The game, to Tim Flannery, is part physical, part metaphysical, just like everything else. The rest is secondary leads.
He abides by its ugly and honors its beauty and, sometimes, it’s all so damned good it makes him ill. When Travis Ishikawa homered to win the National League pennant, Flannery was so excited his stomach would not contain itself, ensuring history’s first known walk-off, dry-heave victory.
Maybe the reflection over a career .255-hitting infielder turned third-base coach is lost on the masses, but, then, you just have to know Flan. He finds something to laugh about – a bunch of somethings, actually – every day. He finds enough to cry about, too, which is why he’s still playing concerts to benefit Bryan Stow, the San Francisco Giants fan beaten at Dodger Stadium soon to be four years ago. And he was one of all the little pieces that makes championships happen.
Over the years, we’d bonded over Doug Rader, for whom he played and I covered, and the guitar, at which he is skilled and I am clumsy, and surfing (see: guitar). He’s a guy you don’t see for three months, bump into at a ballpark, and he starts, “You know …”, as if there’d been no gap at all. He’s a guy inspired by just about anything and will have to – absolutely have to – share.
The summer of ’94, there was hardly any major league baseball. He was the manager of the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes in the Cal League. I was a baseball writer without any baseball. So I followed the team bus around in my old gray pickup truck for a couple weeks, sending back stories of teenaged dreams and single-tiered ballparks, and, one day, this ex-big-league infielder, who rode the bus and sat in motel rooms, wrote folksy ballads about the whole thing.
He liked it enough to turn it into a song he called “Your Six Strings.” The song was better than the story. I was utterly flattered.
Same time, we’re in Modesto, and a dude I met a few days before is singing a ballad and I have absolutely no idea in that moment what I should be looking at, you know, the protocol here. Are you looking him in the eye or admiring the guitar work or singing along with the chorus or what?
I remember it being a very long song. Like In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida long. It probably wasn’t three minutes.
And I thought, well, damn, is this awkward.
But it was Flan being Flan, inspired and willing – wanting – to share.
Twenty years later, he retired. And I thought, damn, the game is going to miss him.
I don’t know that he was the best third-base coach. I don’t know that he wasn’t, either. I do know that he spent three of the past five Octobers running just enough Giants to the plate. And, yeah, a lot of guys do that sort of work, but very few do it after asking the gods to enarmor them against line drives and other mischief. Very few do it with the same soul, the same sense of humor, the same curiosity, the same honesty.
He’s 57. He’d said in October maybe he’d experienced in the game what he’d needed to, seen what he’d needed to, might just get out while he was still sane and upright. He’d suffered occasional double-vision toward the end of the season, had his head checked, and was told his brain was in excellent condition, which made him laugh and brag about the results to Donna, his wife.
I’d figured he was just weary, October weary, like everyone. That he’d go home and paddle out and write a song and, come February, pick up his favorite fungo bat again. That he’d be sitting on the bench in Scottsdale every morning, drawing energy from the bottom of a Styrofoam cup, with time for one more story to tell, one more laugh to exhale, before the day began.
He’d stand in his coach’s box during batting practice and watch the baseballs fly in foreign ballparks, reading the trajectory and carry and carom, reading the turf and wall and jet stream. I’d look over and say, “Whatcha doin’?”
And he’d say, “Just letting it wash over me.”
“Wash over you?”
“Yeah, wash over me.”
“Huh. … Now what?”
“Still washing over me.”
Like he was standing on a beach looking over his favorite break, barefoot on stage playing a favorite tune, racing Buster Posey from third to home.
On Monday afternoon, he texted from Maui: “Gonna live a little.”
Yep, the game is gonna miss him.
More MLB coverage from Yahoo Sports: