can one forget
Paulie giving Jerry the baseball which he caught for the last out in
2005, at the parade?  And A.J. coaxing Buehrle to pitch his perfect
game, even if Ramon was catching that day? And possibly, the play of
the series which gets forgotten:  A.J. being called out on strikes but
running to first base v. the Angels.  Even Joe Buck couldn’t stop
talking about it (though negatively) through the World Series games. 

To Kenny and Jerry:  don’t let them go. Their words, their leadership,
their numbers and stats, and the chemistry that won’t be felt in the
clubhouse, if neither is in uniform for that first day in Glendale. 
This will be lost, and most likely,  may foretell of a  2011 season
this southsidesportschick is just not ready to watch.

It took several years for this little girl to even be interested in the
White Sox, after Aparicio and Fox were no longer turning double plays.
  So this brings us to the first definition of chemistry, which Webster
defines as ” a 
science that deals with the composition, structure, and properties of
substances and with the transformations that they undergo.”  This
little girl’s mind became composed, structured, and transformed to the
love of baseball,  while sitting shotgun in her father’s cab, and
listening to games on the radio. This little girl watched Sunday
double-headers next to her father, eating our corned beef on rye. This
little girl was mesmerized and transformed, period. 

So, what about all those kids you see at the park,
Kenny?  What will you tell them if someone other than Konerko,  is
fielding balls from Gordon? 
Where will you find a first baseman, whose numbers are  MVP-like
What will you say, Jerry, when we don’t see this blond -spiked up hair
under the catcher’s mitt, coaxing a 3rd strike from Danks, Floyd,
Buehrle, Peavy or Sale? 

Chemistry:  The fans grow an attachment and
connection to their team and their players.  the rhythm of a long
season is composed and shared, between fans and their players –
especially their stars.  The fans cheer for wins and high fives, and
see the mutual smiles on the faces of the players after every majestic
out performed with ease, between 2 ball players who have come to know
each other through time.   It’s made of the same stuff Suzie Fox and I
had throughout our science classes at Bowen High.  And yeah, we did
develop chemistry with those guys and their greased up hair.  We just
didn’t tell our moms about it. 

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