by Joshua Worley
Our seats for Saturday's game in AT&T Park were high up in section 332, at the corner in the stands beyond the left field foul pole. Our seats came just before the angle in the stands, before the point where the seats begin to follow the line of the outfield wall instead of the foul line, so we had to contantly turn our heads to see the action at the plate. Home plate was so far away that it was sometimes hard to follow the ball off the bat. On several swings-and-misses I wasn't immediately sure if the batter had missed the pitch or just fouled it off. Because we had to turn about 45 degrees to see the action at the plate and in the infield, and because the game went 12 innings, both Griffster and I had rather sore backs by the end of the game. Most of the left field wall and warning track were hidden by the upper level stands that angled off to the left of us. The center fielder was often positioned so that he was hidden by the left field foul pole.
In other words, these weren't good seats. High up and far away.
Our seats for Friday's game were better, but not by much. They were just as high, actually a few rows higher, but behind third base instead of behind the left field foul pole. We arrived at Friday's game very early, in time to see all of the Dodgers' batting practice. Juan Pierre looked as weak in batting practice as he does during the games. Furcal didn't look much better. Ethier didn't impress either, but he was clearly working on things, as he hit a lot of balls the other way and up the middle. Gonzalez, being a veteran player, didn't have to work on anything, and he pulled everything, including a nice home run into the water on the fly. But by far the most impressive batting practice performances were put in by Matt Kemp and Wilson Betemit.
Kemp and Betemit hit them high and far. Even from the right side Betemit hit one halfway up the left field bleachers, a shot very similar to the one Kent hit during Saturday's game to put the Dodgers up 6-1. After watching them rule batting practice before the game on Friday, I was pre-emptively disappointed that they wouldn't get much playing time during the weekend series. How can players which such raw ability be held out of the lineup on a regular basis?
Kemp got into Friday night's game as a defensive replacement and batted in the eighth inning. He grounded out to third, but he flew to first. I don't think it's fair to say he almost beat the throw, but he sure made an impression on anyone watching him run out the grounder. You have to see his speed in person to really appreciate it.
Betemit started Saturday's game, but Kemp did not. Betemit has often looked completely lost at the plate in his starts, which is probably why he gets so few of them. But he has his spectacular games as well, which shouldn't be forgotten. Betemit's opposite field home run in the fifth inning disappeared from my view just before it cleared the wall. I couldn't tell what had happened at first. There was a roar from the crowd, but there were so many Dodger fans in the stands that this could mean anything. It was only when I looked down to see Betemit calmly rounding the bases that I knew it had gone over. I hope Little and Colletti had better views of Betemit's home run than I did. Based on how little playing time he gets, one might think they don't see his home runs.
Betemit almost hit a second home run in extra innings, but it went for a double off the top of the wall instead. This time I could see the entire flight of the ball, including the encounter with the outfield wall. A player with such opposite field power needs to play more. Such talent ... he is frustrating to watch at times, yes, but he does deliver enough great results to justify much more playing time than he gets.
I would say the same for Kemp, except that he has even more talent than Betemit, and he doesn't frustrate nearly as much.
All of Kemp's amazing talent was on display in his extra-inning at bat on Saturday. Power and speed. Alone, either one is impressive. Together, they are miraculous. Kemp hit a laser to the left-center corner and then raced around safely to third. A triple to left-center field ... how often do you see that? The ball was crushed; it would have been a monster home run if he put an upper-cut swing on it, got just a little bit under it. I think that ball was the fastest I can remember seeing a ball go from the plate to the outfield wall. And Kemp's sprint to third is the fastest I remember seeing a player go from home to third. After the inning was over, after Kemp was stranded at third, his incredible power and speed wasted, as it seems it so often is, I remember looking down at the infield dirt so far below and seeing footprints. A line of footprints from home, rounding first, rounding second, coming in to third. Looking down at the footprints of Kemp's triple was like looking out at the bay beyond the right field wall. Remote and peaceful. At times during the game I would look out at the horizon, where the water met the sky, and feel transported away from the buzzing crowd, from the machinations of the game, away from any care for who might win the game. The footprints were the same, but the opposite. Instead of taking me away from the game, they took me right into the center of the game, to where runs and winning don't matter, to where only the play matters. To where power and speed are appreciated for their own sake, and not just for what they may bring.
Which memory will I cherish more 10 years from now? That I was there the first two games of a Dodgers sweep of the Giants in San Francisco, or that I saw from up high the footprints of a Matt Kemp triple?
I know which memory I cherish more now.