Front-Paged. Although I hope this is just a reaction to one bad game, it's really unfortunate that the recent success of the Phillies has made a large portion of the fanbase so impatient. - WC
Tonight, on August 29th, 2011, I witnessed what we should all hope will become the nadir of a long and wonderful baseball-playing career of Domonic Brown. We should hope this because there is so much clearly-demonstrated promise in this young outfielder. And we should hope for better, for him, because any point reaching lower than tonight's nightmare borders on the tragic.
More thoughts after the jump...The double-header, scheduled thanks to tempestuous Hurricane Irene, between the Lehigh Valley IronPigs and the Syracuse Chiefs started off badly for Domonic Brown, and only got painfully worse.
Facing Chiefs left-hander, and Washington Nationals' 2010 Minor League Pitcher of the Year, Tom Milone, Brown struck out in his first at bat of the night to end the bottom of the first inning. This moment, along with Brown's two ground-outs to second (one against Milone in the 4th, the next against south-paw reliever Atahualpa Severino in the 6th) might actually have been the high points of Brown's evening.
To be fair, none of the Iron Pigs did much against Chiefs pitching in either of the 7-inning games (the lone exception might be Freddy Galvis, who looked, tonight at least, like Lehigh Valley's best player). The Iron Pigs were shut-out in both games with identical scores of 4-0, mustering a total of eight hits in the 14 combined innings.
However, Brown's nightmare was not confined to the batter's box, though I'm sure he wishes that it could have been.
In the top of the first inning, the Chiefs began their scoring on the first of Brown's miscues in Left Field. A line-drive off the bat of Jesus Valdez headed straight for Brown, freezing him, with the ball then continuing over his head. Ruled a double, it was a tough play, perhaps the toughest of Brown's numerous misplays on the night, but it was a play he probably should have made.
In the top of the 4th inning, Chiefs' First-Baseman Jeff Frazier hit another line drive to Brown, this time in front of the Iron Pigs' Left Fielder. Brown came sprinting in for the ball, whereupon it clanked off his glove, chest high. Originally ruled E-7, the Official Scorer later took mercy on Brown, granting Frazier a very generous single. This would be the last bit of mercy offered to Domonic Brown.
Brown and the Iron Pigs looked to rebound in Game Two, just 30 minutes after a listless 4-0 loss in Game One. The very first batter of the double-header's second game, the part-time Washington National, Roger Bernadina, lifted a lazy fly ball to left field. But this wasn't just any fly ball. As it headed toward Domonic Brown standing underneath it, Brown's right arm stretched to the sky, the fly ball became a cruel joke, became a disease, became an assassin, became a snow-cone at the end of Brown's glove, became an egg, broken in the soft grass of Coca-Cola Stadium.
The people of Allentown, most of them Phillies fans, were too shocked to boo. They just witnessed the third of Brown's misplays, and the most egregious one, out of four total chances (Brown did catch Steve Lombardozzi's fly ball in the top of game one's 7th inning). The colliding surrealities of the double-header, the extra beers, the psychedelic pink sunset peeking beyond the scattered clouds, made us all think we were all there together, caught inexplicably in Dom Brown's inescapable nightmare.
Wherever we were, and however we got there, the night continued.
After striking out weakly in the bottom of the first inning, it was then that the boo birds made their way through the tightened throats of Lehigh Valley to descend upon the tall, lanky, clearly affected outfielder, wearing, ironically perhaps, jersey number 7.
Two innings later, Dom Brown then struck out again, chasing a low breaking-ball, against Chief's starting pitcher, right-hander Brad Peacock. The boos, a little louder this time, chased Brown back to the dugout, looking like a beaten dog.
An inning and a half later, the top of the 5th, Steve Lombardozzi, perhaps looking for revenge for the one ball Brown caught, sent another one Domonic's way, this time with horrifying results. A lazy fly, Brown settled underneath it, reached his right arm up, and missed it. The ball, laughing all the way down, landed several feet behind Brown, just as the Chief's second baseman took second base on a gift double.
Fighting through disbelief, the boos rained down harder.
My girlfriend and I stood along the right-field fence, just in front of Coca-Cola Field's "Bud Light Trough", with our hands first covering our eyes, shortly thereafter holding our heads. We were sincerely saddened by this string of moments, fruitlessly trying to count the number of Domonic Brown mistakes, perhaps hoping we could enumerate them so we could offer equal number forgivenesses.
Making things worse were the boos, which were only getting more violent. Worse still, the boos all came from white faces, momentarily flushed red from drink and from anger, all aimed at the only black player on the diamond for the Iron Pigs.
I questioned whether the fans wanted Brown to fail, right there in front of their eyes, thereby offering them the gift to lash out at him. To enact their own venomous, slightly veiled, violence.
Myself born in 1976, I imagined, for a moment, 1964 and Dick Allen and Connie Mack Stadium. Could so much history still live in bones and blood of these baseball fans? Are racial tensions reborn deep inside the muddy waters of the Schuylkill River? Are these 8,100 white fans so scared of or disconnected from (or both) Domonic Brown that they can't see the beaten soul out there they are so carelessly trampling upon?
Or maybe none of the racial complications are relevant, and the real truth is that Domonic Brown is a ball-player, and he is being confronted by the mythologically harsh judgement of Philadelphia-area baseball fans.
The optimistic view might be that the Universe (or perhaps BaseBa'al itself) is offering Domonic Brown a profound rite-of-passage-- an impossible, transformational opportunity to transcend from prospect to professional, from athlete to man.
In any case, the evening’s indignities were not done with him. Double-switched out of the game after his fourth and final strike-out of the night, Brown endured the roar of the remaining IronPig fans, rejoicing in the announcement that Tagg Bozied was in the game, replacing Brown in left field, and offering a corporeal end to the nightmare (the memory, of course, is able to live on).
As the second game neared its final outs, I spoke with a ballpark usher about the night. I was relieved to hear that this was the first time this usher heard these kinds of boos directed at Brown. He told me he thought the fans were just reacting to a bad night. This bit of news, delivered almost a bit flippantly by the usher, temporarily (and thankfully) suspends my doomsday narrative of The End of Domonic Brown. Perhaps this night, like so many in the incomparably complex and beautiful sport of baseball, was just a bad night—a really terrible, horrible, no good, very bad night.
Perhaps all that’s needed is for Domonic Brown to shake it off, rub some dirt on this night, and play a better game tomorrow. And the next day, and the next day. And perhaps if he does, August 29th, 2011, will indeed be the welcoming but painful springboard of rock-bottom.
But perhaps it's true that things aren't as simple as that. Because baseball, acting so often as a mirror that reflects everything around it, is a more complicated animal than simply having good days and bad days, and it's because of these reflective complications that I am so desperately in love with it.
It is my own hope that Domonic Brown can recover from this night, shake the nightmare from his body, and play a game tomorrow more worthy of his talent, more worthy of himself. And if he does, and then plays himself back to Philadelphia after enduring this night (and all that it does or doesn't, may or may not signify), Domonic Brown, fans screaming at him forever, will always be one of my heroes.