Friday, September 4, 2020

Magic Forkball

 As published in The County Times (, May 2020

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

You know the drill by now, fellow bleacher bums.  The first order of business is a quarantine check. 

It has been 64 days since the NBA suspended its season, 63 days since schools closed temporarily and eight days since they shuttered for the year.  Got Zoom?  We should be sitting in these cheap seats to together, just inches much less six feet apart, discussing the start of the NFL’s minicamps and getting increasingly amped for the Capitals’ push to another Stanley Cup.  Instead we are lamenting the recent cancellation of the Little League World Series, an event where kids from around the world teach us how a common love and a shared experience can trivialize divides in nationality, language, race, religion and any other barrier cooked up by the simple-minded, cynical and generally flawed adult world. 

This all stinks, of course, but isolation, facemasks, social distancing and cancelled sporting events save lives and lighten the load on health care workers – so it’s a small price to pay.  A very small price.  For the patriot readers, if George Washington or Patrick Henry were alive today, they would be sacrificing for their fellow Americans.  For the Christian readers, Jesus would be masked up and all about touch-free takeout, at least when not giving virtual sermons.  For everyone, included in those groups or not, just be a good human.  Our wellness is now very much intertwined.   

Roy Face and Washington baseball are also connected.  Face pitched 16 seasons in the major leagues from 1953-1969, with all but one being with the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Face was traded during the 1968 season to Detroit, where he stayed long enough to have a cup of coffee.  He finished his career the next season with the newly established Montreal Expos, the franchise that ultimately moved south some 35 years later and are now our WORLD CHAMPION Washington Nationals (nope, never gets old). 

Embarrassing admission: Despite owning a version of “Total Baseball: The Ultimate Baseball Encyclopedia” for over 25 years, I had never heard of Face until a recent ESPN article by David Schoenfield chronicled his 18-1 record in 1959 – a major-league record .947 winning percentage.  Further research revealed Face was far from a one-season wonder.  From 1958-1962, Face led the majors in saves four times and saved three World Series games in 1960, a feat since tied several times and bested only by John Wetteland’s four saves in 1996.  But neither Wetteland nor the five other pitchers with three saves pitched more than the 10.1 innings Face did in the Pirates’ 1960 Fall Classic victory over the New York Yankees.

Face wasn’t done setting records or with Washington sports.  Over all those seasons in Pittsburgh, Face took the mound 807 times for the Pirates, tying the then record for most appearances by a pitcher with a single club.  Whose record did he equal?  Washington Senators pitchers and all-time baseball legend Walter Johnson, of course.  You can’t make this stuff up.

Roy Face, who was all of 5’8” and 155lbs, managed this long, notable major league career because he found his magic trick.  See, Face threw a forkball, something of a split-fingered fastball and quite the novelty for his era.  How fabulous.  Isn’t that what we’re all doing in life – hunting for what makes us unique?  Foraging for a sustaining force?  Scrambling for something that sets us apart?  Searching for our version of a magic forkball?  It could be a skill that starts a career, a calling that provides lifelong inspiration, a friendship that develops into a business partnership or an innocent spark that leads to a relationship, love, a family and contentment.  More broadly, it could be a magic elixir that solves one of society’s “isms” or “phobias”, the recent rise in divisive tribalism, wealth inequality or an existential threat like climate change.  Or it could even be a pertinent discovery that overcomes an incredible challenge faced in a specific moment in history – something like a vaccine for an evil, pervasive virus sweeping the globe, suspending personal liberties and creating uncertainty, fear and heartache.  Yeah, give me…give us all…a magic forkball like that.

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