Book Excerpt: ‘Down to the Last Pitch’ By Tim Wendel

I had the pleasure of meeting writer, author and teacher Tim Wendel two weeks ago at the Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville. Today is the official publication day of his new baseball book. Read the following excerpt and grab a copy.

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Buy at Amazon / Barnes & Noble
Buy at Amazon / Barnes & Noble

From Down to the Last Pitch: How the 1991 Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves Gave Us the Best World Series of All Time by Tim Wendel. Reprinted courtesy of Da Capo Press.

Round ball. Round bat.

Ted Williams once said that having them greet each other so the impact is square and solid remains the most difficult feat to accomplish in sports, and any slugger who has come before or after him will echo those words.

What do we make of those moments when ball and bat do meet just so? When the ball flies off the bat as though it had a mind of its own and for an instant the only role it knows in life is to soar over the outfield fence like a flock of geese heading for the horizon? What registers in the batter’s box? What does one remember?

“It’s the feel,” said Frank Robinson, who hit 586 home runs dur¬ing his career. “You don’t feel anything down the bat handle. I’m not trying to make a joke. That’s how it is.

“When you’ve really hit the ball there are no vibrations. You could be swinging through air. That’s how perfect it is.”

Besides the feel in the hands, there is the sweet smack to a well-hit ball. Robinson cautioned that each ballpark has different acoustics and dimensions, so the sound can sometimes fool you. But every slugger worth his salt knows the crisp reverberation that a home run ball often makes.

At first Robinson described it as “a gun shot,” but then he searched for better words. A gun shot, in this day and age, seemed too callous for something so magical.

Robinson and I once discussed such things during batting practice at a major-league game. As the home team continued to hit, Robinson paused, simply listening, waiting for that sound again. Even though the clamor built for another game, Robinson was able to tune such diversions out. When the next batter stepped into the cage the rhythmic rat-tat-tat of bat-hitting-ball began again. It could have been a carpenter driving nails or a woodsman splitting wood, except there was a particular fullness or certainty to this particular sound.

“There it is,” Robinson said, and moments later a deep fly sailed past the outfield fence. “It’s like you’re out in the woods and you step on branch. A dry branch. It’s that snap that goes just so. But you have to be careful. The sound comes and goes depending upon the ballpark, the crowd that day. You can’t wait for the sound to tell you every time the ball is going out.”

Together we turned back to the batting cage, and here it came again. For a brief second that sound, that snap of a ball well hit, broke through the mounting anticipation of another game, no matter how loud the commotion may have been. Another well-hit ball soared into the sky and landed in the stands beyond the fence.

“Nothing else offers the kind of excitement that a home run does,” Robinson said. “Not even a perfect game. Because a home run is instant—it’s so surprising.”

And so it was again, this time in Game One of the 1991 World Series. In the bottom of the fifth inning Kent Hrbek roped a 2–0 pitch from Charlie Leibrandt to right field for a stand-up double. Scott Leius followed with a soft single into left, with Hrbek holding at third base. Leibrandt may have trailed only 1–0 at this point, but he wasn’t fool¬ing many of the Twins’ hitters.

Then came that sound again. Despite the crowd of more than fifty-five thousand at the Metrodome, pretty much all of them now on their feet, cheering and waving those infernal white Homer Hankies, that sound of a dry branch breaking in the woods, an echo of every long fly that’s ever happened in this game, was about to occur again.

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