The Ride Is All We Have

Opening Day. An affirmation of spring, life, and all that is good in the world. Moments of perfection will carry us through difficult times. There is no other way.

Baseball is my pulse, my clock, my book of days. Seasons all run together. I was in high school discovering Roto, now I’m a month shy of 40. I don’t even remember blinking.

If you listen closely, you can hear Rick Sutcliffe asking Jake what he’s still doing here.

Tony Gwynn, Dave Winfield, Randy Jones, and Ollie Brown threw out the ceremonial first pitches. Too many Dodgers fans here. Drunk woman and her boyfriend looking for a fight, find one. Escorted from the premises. Beer still in hand, she starts swearing at me like a sailor. I forget the first rule of engaging drunken jackasses, which is don’t do it.

I feel badly for her. Sucks to bring that much misery on yourself.

There was a game, too. We got our asses kicked, 4-1. Jake Peavy wasn’t at his best. Too much James Loney and Matt Kemp on the other side. The ball Kemp hit to center in the seventh… I thought the Pad Squad was shooting T-shirts into the stands.

Ned Colletti should trade Kemp for some crusty veteran with a glove. Get rid of Loney, too.

Padres had a chance in the sixth. Hiroki Kuroda gave up two-out singles to David Eckstein (10-pitch at-bat, thanks much) and Brian Giles. Then Adrian Gonzalez deposited Kuroda’s 2-0 pitch into the cheap seats down the right field line.

Foul ball, strike one.

Kemp robbed Jody Gerut of extra bases earlier in the inning. Kuroda could have been beaten this night, but he wasn’t.

* * *


After the game, Smitty had three seizures. Those of you who own a copy of the 2009 Annual will recognize Smitty as the dog sitting on top of our other dog’s head on the Dedication page. He’ll be 16 next month.

We drove to the ER. We sat in the car and cried. Smitty fell asleep on Mrs. Ducksnorts’ lap. Some Coldplay song on the radio. That shouldn’t be the last thing anyone hears, even if they can’t really hear.

We brought him back home instead. Mrs. D. watched over Smitty all night. Nobody slept.

* * *

A day after Tim Sullivan invoked the ’62 Mets (no love for the Cleveland Spiders?), Chris Young beat the Dodgers. So much for a perfect season.

Young dropped some sharp breaking balls. He also had Manny Ramirez swinging late at 88-90 mph fastballs, which you don’t see every day.

Edwin Moreno made his big-league debut in the seventh. Walked two batters before falling behind 3-1 to Manny and then retiring him on a popup to second to end the frame. Memo to Moreno: Don’t do that.

Nice at-bats from Nick Hundley. Drew two walks after falling behind in the count. Duaner Sanchez worked a perfect eighth. Cool goggles. We needed a setup man with goggles.

Mark Grant and Mark Neely called a good game. It’s different without Matty V., but Neely knows what he’s doing and plays well with Mud.

I’m liking Heath Bell as closer. He struck out the side, pumping 93-96 mph fastballs past Kemp, Doug Mientkiewicz, and Rafael Furcal. No disrespect to Trevor Hoffman — who was, is, and ever shall be Da Man — but it was awesome to see a guy just throw balls past hitters in the ninth.

* * *

Pads lost, 5-2. Crap pitching. Eight walks doesn’t get it done.

Former dishwasher Walter Silva looked okay. Average velocity, but his pitches have good downward movement. My favorite thing about him is that he isn’t Carlos Silva.

Edward Mujica gave up some cheap hits. Loney chopped one high off the plate. Orlando Hudson sliced a wedge shot off the glove of Kevin Kouzmanoff, who was in guarding against the bunt.

Manny’s double was legit. Crushed a ball in on his hands to deep right center. Dude is strong. He’s earned the right to wear pajamas on the field. Heck, give him a pipe, a harem, and a mansion already.

Leading off the ninth, Adrian tried to beat the infield shift (Casey Blake in the shortstop position, Furcal on the second base side of the bag) by dropping down a bunt. Hit it right back to Jonathan Broxton for the first out. Adrian tried the same thing a couple times the night before but fouled the pitches off. I don’t need to see that again from our best hitter.

Stupid baserunning. Scott Hairston turns too far around third on Tuesday, Gerut turns too far around first on Wednesday. Both kill innings. This team is not good enough to overcome stupidity.

* * *

Smitty went blind after the 2003 fires. Bumped into stuff for a day or two, then figured it out. He is relentless, unstoppable, happy beyond all reason. Makes me forget about wins and losses.

The moon is full and Smitty has a brain tumor. Doctor gives him three to six months. We will take what we get.

* * *

How sick do Dodgers fans feel after Thursday’s gift to the home team? Up 3-1 in the eighth, the LA bullpen coughs up three runs to the vaunted Padres offense. Then in the ninth, Hudson leads off with a triple. Ramirez, Andre Ethier, and Russell Martin can’t drive him home.

Hey, at least they left San Diego with a series split. And that sick feeling.

Four games into the season, the Padres are one game back of where they were in ’69. Clearly they will lose 111 games. Seriously, though, twenty-three walks allowed is too many.

* * *

Above .500? That isn’t in the script. Three in the first off Barry Zito. Strong work from Shawn Hill before he faltered in the sixth. Left with a 4-2 lead, bases loaded, nobody out.

Enter rookie Luke Gregerson. Double play, three-pitch (all sliders down and away) swinging strikeout of Aaron Rowand, please pay at the cash register… I want to buy Gregerson a lollipop and some Tonka trucks. Dude looks 12 years old.

Then comes the rain. Who ordered a 51-minute delay? Isn’t there a city ordinance against that sort of thing?

The eighth inning belongs to Scott Hairston. Top half he makes a running, leaping catch of a Bengie Molina drive that was at least a double, possibly a game-tying two run homer. Molina can’t believe it, and neither can I. Bottom half, Hairston blasts a three-run shot to dead center on a hanging Merkin Valdez breaking ball. Shades of September 2007.

More baserunning blunders. Luis Rodriguez thrown out trying to go first to third on a sac bunt. Out by a furlong. If the Padres insist on playing small ball (Eckstein laid down a bunt in the first inning of the opener; deja vu all over again), they should at least not suck at it.

Off-field, the Padres claimed another pitcher off waivers. Luis Perdomo is a Rule V guy so he has to stick with the big club all year — a la Jose Antonio Nunez in 2001. Drew Macias was shipped to Portland to make room for Perdomo.

On the bright side, the Pads are back at a 13-man staff. Good things happen to those who short themselves position players.

* * *

Perky young woman asks if we want a seat upgrade. Time share presentation? Sell my soul? I decline.

She assures me no money or other commitment is required, so I relent. We are now in Section 107. Ah, how the other half lives.

It’s Mexico Opening Day. Ex-Padres Vicente Romo and Sid Monge throw out the ceremonial first pitch. Romo I remember as brother of Enrique, setup man for Kent Tekulve on the 1979 “We Are Family” Pirates. Monge I remember as the man who served up Tony Gwynn’s first big-league hit.

Jake Peavy had trouble locating his secondary pitches early but soon got into a groove and worked with a refreshing efficiency that carried him into the ninth. His catcher, Henry Blanco, launched two homers to left. Move the fences back; this ballpark is a joke.

Both blasts came off changeups, prompting the Giants to update their scouting report. It now reads, “Don’t throw Blanco a changeup.”

Giants starter, lefty Jonathan Sanchez, was pumping 92-95 mph fastballs and hitting his spots. At one point, he’d thrown 20 of 25 pitches for strikes. Then he remembered that he has control problems and went 33 balls and 34 strikes the rest of the way.

Chase Headley hit a bomb to dead center in the sixth. Seriously, move the fences back already. It’s embarrassing.

Adrian Gonzalez, who received his Gold Glove Award before the game, dealt the death blow in the fifth. After striking out and grounding into a double play in his first two at-bats against Sanchez, he rapped a bases-clearing double to right-center that sent the Giants starter to the showers.

Giles made a diving, tumbling catch of an Aaron Rowand drive to lead off the eighth. Ended up in the back of the visitors bullpen. Dirt everywhere. Dude does nothing half-assed. He is full donkey all the way.

Back at home, Smitty is walking in circles. TiVo has taken the initiative and recorded Alfred Hitchock’s The 39 Steps, thinking I might like to see it. I might, and I do, and it is good.

* * *

Ladies and gentlemen, your first place Padres. Have to say that while I can.

What a rude treatment of Tim Lincecum. Cy Young Award winners aren’t supposed to get cuffed around by teams that can’t hit.

I love watching Kouzmanoff hit. So quick to the ball.

Another early sac bunt from Eckstein. Third inning this time. Assuming the guys ahead of him get on base, he’s going to lead the league in that category.

* * *

While all that was happening, we trekked up to Elsinore with a friend for the Storm game. Small Easter crowd, like the time Wally Backman launched F-bombs at Lancaster.

Front row, behind the plate. Ten bucks each.

Storm took on the Visalia Rawhide. I would make fun of their team name, but they completed a four-game sweep of the home team on Sunday, so levity hardly seems appropriate.

Seriously, though. The Rawhide?

Logan Forsythe didn’t play. Neither did Jeremy McBryde, the scheduled starter. Chris Wilkes, all of 19 years old, got the call instead. Got smacked around a little, which is what you’d expect from a kid that age making his full-season debut. Kept the Storm in the game, though.

Yefri Carvajal served up an outside pitch into right for a base hit early in the game. Struck out swinging at a pitch way down and way away late. Let a ground ball roll through his legs in left somewhere in the middle. He was consistent in his inconsistency.

Felix Carrasco is a big-bodied switch hitter who hasn’t had much success from the right side. Hit .149/.264/.277 against southpaws in ’08 at Fort Wayne. On Sunday, he rolled into double plays his first two times up, both against a lefty. Then he singled and walked against right-handers.

J.T. Snow eventually abandoned switch hitting because he sucked from the right side. Just sayin’.

After the game we dropped our friend off at his place in Encinitas and cruised back along the coast. Past Swami’s, the train station, people coming back from surfing, going out to dinner, walking their dogs, whatever.

Sunlight glimmered off the ocean water as waves rolled in and swept the beaches. The smell of sea and grilled meats. Clean. Perfect. Whole.

We come home to old dogs. My knee hurts like hell and taxes aren’t finished. Smitty is dying, the ocean never yields.

If I could surf, I would know how to keep my balance when things get rough. I could stand again when I fall and prepare for the next wave.

Enjoy the ride. It is all any of us has.