“Now this is what it’s like when worlds collide”
That’s a fitting line from a mediocre band that I normally don’t like enough to be quoting.
I actually don’t like them at all, but I remembered hearing that line in a song growing up. I googled it, and here we are with that for the introduction to an article.
I spent last night drinking at a house where seemingly everyone was in a death metal band but me. And that’s not even the reference for which the lyric was included.
One tough thing about being a baseball fan is that when you tie one on tight at night time, you are always susceptible to missing the occasional early afternoon game. This one, however, was the first early afternoon game on a Saturday in the history of the Ballpark at Arlington.
I got home, coffee in hand, sat down at the computer, and had basically these exact words come out of my mouth, alone but audible.
“S---! It’s Felix Day.”
If it is any indication of how late I showed up, I turned on the TV when Ken Griffey Jr. was batting in the top of the ninth. So I checked the box score to see for whom he was pinch hitting, found out it was Chone Figgins, and was immediately upset with Don Wakamatsu.
I love Griffey as much as the next guy, but he just isn’t the hitter Figgins is at this point in their careers. Figgins is a switch hitter, so handedness can only work in his favor compared to Griffey.
And then Griffey hit the game-tying single.
Formerly great hitter and fielder Ken Griffey Jr. is still a relevant baseball player.
And then Franklin Gutierrez stepped to the plate.
The proverbial torch was passed. Griffey left the bases, and after a failed squeeze play, Gutierrez drove in the go-ahead—and eventually game-winning—run.
Then, as if the ghost of young-and-healthy Griffey had actually entered Gutierrez's body, he made a play in center field, robbing a potential home run from Elvis Andrus.
That may have saved the game.
And in my hungover haze, I almost could have sworn that Guti was left-handed and wearing No. 24 on his back.
Because we’ve had the fortune of being able to witness three of the greatest defensive center fielders in the past 20 years in Seattle, apart from the period of time that saw combinations of Jeremy Reed, Willie Bloomquist, Ichiro, and certainly some less notable players attempt to navigate the position.
Mike Cameron was unfairly run out of town, and there is a lot of things he does well both with the bat and the glove.
But from a non-statistical perspective, Gutierrez is much more like Griffey than Cameron.
Because you see, Cameron always seemed like he was trying too hard. Part of the byproduct of his amazing defensive plays, but the other part has broken his body down, and led to this ugly collision .
Cammy was a joy to watch, and an asset to the organization, but he wasn’t an artist.
Because when you watch Cameron—I remember thinking the same thing about Andrew Jones before he got all supersized—you’ll see a ball hit in the gap, and think “There’s no way he gets to that ball.”
The best play I’ve ever seen in center field was Jones running down a ball in the gap on the turf at Olympic Stadium, after taking an unfathomably risky angle to the ball. From the time the ball left the bat, I was cursing Jones for being an idiot who had just delivered an inside-the-park homer to whoever hit the ball.
And then I got fooled into doing the same thing on ESPN highlight that night. Twice.
But the play wasn’t pretty, and I don’t even think it made the top defensive baseball play that night.
Maybe it is the long, loping strides, or the perfect angles to balls—or maybe just a thinly veiled man crush—but I could literally sit and watch Gutierrez practice in the outfield for an entire day.
He makes plays in the outfield at an alarmingly high rate, and often times, we don’t appreciate them to their fullest. Even when he lays out for a ball or climbs a wall, he makes it look easy.
Gutierrez will never be the hitter that a young, healthy Griffey was. At the very least, we know that on any given day you may see the greatest play you’ve ever seen in center field—until of course, Guti goes and tops it.
Even if you show up eight innings late and hungover.
For stories like this and analysis on Seattle sports, check out North and South of Royal Brougham.