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Sports Authority

Kramer: A home run for healing

| Monday, August 24, 2020

The timely, majestic, feel-it-in-your-bones home run stands as one of the most incomprehensible phenomena in sports.

A strange obsession for the long ball runs through the veins of the modern baseball fanbase, and MLB administrators see no reason to clot it. As heavy-hitting rosters shatter team home run records year after year, player development directors remain so intensely fixated on producing even more power that new-age terms like launch angle, exit velocity and swing efficiency have entered the vernacular.

And yet, in all of their euphoric glory, some homers manage to bring grown men to the brink of tears. When tragedy hits, we turn to professional sports for a vicarious commemoration, a taste of escape, a powerful antidote. The way that the ball leaves the playing surface and joins the myriad stories that fill the bleachers forges a connection potent enough to release a therapeutic cry well past due. Billy Beane was right: how can you not be romantic about baseball?

Granted, home runs alone cannot and will not heal us. The sheer magnitude of American loss stemming from virulent systemic racism, the coronavirus and the bear market economy surpasses the healing power of any team, any game or any swing. But baseball holds a distinct role as a massive influence in the heart of summer to spearhead the social healing process. Perhaps one swing could accomplish exactly that.

Call it coincidence, but quintessential home runs have met the trials and tribulations of history at every step, and I expect nothing less in our unprecedented time of crisis. Take Dee Gordon’s leadoff home run following the tragic death of his teammate Jose Fernandez in 2016. Fernandez, a budding ace for the Marlins, died in a boat accident off the coast of South Beach with high levels of cocaine and alcohol in his system. On the third pitch of the Marlins’ return to play, Gordon tapped into some unusual power and homered to right field off of Bartolo Colon, his only long ball of the season.

The same sentiment reached a national scale in 2001 as all eyes rested on the New York Mets in their first game after the devastating attacks of 9/11. With the National League pennant on the line against the Braves, Hall of Fame catcher Mike Piazza stepped up to the plate in the eight inning and drilled the most electric homer of his career, a two-run blast that left New York City in long-awaited bliss.

Racial prejudice and violence is no exception to the remedial home run. Hank Aaron earned a standing ovation in the Deep South as he passed Babe Ruth on the career home run list. With fans flooding the field and Dodger infielders shaking Aaron’s hand, the uproar in Atlanta diverged from the overwhelming hate mail and death threats that Aaron faced throughout the preseason. Vin Scully delivered one of the greatest calls in his career, observing, “That poker face of Aaron’s shows the tremendous strain and relief of what it must have been like to live with for the past several months. It is over.”

And of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention David Ortiz’s grand slam against the Tigers in the 2013 ALCS. The Boston Marathon bombing in April fueled the Boston Red Sox’s dramatic World Series run, reaching an emotional apex as Ortiz sent a ball into the home bullpen over a flipping Torii Hunter. Steve Horgan, police officer and overnight sensation, epitomized the renewed energy of Boston as the ball fell at his feet.

The great Jimmy Dugan of “A League of Their Own” once said, “There’s no crying in baseball!”

Easy for you to say, Jimmy. Leave it to us to prove you wrong.

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