You know the next part of the story.
Five days after 19-year-old Wilson Alvarez’s disastrous debut against the Blue Jays, the undeterred White Sox accepted him and 20-year-old outfielder Sammy Sosa, who’d also been briefly showcased by Texas, for DH Harold Baines.
Alvarez’s first appearance for Chicago wouldn’t arrive until more than two years later. In it he finally established a big league ERA by striking Mike Devereaux out swinging to lead off the first, adding swinging strikeouts of Juan Bell and Cal Ripken Jr. to end the frame. The day would only get better.
In his debut, on July 24, 1989, Alvarez had emerged with an ERA of infinity.
In his second big league appearance, on August 11, 1991, he made history. Alvarez no-hit the Orioles.
Yesterday morning, as we were about to jettison in an escape pod from a Phoenix hotel experience so comically terrible that it inspired me to write about Wilson Alvarez’s big league debut, I wrote: “Like Alvarez’s career, this trip is not only about to turn around in the right direction — it’s going to get exponentially better. Starting now.”
The 45-minute drive that followed after I sent that report was my two-year wait for Alvarez’s next big league game, with what felt like the same payoff.
I didn’t see every one of Yu Darvish’s 43 live BP pitches, but I got there in time to see probably 35 of them, each overdubbed with the “clack-clack-clack-clack-clack-clack-clack-clack” soundtrack of a 1950s press box at full tilt. Every moment of the 20 minutes I saw was captured by most of the 30 tripodded cameras lining the fence behind home plate, not just the deliveries to the plate (mostly from the stretch, but not exclusively), but also the discussions on the mound with Mike Maddux that couldn’t be heard and the handshake at the end with 25-year-old Myrtle Beach catcher Zach Zaneski.
To call this a circus is, as T.R. Sullivan recently put it, unfair and incorrect. A mere visual of the swarm of Japanese press gives off a paparazzi vibe, but to actually take in the scene in person is a completely different experience. The reporters and photographers are relentless in their mission but polite, methodical, and shockingly unobtrusive.
Sullivan’s words: “The media coverage of Yu Darvish is not a circus and anybody who tweets that is wrong. The members of the media here from Japan to cover Darvish are professional, courteous and dedicated.”
It’s absolutely true.
And the symphony of clicking shutters, which lasted until Darvish disappeared from view behind the center field fence on his way to the clubhouse, was basically all that pierced the silence of the Surprise morning, with the training pilots from Luke Air Force Base evidently taking the morning off.
As the World Series came to an end, with all the bitterness and hurt that went with it, if someone had told me that, 19 weeks later, I’d be standing in a nearly silent place under high blue skies dotted by a dozen hot air balloons suspended and plotted in various directions, chilled occasionally by light shocks of air that made the 65 degrees all the more awesome, watching Yu Darvish throw measured, quiet, explosive pitches to Engel Beltre and Greg Miclat in front of four or five dozen reporters and photographers and visitor Akinori Otsuka, shaking Zaneski off from time to time as he settled in on exactly what pitch he wanted to prevent Beltre or Miclat from doing anything with, and doing it while wearing a Texas Rangers baseball uniform, clack-clack-clack-clack-clack-clack-clack-clack, (measured, quiet, explosive), then the hurt would have hurt less, or at least for less of a duration.
This is where I drop the reminder that, when I’m in Surprise, my travel plans rarely extend beyond the Royals side of the complex. So I wasn’t in Glendale to see what looks to have been sensationally efficient early-camp work from Colby Lewis and Scott Feldman and the latest episode of Craig Gentry’s chronic physical hiccups and a two-hit day from Mike Olt and a developing story line centered on Engel Beltre’s ability to play anywhere in the outfield and impact the game that way, but I did see Olt taking morning fungoes from Ron Washington at third base, and I’m glad I did, and I did see Josh Hamilton taking morning fungoes at first base before his turn at the plate, out of which not too much should be made, and I did get to watch Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus engage in what amounted to a duel of fungo-slap burnout at third base, which is appointment baseball, and I did meet the great Howard Byrant, who (like Gerry Fraley) can write on just about any subject and get my attention and make me smarter, and I did learn from Wash that “IKEA just don’t have my style.”
And I saw Yu Darvish preparing, which over the next five years or more will be one of very many things he will gift us, and the Wilson Alvarez-ness of my 2012 trip to Arizona moved forward just as it was supposed to.