BOTTOM OF THE SEVENTH: BLUE JAYS 4 (1) – 1 YANKEES
It’s yet another classic hit from the greatest of this baseball generation, leaping and bounding his way through the record books, into the hearts of fans, his face on every billboard across Canada—the one, the only… Darwin … Barney?
He’s (at best) the fourth best known Barney in recent history, behind the burping, beloved Barney Gumble of The Simpsons, the lisping, jowl-jiggling Barney Frank of the U.S. Senate, and last but never least—the giddy, always-smiling, definitely-not-frightening mascot of Barney & Friends on PBS, a (quoting Wikipedia here) “purple anthropomorphic tyrannosaurus rex who conveys educational messages through songs and small dance routines with a friendly, optimistic attitude.”
Talk about being undersold. That dinosaur is more than friendly—he’s a childhood hero, infecting blessing my 10-month-old brain with rhythms and lyrics of a quality I’ve gone looking for empty-handed ever since. If only I could go back…
And Darwin, Mr. Barney himself, he’s in a league of his own, having stepped gracefully into my life in 2010, a Gold-Glove messiah to the cellar-bound Cubs, turning in batting averages from .208 to .241, alongside a pretty two to seven home runs a year.
So as I tuned in tonight from distant Chicago, it was a montage reel of memories streaming back into sight—the 61-101 Cubs of 2012, the 66-96 Cubs of 2013, and one name shining above an entire roster of scrubs: Darwin Barney. A name I’ve not heard in in a long time…
He’s in the dugout as the inning opens, selecting his bat, donning his helmet, hoping for Jays baserunners. Awaiting a late-game surge, the table set for a slugger that’s got the opposing dugout debating how they might ever get him out.
The game is tied 1-1. Edwin Encarnacion coming up first.
And we’re back from mid-inning commercials with the camera on the Rogers Centre concourse, zoomed in on a temporary merchandise kiosk—forty wide, in stacks of twenty, the image of play-by-play guy Buck Martinez with a baseball in hand, printed on the front cover of a new book. And as Martinez himself wraps up the plug, there’s a cutaway, the camera panning up to the sky, the dome open, with the CN Tower looming in the light of a purple Toronto sunset.
John Gibbons has two Jays up in the bullpen, with maybe the most clever baseball ad I’ve seen—next to the Cubs’ “Reynolds Wrap” rain-delay infield tarp. Might have to go buy something just out of respect here. A series of “Aleve relievers” signs printed in white behind the bullpen mound, the kind of ad I can almost applaud. A few marks better than Rafael Palmeiro encouraging me on national TV (with family members by my side) to buy a certain small, blue, performance-enhancing pill.
Encarnacion rips a double to left, bouncing from the turf to the wall. The Toronto fans jump up in a frenzy, hopped up on the makings of another win over a New York team newly, surprisingly under .500.
— Mike Wilner (@Wilnerness590) June 1, 2016
On the mound is CC Sabathia, who would easily take gold in the Baggiest Uniform award category, with Prince Fielder in second, Eddy Curry holding it down in third for the NBA.
And in now from the N.Y. bullpen comes Dellin Betances, the definition of cool. He looks “New York” in a way I can’t quite describe, with a clean swagger the team’s struggled to recreate after Derek, Bernie, Jorge, Mariano, and the rest of the ‘00s gang all headed off into the sunset.
Strikeout to Justin Smoak. Fastball trailing high and away. 99 mph on the gun.
“He reminds me of James Rodney Richards,” says one of the Toronto TV guys, of Betances’ long frame.
And as Russell Martin comes up, the Toronto crowd starts a wave, winding around the stadium in repeating rings. On the next pitch, a slider left hanging, Russell smacks it—sailing on a line deep to left, to the wall… caught. On the warning track, by Aaron Hicks, playing deep.
The crowd groans.
Then, Devin Travis comes up next, draws a four-pitch walk. So it’s two men on, two outs, for Kevin Pillar—who’s been putting together the best outfield highlight reel since Jim Edmonds.
Sabathia’s in the dugout, pitching jacket on, rubbing his head, sitting up by the railing.
On the second pitch, Pillar rips a fastball the opposite way, a line-drive single, and Encarnacion takes off from second, speeds around third, charges home to score. 2-1 Blue Jays.
— April Whitzman (@Alleycat17) June 1, 2016
And the Rogers Centre is wild with joy. It doesn’t get better than this: a lead on the Yankees, a recent surge with first-place on the horizon, and the great Darwin Barney in the on-deck circle, taking notes on Betances, readying for the game-winner we’re all but expecting.
He comes up and sees a first pitch strike, fastball down the middle. Pillar takes second base on an easy steal. Two Jays now in scoring position.
Betances delivers, Barney pops foul to the upper decks, his body spinning around like a washing machine. He steps out of the box then back in. Another fastball comes in, way high. Barney exhales, takes a tense chew of gum, wags his bat above his shoulder.
And he readies for stardom. Hector of Troy. Menelaus of Sparta. Darwin of Toronto.
Betances delivers a slider—low, trailing away and into the dirt. Barney sits on it, reaches down low, sticks the bat out and taps it the other way. Line-drive through the infield gap. Two runs score. Blue Jays take over, the sad memory of a fallen Raptors team erased in an instant.
So thankful the Angels said no to the Darwin Barney for Mike Trout trade. Huge bullet dodged.
— (((Gideon Turk))) (@GideonTurk) June 1, 2016
4-1 lead, with the whole park on the feet, relishing the long-awaited rise of a team with something still to prove.
Barney gets caught in a rundown, he’s so jazzed up, tagged for the third out, with the RBI damage already done. He smacks his helmet, takes it off, smacks it some more, chews his gum with big emphatic bites—the image of a man living out a career moment.
And the Blue Jays’ owner, in one of the sky boxes, his hand stroking his chin, sending an intern on a mission: Go find a sketch artist. Go find a sculptor. Order a few tons of iron, the biggest pedestal you can find. And purple paint, a lot of it. This man’s getting a statue. I can see it now, with a plaque in his honor: The great, the heroic, the friendly, the optimistic. The career batting average of .250. The great, the one-of-a-kind: Barney.