At the A's intrasquad game today, I spotted a crusty old scout sitting up in the stands alone, diligently scribbling notations and working a stop-watch. In his houndstooth slacks and coffee-stained golf shirt, he could've walked out of a Ring Lardner story. I really ought to go up there, I thought, and try to see the game through his eyes. So I walked over, introduced myself, and asked if it was all right to take the seat next to his.
He mumbled something along the lines of, "Free country."
Not exactly the invitation I was hoping for, but I tried to play through it. I watched the game solemnly for a pitch or two, then said, in the most effortless, casual tone I could effect, "So who you checking out the A's for?"
"Not important for you to know that," he said.
At that point, I should've left the dude to his own sad, lonely slide into obsolescence, but something made me stay. The lack of a clear idea of how to handle the exit, in part. My deep-rooted need to be liked by everyone, especially mean strangers, may have been another factor.
I let an inning pass, while I tried to decipher what he was doing. Mostly, he was clocking the time it took for each pitcher to deliver the ball to the plate, data that would help an opposing team decide how and when to steal bases. This is baseball at its most mind-bendingly picayune.
At that point, Ryan Ludwick, #68, stepped up to the plate. Interested to know just how mountainously high the odds were stacked up against this poor kid, I'd done a little checking overnight on the Internet. Turned out my bleeding-heart fan routine from yesterday's installment was overly harsh on Ludwick's career prospects. Barring injury, he should steer well clear of the gravel-hauling business. In fact, though he's a couple years away from the majors, a good accountant would probably tell you to take his future earnings potential over, say, mine.
"They say this kid Ludwick might really be something," I offered. "In a couple of years."
"Yeah, who says that?"
In the nick of time, my cell phone rang. It was my friend Biz. Walking out to the aisle, I explained the situation to her. My problem wasn't just this guy, of course, it was the whole social setup of spring training. It's all about packs—the players, the coaches, the groupies, the photographers, the beat writers, they all move in packs. The beat guys, in fact, are so pack-oriented that they seem to have no interest in competing for scoops, or even fresh quotes. I never see them apart. It's all about the pack.
"My problem is, I don't have a pack," I told Biz.
"You shouldn't," she said. "As a reporter, loneliness is your best asset."
There it was, my aphorism for the day. It made me think of all the ways I'm not cut out to be a reporter.
Ryan Ludwick, meanwhile, had singled sharply to center. That seemed to pump a little blood into the scout. As I returned to my seat, he actually initiated an exchange. "Kid can swing a bat," he said.
Yeah, whatever, I'd had it with this guy. As I was packing up my stuff to find another place to sit, I looked down and saw the logo of his employer on a piece of stationery in his hand—the Minnesota Twins. Hah! The American League's saddest-sack franchise, owned by a cheapskate billionaire more concerned with eking out a razor-thin profit than fielding a decent club. Who knew they still had a scouting department? I mean, if you have a team that lousy, why bother collecting this arcane data on another team? What's it going to do—add a stolen base or two, and maybe a cheap run, in your usual 9-3 loss?
So I guess this guy had a reason to be a grumpus. Plus, he didn't have a pack, either. So I sat back down and watched the rest of the game with him. Though I don't think we said another word to each other.