The Great Leftfielders
I watched Barry Bonds hit his 600th homerun last night on television. The homerun itself was impressive, an arcing line-drive, charged as any thunderbolt. Watching Bonds over the last couple of seasons has been truly compelling; here is someone who has found his gift, his connection to the source of things, and has learned how to inhabit that connection nearly every time he puts his hands on a bat.
It’s been said again and again that hitting a pitched baseball is one of the most difficult (if not THE most difficult) athletic feats of all. Given how many different ways a ball can be thrown, and at how many speeds, the task takes on a greater degree of difficulty. The angle of release, how early in his motion the pitcher reveals the ball, the deceptiveness of arm-speed, the way certain pitches look alike until after the swing has begun. And, of course, the fact that the ball may be thrown at a velocity exceeding 100 m.p.h. The batter can add to the difficulty by being too attentive to the pressure of a given situation, by trying to think too much.
Yet numerous times Bonds has spoken of being able to identify each pitch as it leaves the pitcher’s hand, and to recognize, at the same time, what its location will be as it reaches the plate. And, he’s able to react instantly, even when the pitch is in that 100 m.p.h. range (traveling a mere 60 ft., 6″), and to uncoil that lightning swing so that the ball and the fat part of the bat meet in space, and the trajectory of the pitch is altered, as though the ball had been launched from a cannon, out over the upturned faces of the defensive players, out over the pretty green turf, never to return to the field of play, out over the astonished throngs, mouths agape, hands outstretched reaching for this magic-struck sphere.
See the ball, hit the ball. He’s become so good at it that they don’t pitch to him much anymore; today he passed the record, set in 1969, by Willie McCovey, for intentional walks in a season. He’s been pitched around so much this season that he’s walked 130 times, in only 116 games.
Another leftfielder, Rickey Henderson, owns some serious records, too. Most homeruns leading off a game. Most runs scored. Stolen bases, of course. And, this year, most walks. Left field seems to be the position of moment these days. One of the most storied of all, Ted Williams, came back into the limelight recently, when he died. Whenever the discussion, among baseball nuts, turns to the greatest hitter of all time, Williams quickly occupies the lion’s share of verbiage. But when the question has suddenly become “who is the greatest leftfielder of all-time?” there are numerous candidates, and the debate doesn’t seem to be so easily won. There is a list, now, though, of the great leftfielders. I can’t remember all the names on it. Stargell, Yastrzemski, Musial, Manush (that’s right!).
Can you tell I’ve been on vacation? Cornelia and I spent a little over a week in a cottage in the hills some 20 miles west of Paso Robles. Reading, sleeping, hiking, bicycling, hanging out. I played my guitar a lot. And I spent some time with a couple of wine business friends who also happen to be musicians, and really good guitar players.
They came to participate in an unusual event, a kind of bootleg concert. Remember, when the first bootleg albums surfaced, in the 60’s and 70’s? Recordings of the likes of Dylan, and the Beatles that had been surreptitiously spirited out of the record companies’ hands, and into the shadowy avenues of underground commerce? Nobody wanted too much to be known about the appearance of such recordings.
Out of some remnant of that same spirit was born “LIVE AT VILLA CREEK!” It took place August 4th, as the last diners of the evening were placing their orders for chipotle chicken and margaritas. Jim Fiolek, Don Heistuman, and I had slipped in quietly at quarter past 6, and sat, quite innocently and inconspicuously having supper, along with Cornelia, and Jim’s wife, Carmen. Nobody suspected anything. Then, at around 8:30 Bill Gaines showed up, and started rolling in his gear, into the rear area of the dining room. Mikes, speakers, cords, soundboard, etc. Only a handful of diners remained.
One of them left briefly, and when he returned, after we’d begun to play, he had a videocam, and he shot a lot of footage. Nobody had any idea who he was. (I hope we weren’t being bad, or anything.)
We were playing six or seven new songs of mine that I’d been wanting to record, plus a couple of Don’s originals, and a couple of things that could only have sprung from the astounding cerebral domaine of Jim Fiolek. We’d spent most of Saturday and Sunday playing together (and eating and drinking), and we tried to think of something to call ourselves. Our approach, as you may have come to understand, is somewhat unorthodox. Some might say it’s straight out of left field. Then, it hit me, like a bolt out of the blue! “I’ve got it!,” I cried; “we’re the great leftfielders!” (Think about it — what other team has three leftfielders?)
I’d hoped, originally, to have played all this stuff live at Hospice du Rhône, back in early June; they’d even asked us to play — but that Saturday evening at HdR gathered its own delirious momentum in a different direction, and we never got to the stage. We ended up on the patio at Villa Creek that evening, playing for Pilsener Urquell, and for the devoted attention of nearly a dozen enthusiastic souls.
Somehow we managed to convince ourselves, and to enlist the cooperation of Cris Cherry (owner of Villa Creek), to create a live recording at Villa Creek during the time Cornelia and I were in the same area on vacation, two months after the Hospice du Rhône event.
After we’d been playing for most of 40 minutes, Bill, the sound engineer, noticed that the kitchen noise had stopped, and how much better everything sounded when that happened. So we did a bunch of the songs over. One of them, “Red, Red Rose,” really rocked the second time we did it. In my monitor, at least, everything sounded pretty good. We, of course, ignored the kitchen noise. At the end of the evening the audience was Cornelia, Carmen, and Bill.
Now, I’ve got nearly two hours on ADATs to listen to, mix down, and sort out. Who knows, maybe there’s a diamond in all that kitchen noise?
It was a lot of fun, and over too soon. Jim left right after the gig. Don left early the next morning. Then, I was the only one left. Had we been outstanding in our field? Stay tuned…