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Inspiration Over Calculation

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Josh Reddick may never amount to much in right field. Before he makes an All-Star game, or signs the BIG contract, he may end up skewered on a foul pole or grated by a chain link fence somewhere. But, damn! I owe that guy a bottle of something.

Jason O. Watson

Here is the scene. I am sitting at the dining room table with my trusty, though decidedly un-chic, Toshiba laptop. I am showing my Italian Mother-in-law the replay of Josh Reddick's first over-the-fence catch against the Giants in Wednesday's spring training game. She is pounding the table and asking me to replay the clip, which I do. Ten times.

There are several reasons why this is remarkable. My Mother-in-law is in her late nineties. She's just under five feet tall. She has vision problems. Her hearing ain't what it used to be, and she's a football fan. Nevertheless, Reddick's catch has her pumped. She's ready to bench press my living room sofa.

"That's amazing!" she says, over and over again. "Does that happen a lot in baseball? That guy is crazy!"

Indeed he is. And aren't we better for it?

Frankly, I was feeling a little indifferent to this season. The A's did the impossible in 2012. They did the improbable in 2013 by repeating. Now what? Will the beloved misfits regress to the mean, as depressing statistical reality dictates they should? What's the point? Even if they get to the playoffs, what can they do against the inevitability of Verlander and Scherzer and Cabrera? Sigh.

But then Reddick went over the fence and, suddenly, my heart is in this thing again.

On his radio call, Ken Korach said the catch was reminiscent of Reddick's catch two years ago in Toronto. No way. In Toronto, the ball died on its way out of the park and Reddick actually had to reach downward from his perch on the fence to catch it. In fact, he looked a little silly hanging on the fence, over-committed, like a koala bear with acrophobia.

What Reddick did on Wednesday can't even qualify as a circus catch. Reddick made that catch in practice! A circus acrobat would quit before doing something so foolhardy, so death-defying, so glorious, during a rehearsal.

What Reddick did was a triumph of inspiration over calculation.

Should he have even attempted that play? From an actuarial perspective, absolutely not! He has just come back from a year of injury, doubt, and sub-par hitting. He has seen the A's trade away one of their top prospects (Michael Choice) just to acquire his platoon twin, or his replacement, Craig Gentry. He has surgically-repaired wrists, a Twitter addiction, and a tendency toward mangy beards. If he were calculating, Reddick would proceed cautiously, choose his spots, and hold back for the real games. After all, the Twittersphere is full of guys who missed the big payoff with a broken shoulder or fractured ankle.

Reddick went over the fence, anyway.

Reddick's play was really reminiscent of a catch Eric Chavez made years ago against some team. I can't remember the specific details but I can remember the play as if it were, well, Wednesday. In a non-crucial moment, in a non-crucial game, the hitter sent a high foul ball toward the seats behind the home dugout at the Coliseum.

It was obviously out of play. Everyone on the field, even the umpires, studied the fly for a second then let it go. Why bother? Only one guy, Eric Chavez, thought there was a chance. He broke immediately toward the seats, running full-out, running as if the world were watching instead of just 6,000 scattered fans. "He is never going to make that play," I thought. "He's crazy!"

Chavez went into a slide in front of the dugout and caught the ball just before his momentum catapulted him, head over heels, onto the concrete. The A's bench players surrounded him. I thought he was dead. He should have been dead, his brains splattered all over the sponsor signs on the wall of the dugout.

But he rose unhurt, which was astonishing considering the string of maladies he was to suffer later. His was a transcendent effort, made even more wonderful by the fact that no one expected him to do it. Another triumph of inspiration over calculation.

I know numbers and stats, calculations and reasoned risk assessment are important. For me, however, a massive part of sports is the illuminated moment. Such was Reddick's catch. It was such an absurd, meaningless, beautiful thing. It probably gave his agent a heart attack but it was the kind of uncalculated act of total commitment that often inspires teammates to do similar crazy things. Like win the World Series.

Hey, my Mother-in-law will be watching.