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The Inside Track | COMMENTARY

Kerry Fortunate He's Not on the Mound

August 08, 2004|Dave Kindred | Sporting News

Here in the Toy Department of life, where we play with sticks and balls and cars that go boom-on-fire, it's always entertaining to keep track of our political heroes' athletic achievements, such as George W. Bush falling off his bicycle onto his schnozz.

Imagine my delight, then, to see John F. Kerry throw out a ceremonial baseball at Fenway Park.

First, I will stipulate that it's good to have a presidential candidate who believes a Red Sox-Yankees game is better than yet another appearance in Florida. Scheduled to fly from Ohio to Cape Canaveral, Fla., Kerry, the Democratic candidate, ordered his plane diverted to Boston for the last game of the Evil Empire's most recent invasion of Fenway.

The Boston Globe's man on the Kerry campaign, Patrick Healy, reported that the detour made Kerry "downright giddy."

"He stood behind the wet bar in the 757's media cabin and offered to serve margaritas," Healy wrote, quoting the Massachusetts senator saying, "I love the Red Sox. ... I'm going to have some fun."

It is a peculiarity of Red Sox Nation that its longtime inhabitants often consider pain to be fun. At a candidates' debate in Boston last fall, Kerry answered a baseball question from the audience by declaring he would be a great president because of his Red Sox-induced suffering.

"I know adversity," he said.

On the campaign plane, as Kerry waxed rhapsodic on the thrills of adversity, Healy watched the candidate relive one of New England's historic moments: "At one point he crouched in the plane's aisle to imitate former Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner's stance as the baseball rolled through his legs in the infamous sixth game of the 1986 World Series against the New York Mets."

Kerry's appearance at Fenway might have been expected to be memorable.

After all, he is not a ball-and-car-go-boom kind of guy. His old hockey teammates have called him a "rink turner," a term of denigration aimed at skaters who glide in great arcs and circles rather than subject themselves to the rigors of quick stops and starts.

Though Kerry scored three goals to help Yale's soccer team defeat Harvard in 1966, his Scottish soccer coach once told him not to "diddle with the ball," a scolding that led to the nickname "the Diddler."

In recent days, teevee brought us pictures of the candidate in a wetsuit on a surfboard. He was also hanging onto a rope. The rope was attached at one end to a kite, at the other to a speedboat. It seemed a fine way to break many bones. It was called kitesurfing, and while presidents have split logs (A. Lincoln), hunted bears (T. Roosevelt), and perhaps played football without a helmet (G. Ford), no president ever went flying on a kite (though G.H.W. Bush now throws himself from planes).

The truth that Kerry might not be fully conversant with baseball's methods became evident at Fenway Park when he walked onto the hallowed ground with a ball in his right hand.

He walked toward the mound where once Babe Ruth pitched, where Bill Lee ordered the horsehide to stay inside the yard, where Pedro Martinez stuffed the Wild Bull of the Bronx, Don Zimmer.

News reports indicated that Kerry, in anticipation of the great honor, had practiced throwing pitches to aides. If so, those aides would have well served their man by saying, "Er, sir, maybe we should have Teresa do it."

As Kerry came out of the Red Sox dugout to do the first-pitch honors, he carried the ball in a way that foreshadowed the achievement to come. He carried it pressed against his palm with his fingers wrapped all the way around it.

A baseball is God's perfect invention. It fits precisely, cozily, wonderfully, in the space between one's thumb and index and middle fingers.

Perched there, it is supported by the side of the ring finger. Someone once said, and maybe it was Yogi Berra, "Anyone who carries a baseball stuffed against his palm and enclosed by all his fingers is a rink-turning kitesurfing diddler."

Kerry didn't go all the way out to the mound. Perhaps he took a touch of advice from aides who had seen him warm up. He stopped maybe 45 feet from home plate. From there he threw the first pitch.

I say "threw" in the kindest possible way. Here's what Kerry did: He raised his right arm to its full height. From up there, in an athletic movement seldom seen on a baseball field, he let the stiffened arm fall forward. At the same time, he splayed open his fingers in a way that allowed the ball to fall out. It bumped against the ground short of the catcher and in the right-hand batter's box.

Now, anyone working in life's Toy Department dare not suggest that a presidential vote be decided according to how a candidate throws.

Still. President Bush threw a World Series strike from 60 feet 6 inches while wearing body armor the month after 9/11. And he threw another strike opening this season in St. Louis.

So if we need a fastball at Osama bin Laden's ear, I know which guy I want on the mound.

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