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Buehrle's Amazing Play 'Not Something You Practice'

Nam Y. Huh/AP i i

Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Mark Buehrle delivers a pitch against the Cleveland Indians in the first inning of the opening game of the baseball season in Chicago, Monday. Nam Y. Huh/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Nam Y. Huh/AP
Nam Y. Huh/AP

Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Mark Buehrle delivers a pitch against the Cleveland Indians in the first inning of the opening game of the baseball season in Chicago, Monday.

Nam Y. Huh/AP

This week, Mark Buehrle, who pitches for the Chicago White Sox, made a play on opening day that encourages those of us who believe, at least now and then, that there are a few lessons for life between the foul lines.

Cleveland Indians catcher Lou Marson hit a hard ground ball in the fifth inning that Mr. Buehrle — who is actually only kind of stocky — knocked down with his left leg. The ball dribbled over to the first baseline.

But just before Mr. Marson could reach the base for a single, Mark Buehrle scooped the ball into his glove and, without so much as a backward glance, hiked it between his legs. The first baseman, Paul Konerko, caught it with his bare hand, like Superman stopping a bullet in slow motion.

Mr. Buehrle said it wasn't until a moment later, when he heard the sold-out crowd cheer as if they'd just seen a dolphin play a grand piano, that he realized he'd made an out in a way no one had ever seen before: tossing the ball backward with a baseball glove from between the legs.

As Paul Konerko said, "It's not something you practice."

By the way, the White Sox won, 6-0.

The Chicago Sun-Times said the next day that Mr. Buehrle's remarkable play brings up what it called, "baseball's version of the nature vs. nurture question: Was it phenomenal reactions or creative genius?"

Mark Buehrle is a good pitcher, whom sports pundits now call "great," because he's thrown a no-hitter, a perfect game and helped win a World Series.

But in a game in which general managers look for phenom fastballers who are still young enough for acne, Mr. Buehrle is in his 30s. His control is outstanding, but his fastball might not break a plate glass window. In a game in which pitchers pace the mound, pat the dirt, murmur mantras and otherwise take maximum time between pitches, Mr. Buehrle pitches so fast you wonder if he has a cab waiting.

He is irreverent and funny, a team player but not always a company man. He marches to his own music, and that music is punk. He rides motorcycles. Team management asked Mr. Buehrle to stop amusing the crowd during rain delays by sliding on the tarp, saying that a man earning so many of their millions owed it to the club not to risk playing slip-and-slide for laughs.

A more conventional company man might have seen that dribbling ball and reacted conventionally — pick it up, turn and hold on to the ball. Miss the out, but keep the runner close. Avoid blame. But some magic mix of experience and irreverence in Mark Buehrle came up with an utterly original out.

It was a nice spring reminder that no matter how much you think you've seen, of baseball or life, there's always something new.

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Simon SaysSimon Says NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small