Friday, September 30, 2022

Andy Young: The value of utility words

By Andy Young

During a major league baseball career that ran from 1965 to 1976, Cesar Tovar played 469 games in center field, 394 in left field, 227 at third base, 215 at second base, and 207 as a right fielder. On Sept. 22, 1968, he played one inning at every position on the diamond for the Minnesota Twins in a 2-1 victory over the Oakland A’s, in the process playing errorless ball defensively, scoring one of his team’s two runs, stealing a base, and, in his one inning as a pitcher, striking out future Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson. Tovar was truly the embodiment of a terrific utility player.

Venezuelan player Cesar Tovar built his
career on his versatility on the baseball
diamond and once played at every position 
for an inning in a Major League game.
It’s been years since I’ve paid much attention to professional baseball. But I haven’t forgotten the value of people – and things - capable of filling more than one role. These days it’s words (rather than athletes) with multiple uses that I find captivating. And according to a website that documents such things, there are 54 words in the English language that can serve properly as a noun, a verb, an adjective, or an adverb.

Take “well,” for example. It can be a noun (“Oh, no! The well has run dry”), a verb (“I watched tears well up in her eyes”), an adjective (Charlie says he is well), or an adverb (I’m not the greatest swimmer, but I run well).

Or imagine a midwinter conversation where one person responds to another’s request with, “I hear you loud and clear (ADV); you want me to clear (V) the windshield and then look through the clear (ADJ) glass to see if we’re in the clear (N).”

Some other examples: an individual with a strong back (N) can back (V) out of a parking space, go out the back (ADJ) door, or drift back (ADV) on a fly ball.

Those traveling light (ADV) and finding themselves in a dark laundromat would need to light (V) a candle so they could turn on a light (N) and prepare to do a light (ADJ) load of laundry.

Some tennis players perform best (ADV) when it’s hot out but are still unable to best (V) their country club’s best (ADJ) player, even when they play their best (N).

Follow this sound (ADJ) advice if you wish to stay safe and sound (ADV): sound (V) the alarm if you hear the sound (N) of glass breaking at 3 AM.

I shouldn’t have decided to cross (V) that cross (ADJ) street, because the police officer who stopped me for jaywalking was so cross (ADV) with me that I thought he’d nail me to a cross (N).

Knowing the Patriots would likely down (V) the Steelers, he felt so down (ADV) he went up the down (ADJ) staircase to his bedroom, wrapped himself in a quilt stuffed with goose down (N), and sulked.

That big stiff (N) made a speech that bored me stiff (ADV), so I ordered a stiff (ADJ) drink and left a big tip, since I would never stiff (V) a bartender.

Trying to tough (V) it out, the young tough (N) tried looking tough (ADV) as he chewed on an exceptionally tough (ADJ) piece of beef jerky.

Other utility words include square, round, still, fast, home, flush, right, wrong, long, and short.

But the long and short of it is that nothing can last (V) forever, not even Cesar Tovar’s distinguished baseball career. No American League team he played for ever came in last (ADV), but he played his last (ADJ) game in 1976. And of all the Venezuelans to ever play all nine positions in a game, he was the last (N). <

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