For Greg Brock, Sunday was the nicest day of the season, although that’s not saying a whole lot.
The sun was shining, the grass smelled sweet, the pitches were down the middle and the swing was comfortable.
The Pittsburgh Pirates never got Brock out Sunday, and he beat them with his bat, 2-0.
When it was over, Brock came trotting off the field at Dodger Stadium. A fan in the first row behind the Dodger dugout rose and paid his respects.
The fan, who was close enough to spray Brock with a little saliva, screamed an insult.
Hey, maybe the guy had been out getting a beer when Brock drilled a home run in the second inning, or when he bounced a run-scoring single up the middle in the sixth.
Brock could smile about the foamy-fanged fan. Why worry about one idiot when only a couple hours earlier, thousands had been booing you?
The Dodger Stadium fans have been booing Brock steadily since last Thursday night, when he was charged with two errors in the 10th inning of a loss to the Cardinals. He questions the officials scorer’s decision on both errors, but not the fans’ decision to boo.
“I can expect ‘em (the boos),” Brock said. “The team’s been struggling, I had the error, they feel it’s warranted.
“It probably would’ve affected me more last year. I’ve felt a big difference in the way I’ve handled it, from the experience of the last couple years.”
The trouble over the last couple seasons has been that Brock has had far too few games like the one he had Sunday.
When he became the Dodgers’ first baseman two seasons ago, all he had to do was:
a) Replace Steve Garvey, the legendary folk hero he (Brock) indirectly helped drive out of town, and:
b) Live up to his minor league batting reputation, which was up there in the Paul Bunyan-Godzilla strata of reputations.
So far he hasn’t done either of the above. Especially not this season. He suffered a rare double-elbow injury, two sprained elbows. He recently returned to action, and going into Sunday’s game he was hitting .162, with zero homers, zero doubles and triples, and one RBI.
To make matters worse, if that’s possible, Sunday’s list of National League batting averages showed Steve Garvey, still not quite over that doggone hill, hitting .355, with power.
Brock has become sort of the symbol of a sweeping Dodger youth movement that so far has been a disaster.
Still, the Dodgers haven’t given up hope in Brock.
“He’s the first baseman,” Manager Tom Lasorda said Sunday. “I’ve always said he’s the first baseman. As long as he’s healthy, he’s got that job until someone takes it away from him. I think he can drive in big runs for us.”
What do you expect Lasorda to say?
He’s trying to instill confidence in his hitters. Sunday he called his hitters (using the term loosely) together for a pregame pep talk. Lasorda told them to relax.
But how do you relax when you’re supposed to be the next Duke Snider-Steve Garvey and you’re hitting .162 with no homers, and you’re fielding bad, to boot?
How do you relax when the Dodgers have about 12 guys, old and young, on the bench and in the minors, ready to leap into your position at first base if you screw up?
Somehow Brock relaxed enough Sunday to hit that homer and single. If he eventually makes it as a solid big league player, if he sticks around and proves he’s more than an Albuquerque Babe Ruth, Brock might someday look back on Sunday’s game as some kind of turning point.
The homer was a line-drive poke into the bleachers in left-center, off Lee Tunnell, a little-known right-hander lefty with a fine curveball.
“He gave me a fastball down the middle,” Brock said. “He got behind the count, just came down the middle and challenged me.
“It’s been a while since I’ve hit one, but I didn’t doubt that I’d ever hit one again.”
In order to deal with the pressure of being thrown into one of the most glamorous and pressure-packed positions in sports--first base for the Dodgers--Brock decided he had to play it cool.
“I’ve tried to keep about the same the whole way, to take a loss about the same as I take a win,” he said. “Obviously, I’m gonna feel down if I blow a couple of plays, but after the other night (Thursday), I didn’t lose any sleep.”
Brock shrugs when someone mentions the booing.
“I don’t feel I have anything to prove to the fans,” he said. “I know I can play, it’s just a matter of proving it to myself.”
Go figure that one out.
“Until further notice, I’m just gonna go out and play,” Brock said. “I’m not gonna worry about that situation.”
That situation will resolve itself, probably during the next few months. Brock will either hit himself into a nice job, or out of one.
He’s in the best position imaginable, and the worst.
All he has to do is relax.