This morning I have no voice.
Yesterday afternoon I drove up to Harrisburg for game four of the Eastern League Western Division semi-finals between the Senators and the Erie SeaWolves, with Harrisburg holding a 2-1 lead in the best of five series.
Three weeks ago, I said I'd gone to my last Senators game this year. But as the final two weeks of the season wore on, as Harrisburg and Erie jockeyed for the top spot in the Western Division (and the top spot wasn't determined until the final day of the season), I started to toy with the idea of going up to Harrisburg for a playoff game. If games one and two were played in Harrisburg, I couldn't have gone; those games fell on days that I needed to work late in the office due to publishing deadlines, game three if in Harrisburg was out (I had a work function to attend near Camden Yards), but games four and five if in Harrisburg would be doable.
So when the Senators split the first two games in Erie on Wednesday and Thursday then took game three at home on Friday, I decided yesterday morning that I was going to game four. I checked online for tickets, found that there was ample seating everywhere, and since my first Senators game was watched from the first base bleachers I would watch this one too from those unforgiving anonymous benches. Frankly, those bleachers are a pretty fine vantage point for watching a game.
It was a lovely evening for baseball. Temperatures were comfortable, in the low 70s. Even City Island's mayfly population wasn't overwhelming.
Unfortunately, Harrisburg's human population didn't turn out in force.
The announced crowd was only 2.976, quite possibly the second smallest crowd I'd seen all year at Metro Bank Park. (The crowd for the final regular season game I attended had to be smaller because of the rain.) Terry, the concessioneer in the yellow shirt, told all of us in the bleachers to not leave anything on the table when it came to noise. "You don't leave here with a voice," he said. "You don't need it tomorrow, and it will come back." I took that advice to heart.
After the first, however, there wasn't a need for a lot of screaming. SeaWolves starting pitcher Ramon Garcia gave up two runs in the first and a third in the second, while Senators pitcher Robbie Ray was mowing down SeaWolves, only getting into trouble in the fourth and giving up a run.
There was a loud little cheering section for the SeaWolves. They sat in the section right above the Erie dugout, and they brought signs that said "Go SeaWolves" and "Go Wade" (as in Wade Gaynor). They came alive from time to time, especially during the fourth.
For the SeaWolves, this was a do-or-die game, and their bullpen started throwing in the second inning. Garcia was going to be on a short leash, and Kyle Ryan was brought out to start the bottom of the fourth. And that's when things got interesting.
Ryan got two outs, then gave up a walk to Jason Martinson. Martinson attempted to steal second, and Ryan threw a pick-off throw to first, which went on to second and apparently a tag. But wait! The first base umpire called Ryan for a balk, whereupon Ryan said something and was tossed. SeaWolves manager Chris Cron came out to argue... and argue... and argue... and he was tossed. The argument continued. And continued. And continued. This argument simply would not end.
That wasn't all the excitement, though. Steve had an early lead in the Monkey Race...
But he inevitably lost.
After two innings where the Senators were held scoreless by Victor Larez, in the seventh the bats came alive again against reliever Ryan Robowski. Steven Souza, Jr. had announced before the game that he was playing this game for catcher Brian Jeroloman who was injured in a home plate collision in game one and remains hospitalized in Erie. Already 3 for 3 on the day with two doubles, he smacked another double off the center field wall, scoring Billy Burns to make it 4-1. Then Justin Bloxom hit a single into shallow right, scoring Souza from second to make it 5-1.
The crowd was listless through much of the game. Loud in the first inning, loud in the second. Once the score was 3-0 and it didn't look like the SeaWolves were going to touch Robbie Ray, the crowd noise subsided. Oh, there were moments, like during the long managerial argument in the fourth and the scoring during the seventh. And there were two twentysomething women in the bleachers who shouted admiring things about Justin Bloxom and his butt pretty much all the time. The ninth inning, however, was not listless. Two strikeouts, a crowd on its feet, and a weakly hit ball to first for a force out ended the game and the Eastern League semi-finals.
There was hugging on the field. There was jumping and there was shouting. There was lifting people up over their heads and carrying them around and crashing to the ground. Manager Matt LeCroy was shaking the hands of every player and hugging them as they walked off the field. It was a joyous scene. And the Senators had a date with the Trenton Thunder on Tuesday night in the wilds of New Jersey.
I left the ballpark -- happy, excited, thrilled, elated. The Very Americans' "Hey Senators!" played on the PA system.
The Nationals, especially their player development people, have to be happy with how the minor league teams have done this year. The GCL Nationals were an unstoppable juggernaut, and the A, High-A, and AA teams have all reached the playoff championship series in their respective leagues.
Will I go to one of the Eastern League finals games? Game three on Thursday is out; it'll be a late day at the office. Friday and Saturday, though, if those games are needed, would be very doable. Friday I could leave the office early, and Saturday's free and clear. Maybe there's one last baseball game in my future this season. Maybe I'll have my voice back by the weekend. Maybe...
I've had a great time at Metro Bank Park this year. I drove up there on a lark Memorial Day weekend, and I had such a good time and so much fun that I had to keep coming back. But now that the season's almost done, I'm sad. Summer is over, autumn is at hand, and I'm reminded of something A. Bartlett Giamatti wrote in "The Green Fields of the Mind":
It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops. Today, October 2, a Sunday of rain and broken branches and leaf-clogged drains and slick streets, it stopped, and summer was gone.
I'm going to miss the Senators and Metro Bank Park. I feel my heart breaking already because it's almost over. But it's not over yet, and I can say, with absolutely no regrets, that it's been fun.