Oh What a Game… (from 25 August 1993)

I came upon this gem as I was cleaning my condo in Chicago, bringing back some epic memories. Twenty years later, my writing has changed so much, and yet it has not changed one bit. Funny thing is, even though I wrote it, I don’t remember talking to my dad about baseball growing up. I do remember talking about it with him as an adult (and we still do on occasion).

I’ve no doubt part of this paper was inspired by one night in 1988, captured here in The Greatest Home Run in the History of Major League Baseball | The Secret of My SucCecil

“What was once Indiana cornfields was where our house stood oh so many years ago. We lived in a corner house: my parents, my brothers, my sister, a dog and a cat. Surrounding our house were empty lots save for those afternoons and weekends when my brothers (and sometimes our little sister) and I played baseball.

Baseball (later football, and later still, basketball) flowed through our veins. We would eat and sleep baseball. A contest between pitcher and batter, and we would see who, between the three of us, rose victorious. The glorious part of the game was each of us had our turn in the spotlight. Maybe it was one brother’s long ball, or the hard three strikes another threw, or maybe the incredible shoestring catch I made. Given a moment, we were all giants; and yet at any time, we could be humbled. And that made baseball wonderful. It never made you forget who was in charge. In a sport where three hits in ten at bats marked a very good hitter, seven times that “good hitter” failed! The game had a sort of humbling effect that would not let even the greatest of athletes forget.

When we weren’t playing baseball, we were talking about it. An endless stream of statistics and (to the ignorant) nonsensical jargon spewed from our lips. What a catch! A shoestring? Incredible! Remember that pitch? A spitter? No way! Watch TV last night? On and on; baseball this and baseball that.

The year was 1980; we were little kids just about to pick our favourite team. The Pittsburgh Pirates had just won the World Series from the Baltimore Orioles, so my brothers picked their team and followed their charismatic leaders: Willie “Pops” Stargell and Dave “the Cobra” Parker. But I was a Los Angeles Dodgers fan and their All-American boy, All-Star first baseman Steve Garvey, was my hero. From that moment on, I bled Dodger blue and prayed to that great big Dodger in the sky.

Thirteen years later, my brothers’ interest in the sport waned as football and basketball took over. But baseball was my first love. As the years unfolded, my knees ached more and more and baseball became more of a spectator sport (even though I have yet to turn down a game of catch to show that I still haven’t lost that magic). And the Dodgers took a stronger hold of my heart (even though the San Francisco 49ers and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish have come to an equal stranglehold on my emotions as well). These days, the Dodgers are not doing so well, but I remember to those special summers…

1988. The overachieving Dodgers captured the National League pennant after defeating the all-powerful New York Mets in a memorable five-game series. Perhaps the worst team talent wise to ever win the pennant, the Dodgers stared into imminent doom at the Oakland Athletics, a team so loaded it would go on to the World Series three straight years. A gutsy team, the Dodgers were led by a cagey, no nonsense veteran, MVP Kirk Gibson, and the “Bulldog”, Cy Young Award winner, Orel Hershiser. Between these two and with the help of their scrappy supporting cast, the Dodgers pulled off the greatest upset in history.

The play of the series (and perhaps of the century) belonged to Gibson who would only come to bat once the entire series. A three nothing lead in the first game was quickly erased by a grand slam by the A’s prima donna Jose Canseco. The Dodgers were down to the last out with a man on first in the ninth and all hope seemed lost. Pinch hitter Gibson stepped up to the batter’s box. A man not expected to play in the Series because of two broken legs, Gibson was their last hope. Furthering the odds against the Dodgers, Gibson was at bat against the best relief pitcher in baseball, Dennis Eckersely.

A loud silence filled the stadium. At home, a lump formed in my throat. I prayed for a miracle. Eck’s pitch came… Gibson swung…. I leapt to my feet… only to sit down again, my heart deflated and my bones exhausted. What seemed like a home run fell foul by a couple feet. Sweat collected on my forehead, and the crowd fearfully wanted in anticipation. Their hero, my hero, could not walk, let alone hit. Only a home run could win this game. Gibson could not survive a ball hit inside the park. The count ran full, and I could barely watch. Eckerseley threw his best pitch, and… Gibson crushed it! Dodgers win! The images of Gibson triumphantly hobbling around the bases was forever etched in my brain. Dodgers win! Oh my God!

I ran up and down the stairs. I went outside and ran around the block. It was worse than a Rocky movie. That emotion I couldn’t let out in the ninth found release through my legs after that monumental shot. Though only the first game, that homer crushed the Athletics into losing the Series in five games.

Oh what a game… Why has it captured the American imagination so? Baseball is a release from the rigors of daily life. Sit back, drink a beer, and enjoy the game. Going to the ballpark transports the fan to another world. A better world where there is a winner; and maybe more importantly, where there is a hero, someone we can relate to and look up to.

Or perhaps it’s the essential simplicity of the game. Throw the ball, hit the ball, and catch it. Whoever score the most runs, wins the game. To play takes no special skills (to be great of course it does). And not to forget the ethereal qualities of baseball: the sound of the ball whizzing by, the crack of the bat, the smell of the leather glove, the sun shining, the tall blades of grass, and the vision of a baseball diamond. One cannot help but feel a bit of nostalgia.

Baseball is a game between fathers and sons. During my teens, when we could not talk about anything else, we could talk about baseball. Basically, it was the only bridge between us until it hit my twenties. The game of baseball mirrors the game of life. And no matter what anyone says, life is a game. You try. You make mistakes. You pick yourself up and dust yourself off. And you try again. The ups and downs of a baseball season, its streaks and slumps, are what life is all about.”

from my professor… “Cecil – a beautifully written essay with wonderful images from childhood as well as your favorite team. You’re consistently celebratory of baseball, embracing the myths of father and son and heroes in a well-focused and organized response. In your mind, I wonder if you consider the negative aspects of the myth (just a thought). Overall, a great response.”

If you liked this post, please follow me on http://www.secretofmysuccecil.com and look at your world half-glass full. Thank you!


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