I was half-hoping Manny would delay his 500th career home run by at least a couple of days so that he could hit it at Fenway Park next week, but I also knew that's contrary to the Tao of Manny. I knew Manny would hit it when and where Manny would hit it, and that was that. It's up to us to derive a meaning and significance to the place where it happened, if it exists; Manny hits in a vacuum.
So it happened that Manny hit his 500th at Camden Yards, meaning that my ideal of hitting it in front of home fans was at least partially realized--a majority of the crowd in attendance jumped to their feet, decked out in red, arms raised, immediately after the ball left his bat. Don Orsillo's ever-more-frenetic call was subsumed in their noise before the ball landed in the bleachers of right-center field. Once there, it immediately formed an impact crater of people bent down, wrestling for it in the stands.
Manny watched, as I knew he would, walking placidly partway down the first base line before breaking into a trot, double-high-fiving Luis Alicea as he rounded the first corner. When he reached the plate, he paused to hug Mike Lowell, and then sauntered over for more love from his teammates gathered at the top step of the dugout.
My favorite moment of the aftermath was when Papi enveloped both Manny and Julio Lugo in his arms and bounced them both up and down there in front of the dugout. That was just cute on principle, but even more endearing was how completely relaxed and exuberant Manny looked, with his cheek pressed against Papi's shoulder, leaping into the air.
It figures Manny would hit 500 today, touching off a Manny-fest. Today was also my Dad's birthday, and we were watching the game together after a birthday dinner. He'd already cussed Manny thoroughly over his two dropped fly balls in left field, and we were back in our familiar pattern of point-counterpoint on his merits as a human being before he hit the homer. When that happened, true to form, Manny came out of a game that had otherwise been a point in my Dad's favor with all sins absolved by the bomb.
After the game, the fan who caught the ball gave it back to Manny in the clubhouse. Manny was wearing what looked like a homemade t-shirt that said GOT 500? on it in big red letters; the kid and his friend were decked out in Red Sox gear. Seeing that they were both Asian, Manny bowed deeply to them when he walked over. Turns out, though, they both grew up in Nahant. D'oh.
Once again, the gaffes melted away as Manny faced the camera for his interview with Heidi Watney. Even if he's supposed to be looking at a person asking him questions, he can't seem to help looking into the camera when it's on him. During the meeting with the fans who had the ball, his eyes kept darting toward the camera; sitting down with Heidi, he just stared straight into it.
I don't recall much of what he said except that it was perfunctory and towed the public-relations line.I focused more on just looking at those eyes of his, fixed on the camera, unwavering.
Much is made of Manny's swing, but it's those eyes that have made him what he is. Every one of his 500 blasts out of the park has begun with his eyes judging correctly the trajectory of a pitch, in the fraction of a second it hovers between him and the mound.
Much is made of Manny's hair, the untamed dreadlocks that continually escape do-rags and caps, but those eyes are the most expressive and enigmatic part of him--bottomless, velvety brown, at once riveting and inscrutable. Charles P. Pierce wrote in a 2004 profile of Manny, "[His] is the face of a great silent comic, one that Mack Sennett would have cast on the spot. It is open and broad. Part of the appeal is the huge brown eyes and another part is the wild, brambly hair above them. But mostly it comes from the ability to reveal most of the humor without sharing all of the joke. "
As I watched him speak, with the seemingly permanent half-sheepish smile on his face playing against the eyes so focused and serious, I chuckled in spite of myself. It was partly affection, but it was also because of the ability Pierce pointed out, to make even the most innocuous moments seem mischievous. The sense he projects, that uproarious laughter is just around the corner.
And then I had the same thought about Manny some of his teammates have expressed, awestruck, when talking about his exploits with the bat--what must it be like to be behind those eyes? What must it be like to be who he is, to do what he does? What does he see as the ball heads toward the plate? What does he see when he looks out at all of us, through a shining pane of glass?