PRINCETON, N.J.—The mists had descended fully upon Clarke Field yesterday, darkening and suffocating, and out of the dugout and full into it came freshman Frank Herrmann, and in all of this was the possibility and promise of baseball.
Herrmann came to face a fate that seemed as inevitable as the thunderstorms at the hands of Princeton’s Thomas Pauly, who had already struck out nine batters and wound up dispatching Herrmann with a perhaps predictable ease. Herrmann’s at-bat was only his 16th of the season, and he had scarcely even made contact in his few Ivy League appearances.
Ah, but with two on and two out and almost no one left on your bench…
“We sent [Herrmann] up there to swing the bat,” Harvard coach Joe Walsh said. “He’s got a lot of power. If he could get a hold of one and hit it out of the shortest part of the park…We were looking for a dream come true up there.”
And so there was Herrmann, and there was Pauly, and here were the Princeton fans on their feet. And despite the mists and their certainty, the difference between the seemingly inevitable and the cinematically unreal was represented by a couple of miles per hour, an inch or two, a millisecond’s worth of delay jumping on strike three, and in all of this was the possibility and promise of baseball.
Kenon Ronz stood on the field after yesterday’s deciding game, twenty-four hours removed from the last pitch he ever threw as a college baseball player.
“Baseball’s done so much for me,” Ronz said. “It’s tough to believe it’s near an end. At an end, maybe.”
One hopes not. One can only hope that a couple of the scouts who have seen him throw in recent weeks realize that there’s always a place for a hard-throwing lefty with his grit and resolve and class. One hopes that the moment before the last out is recorded—regardless of the score—and the promise it holds are still available to him.
Mark Mager ’02 watched from the stands set in the hall behind the visitor’s dugout. The starting shortstop on last year’s Ivy League championship team, Mager knew all about such moments. Through two Ivy title seasons, he’s seen many of them. He spoke warmly, almost longingly about playing with a strong group of players, classmates for four years, and what a blast it had all been.
And the personalities on that team were certainly rich and a reason to love playing, but watching Mager gaze at the field yesterday, you could tell he also appreciated the raw moments of possibility themselves, personalities aside. There had been other moments in the mist for him—a win from seven runs down against Brown in the rain at O’Donnell Field that was as or more improbable than a Frank Herrmann three-run homer would have been yesterday.
Walk over to an empty O’Donnell Field, as I did last week, and mull over the following.
Consider that you could, right now, draw up a list of every conceivable play that could ever happen in an at-bat. Every situation. 6-4-3, happens twice a game or so. Grounder to first, 3 unassisted. Single. Homer. Strikeout. There is nothing that can be done that has not been thought out.
Yet even within these constraints, ceilings that create a sense of reality and limitation, baseball games are events of infinite promise. That three-run homer could be Frank Herrmann off of Thomas Pauly.
Next year, it could be the real thing.
Who’s to say for sure won’t be?
It’s been an odd season of Harvard baseball. Writers tend to cling to a sort of season-long narrative of sorts as storylines crop up and develop. In Mager’s final year, for example, a relentlessly tough senior class willed the team to victory down the stretch behind the rubber arm of Ben Crockett ’02. The clichés were easy to latch on to. Everything flowed.
This was a more disjointed year—exciting, certainly, but nowhere near as tailor made to fit. There was adversity overcome, surely, with more physical pieces bruised and dented than a garden-variety Pinto. There were individual heroes and an exciting cast of newcomers—names like Klimkiewicz, Farkes, Brunnig and Salsgiver will grace these pages for years to come—and there were pressing, constant problems, like the infield’s downright scary propensity for misplaying grounders. But in the midst of all of this was very little to cling to and run with from a fan or writer’s standpoint. Obvious talent. Win some. Lose some. It was very difficult to bring into focus was this season was about.
The Herrmann moment provided a measure of clarity. The season was about the potential of the next at-bat, the next start, the next guy to get the call, about whether freshmen like Javier Castellanos and Morgan Brown could be thrown into the fire and pitch well in the most important innings of their young careers and about whether Klimkiewicz could bring home a couple of runs with two outs. Usually they did. Sometimes they didn’t. The result was a pretty good season. It’s nowhere near as incongruous as it seems.
Next year, they’ll likely get it done more often. There will be more moments for the Frank Herrmanns of the world—and yes, Frank Herrmann himself—to pen. There will be more moments for the Magers and Ronzs to live again. And the string of moments when the certainty of the clouds is defied will be, perhaps, a little more narrative-friendly.
“And the mists had all solemnly risen now, and the world lay spread before me,” Charles Dickens writes. In baseball, the mists rise solemnly and with little warning, and if they don’t today they can tomorrow or next year, and this is its grace.
—Staff writer Martin S. Bell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.