Under cloudy skies, fans bid adieu to 51s’ season

There should be special ground rules for the last day of the baseball season.

The weather should be cool and crisp, portending of fall. Of football, that other game. Of fallen leaves on two-lane highways that get tossed into the air by vintage European sports cars, the kind with tiny windscreens driven by chaps wearing tweed caps and leather gloves.

The sun should be cool, but it also should shine on the last day of the baseball season.

For without the sun, there cannot be long shadows.

And without long shadows, one cannot feel properly melancholy on the last day of the baseball season.

The sun shone at Cashman Field on Monday, but only for an inning or so. When the 51s took the field for Game 144 of 144, a gentle rain was falling. It was 93 degrees.

The lack of long shadows notwithstanding, it was delightful, at least for Las Vegas on Labor Day.

I was telling some baseball fans, some of the regulars sitting down the right-field line, that sometimes those who show up for the last game of the season when it ostensibly means nothing are rewarded in ways that are least expected.

In 1984, on the last day of the season, Mike Witt of the California Angels threw a perfect game against the Texas Rangers. Nobody expected that, or more than 8,375 would have paid to see it.

On the last day of the 1975 season, four Oakland Athletics pitchers — Vida Blue, Glenn Abbott, Paul Lindblad and Rollie Fingers — combined to no-hit the Angels. This was the only no-hitter started by a guy who won the Cy Young and Most Valuable Player awards (Blue) and finished by a guy who won the Cy Young and MVP (Fingers). Who could have foretold that?

The last game of the 2011 season at Cashman Field did not reward the announced crowd of 3,557 with a no-hitter, combined or otherwise.

But it rained and it was cool, relatively speaking. And that was reward enough.

Older Red Sox fans, and fans of hitting gods whose heads have been cryogenically frozen, may recall that it was on the last day of the 1960 season that “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu.” That was the title of John Updike’s homage to Ted Williams in The New Yorker. It might be the best story ever written about baseball, though I am sure Lenny Dykstra’s biography will make for compelling reading, too.

On the last day of the season, one sometimes gets to bid adieu to a legend, or at least to a grizzled veteran getting on in years. But the 51s bid adieu to 35-year-old Chris Woodward, who was called up by the Blue Jays, on Sunday.

David Cooper won the Pacific Coast League batting title with a .364 average and also was awarded the Mayor’s Trophy as the favorite player of 51s fans. But he’s only 24 — not a guy one bids adieu to. Not yet, anyway.

So the only attraction on this overcast afternoon was baseball. And $1 hot dogs on the last Value Menu Monday of the season.

When the game started at 12:05 p.m., first-base umpire Barry Larson’s left arm was encased in a protective cast. One could tell that it had been a long season.

The first inning took 37 minutes. If the 2011 season was destined to die before our eyes, it wasn’t going down without a fight.

The rest of the game took 2 hours, 6 minutes, which, for once, seemed too short. The 51s won 10-2. Darin Mastroianni, the team’s center fielder, hustled from first to third on a bunt single by shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria. Like it was the first game of the season, not the last.

On my way to the field after the game, I passed Mastroianni in the dugout runway. He was the last player to leave the field. When I arrived at field level, only Louie Lopez, the 51s’ bat boy, remained. He was wheeling away the Gatorade barrels. Empty cups and the spent casings of sunflower seeds littered the dugout floor.

The season was over.

In my head, I heard again the ringing sound a waxed beer cup makes after it is stomped on just right, in a near-empty ballpark, in fading September sunlight.

And though the air was nowhere near as crisp, and the shadows nowhere near as long as I remembered, that’s how it seemed.

That’s how it always seems to a baseball fan on the last day of the season.

Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.

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