Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Omega and the Alpha: Homer Bailey and the Legend in the Peripheral View

I joked briefly with a co-worker today that the weather felt like September. The air was cool and damp with heavy cloud cover bracing the would-be brutal July sun. It was less of a rain, more of a weighted mist. Something like early autumn. A state's length away in Southern Ohio, Homer Bailey felt like September as well. He had thrown a no-hitter on the twenty eighth day of that month last year. No pitcher had completed the feat since. Tonight, Bailey was in that autumnal form against the defending champion San Francisco Giants.

One long, prairie-stricken drive separates my home in Northwest Indiana from Cincinnati. I've never made the hajj to pro-baseball's genesis, but in less than a day I suppose it is quite feasible. They call their stadium the Great American Ball Park, and rightfully so. It is, after all, just a short distance from where the Cincinnati Red Stockings began the idea of paying a man to play baseball. America has always had a close connection with baseball, and inherently professional baseball is Cincinnati's broadest legacy to America. Along that slow, winding river of nearly a century and a half, the Red Stockings, Reds, and Redlegs have been a centerpiece to the feast of baseball tabernacles. Who could forget Johnny Vander Meer's back-to-back no-hitters? The Big Red Machine of the 1970's? To those of us born in the late twentieth century, our image of the Reds may be Barry Larkin or Ken Griffey Jr.'s injury-plagued years. Now, the Reds are a National League powerhouse, led by Joey Votto, the Canadian-born heir to the throne of 'best player in baseball.'

A few weeks back, I attended the Cubs-Reds tilt that will be remembered as the fog game. Homer Bailey pitched and was magnificent. At that time what I thought of most when he crossed my mind was that he had talent and had thrown a no-hitter, but wasn't necessarily a top-tier pitcher. Tonight as I walked around my neighborhood listening to the Reds and Giants, the idea crept in that Bailey was in fact one of the best in baseball. It wasn't that his performance tonight had caused a sea-change in my attitude, it was more a revelation from on high that I had been overlooking a modestly-promoted star this whole time.

Tonight Homer Bailey etched his name into a long, remarkable line of Cincinnati baseball legends. He is now in elite company in all of baseball history, as he became the twenty-sixth Major League pitcher to have thrown multiple no-hitters. Four of the pitchers on that list are still active players, including Bailey. His legacy is more established than any Red in more than a decade. I have come to recognize the brilliance of his pitching. Is Homer Bailey a Hall-of-Famer? The twenty-seven year old has plenty of time to make his case one way or the other. Tonight, only one walk separated him from a perfect game and an even greater sense of immortality.

Back in my cold, damp Indiana July night, the weight of Bailey's second no-hitter was no greater than those millions of obnoxious pellets of rain berating me from every conceivable angle. As a Cubs fan, I see a chief rival with another superstar in the making, another legend unfolding parallel to my team's misfortune. As a baseball fan, all I ever want is to witness greatness. I've reconciled my wayward notions of Homer Bailey. I've come to terms that he is indeed one of the best in the business- The business that started in Cincinnati.

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