Roger Marolt: Grabbing a corner on the edge of a diamond
There is a place at Crawford Field in El Jebel, tucked away high in the stands, deep down the right field line that the regulars call Dresser’s Corner. At least that’s what I call it and, at least, that is where it would be situated, if it was in a Big League stadium.
As it is, at the ballpark that defines its purpose as the place where Aspen High plays its home games, 18 miles and seemingly another era away from the actual school, Dresser’s Corner is only a dozen rows up, directly behind first base, on the top fiberglass plank in the bleacher adjacent to the home team’s dugout. Yet, it is more removed from the busy goings among the fans closer to the backstop than if it existed in the imaginary mezzanine level of a mega stadium while, at the same time, bringing those who perch there closer to the action on the field than physically possible.
Dresser is a guy who has been watching Aspen baseball since his sons were Muckdogs, a local team of half-pints re-nicknamed after an obscure Minor League team, that now only exists in a pleasant memory of an improbable championship in a raising-kid-crazy time that seemed complicated before anyone recognized it as a dream come true.
Dresser loves the game more than the small-town chatter below, nothing to do with playing ball. No doubt it was the background noise that drove him to the far reaches where he can hear more important things, like what the umpire is saying to the first base coach as infielders toss the ball between innings.
A game or three ago, I saw Huff sitting up there with Dresser. He’s the resource officer at the school. He knows the kids, coaches, parents and, most of all, the game. He’s like a living game day program for Aspen High.
The conspicuous thundering of my feet across aluminum treads between vacant bleachers that I climbed to reach them made me self-conscious of entering sacred ground. I minded my business and contributed thoughtfully about things to do with the game.
The next time I was more self-assured and, so, said less. Huff brought sunflower seeds, which I cracked between my teeth, spitting the husks to the shaded no man’s land below, a taboo in polite company.
Moriarty showed up to see what the fuss over the current team was all about. Guthrie made his way up to let us know if this squad was as good as the ones he played on in the ’70s. In the end, the Aspen Nine couldn’t get the win, which launched us into listing the missed opportunities, which are fun to be cranky about after a loss, which propelled us into a round-robin match to prove who was paying most attention.
The last home game had playoff implications. Suddenly Dresser’s Corner was a happening place. Along with us previous finders of sanctuary, Mr. Aspen Baseball, formally known as “Stump,” came by. Coach Yusem joined in. Joe and Joe Jr. arrived to reminisce. The only one who wasn’t there was Dresser, who got stuck in a meeting back in the real world. We cheered his son loudly in his absence and honor when he ripped a line drive to left. None of us had a dog in the fight, we all just love dogs.
There was a ground ball to short in the last inning with a runner on first. He fielded it cleanly, looked to first and then thought better of the long throw, opting for the toss to second instead. But,the hesitation cost him, both runners were safe. The win was still assured, but there was a no-hitter on the line.
Would they score it a hit and ruin the pitcher’s bid? They almost had to; what was the error on the fielder’s part? We debated scoring possibilities to make the special day stand for the pitcher, maybe a once-in-a-lifetime moment, but couldn’t quite make it all fit.
“It’s a fielder’s choice!” Moriarty cried like he’d just discovered electricity. “You don’t need to record an out to score it that way! I’ll bet you a buck!”
There was no rush for the exits in Dresser’s Corner after the final out. The game had been too short or we had lived too long since we last laced up our own spikes. I don’t know how long we sat there. It wasn’t long enough. But, the end was as inevitable as hunger and the need for a jacket in front of the sun setting behind the center field fence. She’s going, going … gone!
At home I boiled bratwurst in beer then threw them on the grill, just like they do at a good tailgater.
Later the phone rang. It was Moriarty.
“After you guys left I talked to the umps. They didn’t even hesitate. It was a fielder’s choice!”
“Ha,” I chuckled. “The kid got the no-no after all.”
“Yeah! … and we were there.”
Roger Marolt knows an old fielder’s choice is always to spend time at a ballpark. Email at email@example.com.