Burnt Orange Glasses: Thursday Night Lights

In his music and pop-culture infused off-beat commentary, Jeff Connor reports from wind-swept Dan Law Field in Lubbock where Texas blasted a vertically-challenged Texas Tech squad, 22-6.

"They got grubby little fingers and dirty little minds
They're gonna get you every time
Well, I don't want no short people ‘round here"

–Randy Newman

I once read a study on culture and language that claimed the Eskimos have eight different words for snow. I have no idea if that's true, since the only thing I know about Eskimos is that you're supposed to sell them refrigerators and that Steven Segal once defended them from Michael Cain's evil oil company with his kung fu, Buddhism, and sparkling acting ability. But I suppose the point is that we use language to explain our world, and someone constantly exposed to snow might be able to describe distinctions, gradations, and types that might escape those of us in warmer climates.

Take Lubbock, for instance. We know beans about snow, but we all have Ph.D.s in wind. We have all kinds of blowing out here on the plains, from mildly annoying, knock-your-papers-off-the-roof-of-your-car-while-you're-unlocking-the-door breeze to the deadly, pray-to-Jesus-if-you-live-in-a-residence-with-an-axle tornado and everything in between. Thursday was about a 6.5 on a scale of 10, meaning you had to lean a particular direction to walk, took your gritty contact lenses out immediately after work, and observed a dingy, brown tint in the lower sky.

At Dan Law Field, the wind played havoc with the first game of the three tilt series between the Horns and the Texas Tech Red Raiders. Due to Easter Sunday, the usual Friday-Saturday-Sunday series was moved up one day, giving us the rarely seen Thursday Night Lights. Blowing from the southwest to the northeast, the wind was especially nasty down the third base line, pushing high-flying balls foul. Infield fly balls were hard to track for both teams, leading to more than one comically inept fumblerooski. The breeze also shoved line drives outside the playing area, with several landing in the Red Raiders' bullpen. I could swear I heard that Three Stooges coconut sound as if someone with a shockingly low SAT score was hit on the head with an errant ball.

Despite the weather, being at the ball park was absolutely the place to be. For starters, there's the fifteen seconds of music Tech plays over the stadium loudspeakers immediately before each Red Raider steps up to bat. Evidently, the musical choices are individually tailored to each player's personality. There were some decent choices, including the chunky guitar intro to Tom Petty's "Last Dance with Mary Jane." But other music selections were a bit cornier, such as 80's cheese-whiz like Kenny Loggins' "Danger Zone" and House of Pain's kitschy "Jump Around."

I suppose if I this rant ever had theme music, it would be something with an edge like the Clash's "London Calling" or a tune that has great personal meaning to me like Van Morrison's "Sweet Thing." I could pick a song with an author's theme like Elvis Costello's "Every Day I Write the Book." But for today, the song of the day was Randy Newman's caustic, misunderstood 70's hit "Short People."

You see, as far as Tech's players are concerned, their shortstop really is a short stop. For once, I am writing literally and not figuratively. The Red Raider infield is tiny; that is to say it is full of small, really little people. Second baseman Willie Rueda is rostered at 5-7, 181 pounds, and shortstop Chris Hall is the giant of the bunch at 5-8, 175 pounds. Let's be kind and say those are generous measurements. Third baseman Joey Kenworthy is listed on Tech's official website as 5-5, 172 pounds, but I think I actually saw Tolkein-like hair on the top of his feet. See, when a person is that small, they have a really tiny strike zone, and Kenworthy walked twice, barely taking his bat off his shoulder all evening.

My beloved, mighty, fighting Texas Longhorns got off to a fast start and stayed in gear all night long. To say Tech's pitching had control problems is like saying celebrity skank Lindsey Lohan might want to be a tad more selective in her choice of lovers – it's a massive understatement. At one point, seven straight pitches were called balls, and Tech finished the evening with 11 bases on balls.

Tech gamely hung around through three innings, thanks in part to the Horns' horrific fielding problems. Third baseman Travis Tucker let a speedy grounder spurt between his legs, Michael Torres made a wide throw on a routine grounder from second base, and Wood failed to tag a runner while covering first on an infield hit. All in all, it took just short of two hours to play the first three inning of the game, and the Horns looked like they could be in for a close contest.

Then Tech's bullpen happened. After being held scoreless for the 4th and 5th innings, Texas went through four Raider pitchers (six for the entire game), and plated 4 in the 6th, 3 in the 8th, and 5 in the 9th off three spectacular home runs over the left field fence, all of which benefitted from the afore-mentioned wind. And it could have been worse; as the game wore on into the increasingly-cold night, the home plate umpire, practically shivering in his short sleeves, decided he wanted to go home earlier rather than later, and began to slowly expand the strike zone, both vertically and horizontally. But the final numbers give some idea of what a complete and total beatdown this game was: Texas scored 22 (not a misprint) runs on 22 hits. Second baseman Michael Torres went 5 for 6 and outfielder Jordan Danks was 4 for 7; both players individually logged 5 RBI. The final score was a dismal 22-6.

In the end, there was little more than burnt orange in the stands, and one had to feel a little empathy for Tech pitching after such a demoralizing loss. As a person who stands at 6-4, I can tell you there's nothing more humiliating than coming up ... uhm ... short.

Hook ‘em.

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