SAN FRANCISCO — Here I sit, brokenhearted, came for Mitch, he never got started.
It is the middle of the fourth game of the National League playoffs, and all around, Candlestick fans are going crazy. Over in Oakland, they are toasting their new champions, the Athletics. But for me, alas, the playoffs are a bust.
This was to be my time. My moment in the sun. You know how some people go their whole lives and are never in fashion? They buy their first Bee Gees album the same day as “Death Before Disco” T-shirts come out? Fashion is, for such people, merely a bus that they just missed. And I am one such person. Always have been.
Until now. This was to be my time. Not because I am a Giants fan. Not because I have a thing for Wrigley Field. No. Because . . . well, because of a man named Mitch.
Surely you have heard of him? The young, semi-bearded Chicago reliever who has become the darling of Cubs fans everywhere — provided they are not within
a quarter mile of his pitches? When Mitch pitches, the ball can go right down the middle. Of the glove or the broadcast booth. On Opening Day he loaded the bases with walks, then struck out the side. And that was a well-controlled inning. Remember in “Bull Durham,” when Kevin Costner, playing a catcher, grins at the batter and says “I don’t know where it’s going.”
That’s Mitch. My guy.
Where is he? A president named Mitch
It is the fourth inning now. And still no sign. He hasn’t played yet. He is the ace of the Cubs’ bullpen — 36 saves, a club record for left-handers — and, to this point, all he’s done is warm up and sit down. This is not what I figured. I figured by this point, everyone in America would be singing “Wild Thing” and growing stubble. I figured the whole country would be throwing baseballs as if they were trying to separate their arms from their sockets.
And, most of all, and I hate to admit this, I figured people across the nation would be . . . renaming their children with my first name.
Let me tell you something about Mitch. Not the guy. The name. I have been carrying it around since the day I was born. It is not a great name. For one thing, it rhymes with some lousy words.
For another thing, there have not been a whole lot of historic figures to honor the moniker. No King Mitch. No Saint Mitch. No famous war generals. Gen. Mitch MacArthur? Yeah. You’re laughing, aren’t you?
Mostly what you get when you are named Mitch as a kid is a lot of old ladies pinching your cheeks and saying “Oooh . . . Sing along with Mitch!”
Until now. Suddenly, Mitches of the world had a whole new hero. Talented. Eccentric. Lovable? Yes. Mitch Williams is nothing if not lovable. Earlier this season, he was hit in the head by a line drive. He pitched the next day.
“I’ve been hit in the head before,” he said. “My brother used to hit me in the head all the time.”
Lovable? He goes bowling after ball games to relieve tension. Lovable? He has a tattoo — below the waist. Lovable? He was once summed up this way by pitcher Al Nipper: “If a bird had Mitch’s brain, it would fly backwards.”
Listen. I have met the man. You’d like him. He was running by the other day and I said, “Hey. Mitch. When you gonna pitch?”
And he said, “I dunno. That’s what I wanna know. I’m itching. This is bad. I gotta pitch. I dunno.”
Where is he? Bobs and Bills by the bushel
And now we’re in the sixth inning. And no Mitch. You gotta wonder about this. True. Williams is the closer. He usually only comes in late with the Cubs leading. Then again, the way the Cubs’ pitchers are going in this series, if they wait for that, he might as well stay at the hotel.
Some people saw his absence as a managerial gaffe. No. I know what it is. A conspiracy. By the Williams and Roberts of the world. They’ve already got Will Clark and Robby Thompson. They’ve got Willie Mays and Bob Gibson. Let’s face it. There is no shortage of Bills or Bobs or Marks or Dons or even Terrys in the sporting world. And zip for Mitches.
Oh. Yeah. In basketball there have been a few. But how many kids are on the playground, spinning to the hoop and yelling “Mitch . . . Kupchak!”
And then there is the famous boxer, Mitch (Blood) Green, who once called Mike Tyson a sissy and has had his license suspended 59 times. At last check, I think he moved into police headquarters, since he was there most of the time anyhow.
And now it’s the eighth inning.
Wait. Here he comes! Striding to the mound like a wild man. Look at that delivery! Look at that smoke! Look at him fall off the mound like somebody tied his shoes together. Finally, America is watching a Mitch in big-time action, and, and . . .
And the Cubs lose.
And he walks off the field.
Here I sit, brokenhearted. I am not sure what these playoffs will ultimately mean to the people involved. I know what they will mean to me.
My cheeks are in trouble.