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BASEBALL

Baseball is sport's comfort food

First, I come not to bury Keith Hernandez, but to empathize with him.

You may have seen or heard of the video streaming around the net of Hernandez allegedly snoozing through the extra innings of a recent Mets game. I say allegedly because we don't know for sure. He could have just been slumped forward on the table holding his head in his hands in despair. I mean, it is the Mets.

(Attention e-mailers: I love the Mets! Benny Agbayani! Sid Fernandez! Newman from "Seinfeld"! Keith "I'm Keith Hernandez" Hernandez from Seinfeld! I love the Mets!)

And let's face it: It's also baseball. What's with the outrage? There may not be crying in baseball. That's been established, by a Penny Marshall movie starring Madonna. But sleeping?

Well, baseball is ... soothing. Baseball is a long season. Baseball crawls. Baseball is warm days, a familiar rhythm. Baseball is an easy pace.

The announcers (even Keith Hernandez) are soothing. They're smooth and laid back and tell long, winding stories. Their voices relax you. The rhythm relaxes you.

The next thing you know it's the ninth inning, and you've drooled all over the couch. And that's fine. You haven't missed much. That's the beauty of the game. It's the male equivalent of "Calgon, Take Me Away."

Baseball, they say famously, has no clock. It's over when it's over (and it ain't over 'til it's over). Baseball is boring, but in the best sense of the word. Baseball is winding down after a long day. Baseball is an easy summer afternoon. Baseball is comfortable. Baseball is home.

What is the most iconic image baseball has? "Field of Dreams" anyone? It's playing catch. Back. And forth. Back. And forth. Back. And forth. It's the only physical activity that actually lowers your heart rate. I'm about to go under right now.

Oh, sure, Hernandez is "broadcasting" the games, so this is "different." But come on. It's 162 games. You've got to pace yourself.

Which brings us, of course, to Ken Griffey Jr. After a long, spectacular, Hall of Fame, injury-riddled career, Junior is back with the Mariners now. He's 40, and so he's winding it down as a pinch hitter and a "good in the clubhouse guy." There was a perfect pinch-hitting situation several days ago, but the M's didn't turn to him. The manager was noncommittal as to why.

So an enterprising reporter in Tacoma asked a couple of the players where Junior was. Without putting their names to it, two of the guys said he was watching the game pretty much the way your dad would. He was in the Barcalounger, zonked out.

"He was asleep in the clubhouse," one player told the Tacoma News Tribune . "He'd gone back about the fifth inning to get a jacket and didn't come back. I went back in about the seventh inning -- and he was in his chair, sound asleep."

Wow. There's only one word to describe a scene like that. And that ... word ... is ... Awesome!

Now THAT is being good in the clubhouse.

Griffey, much like anyone else you've ever known who has nodded off, has since denied this. At least he didn't say, "I heard you! You were talking about the thing."

But baseball will do that to you. That's why they're always yelling at you, at games. ("PEANUTS!") Or they'll blare rock music. They've got stuff on the big screen.

Recently, in Philadelphia, they found the ultimate antidote. Some kid ran onto the field during the game. And they chased him around and Tasered him. They TASERED him! Now that's entertainment. That's real ancient Romans at the Coliseum stuff there.

If only every game could have the "Strike Two" scene from "The Naked Gun."

We're always comparing baseball with Playoff Baseball, which is entirely different. Playoff Baseball is freezing temperatures, dramatic close-ups, frenetic fist pumps, telecasts filled with graphics of explosions and dramatic macho music. No one relaxes for a second. (Well, except for Bobby Bonilla and Rickey Henderson. See? The Mets.)

Basically, it's football.

And we love football. But baseball, too, has its place. That place is the Barcalounger, with the announcer (if he's awake) rambling in the background. The player (if he's conscious) slowly ambling to the plate. I may or may not be awake through all of this. And if any of them nap, too, I don't have a problem with that.

After all, as the second anonymous player said of Griffey, they could have always woken him up.