I Live for This
Baseball season is here again.
Nothing I've ever experienced evokes so many vastly different emotions in such a short time span. In one split second, you go from the top of the highest mountain in the world to the bottom of the lowest pit in existence. Or vice versa. It just depends on whether your dugout says "Home" or "Away."
Just ask Brad Lidge. Game 5 of the 2005 NLCS. After Chris Carpenter gave up a devastating go-ahead home run to Lance Berkman, the Astros had a 4-2 lead and were one out away from their first trip to the World Series. Then Albert Pujols did what he does best- silencing home team crowds. One swing shut up thousands of Houston fans in a split second. Houston would eventually recover...the next game.
But Brad Lidge learned what Yogi Berra so casually stated: "It ain't over 'til it's over."
Just ask Adam Wainwright. After Yadier Molina broke a 1-1 tie in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS, the Cardinals had a 3-1 cushion. Wainwright had plenty of breathing room. Then he gave up back to back singles to Jose Valentin and Endy Chavez. Two outs and one walk later, the bases were loaded for Carlos Beltran. Beltran had burned the Cardinals more and worse than any other player in recent playoff history. In 2004, he hit a home run in each of the first four games of the NLCS against the Cardinals. He hit 3 home runs against the Redbirds in 2006- 7 playoff home runs in the last 3 years against St. Louis. If there was one person the Mets wanted at the plate (and one person Wainwright wouldn't want to face), this was him. In true hero fashion, though, Wainwright sat Beltran and the Mets down with three straight strikes and hushed the Amazin' fans for the winter.
Baseball is a game of streaks and slumps.
Just last year, two Philadelphia Phillies, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley, came noticeably close to breaking Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak.
On the other side of the coin are the Chicago Cubs. Talk went on for years about the "Curse of the Babe" that haunted the Red Sox and kept a title out of Beantown for 86 years. But the Cubbies have suffered a championship drought since 1908, the longest title slump in all of the four major American sports (MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL).
But like the Red Sox (and the White Sox the next year), one season can turn things around.
Speaking of turnarounds, it's amazing to me what a change of scenery can do.
Just ask Jeff Weaver. In 2006, he was signed for one year (and $8.5 million) by the Angels. After being the foundation of the 2005 Dodgers rotation, he tanked, posting a 3-10 record with a 6.29 ERA in the first half. He was traded to the Cardinals- to add insult to injury, his slot in the rotation was given to his younger brother Jered. And then he became on of the Cardinals' most reliable pitchers. He pitched solid baseball, got several key wins that allowed a slumping St. Louis club to tumble and stumble into the playoffs, and pitched an amazing Game 7 in the World Series, helping the Cardinals clinch their first title in 24 years. The last time they won, I was 5 months old.
Baseball is a game that attacks the senses.
The crack of a baseball bat is unlike any other sound in the world. Often you could close your eyes and tell it's a home run just from the sound. The sound gives it away.
There's all the smells. Like "Shoeless Joe" Jackson, in Field of Dreams, have you ever held a glove to your face? There's something wonderful about the smell of broken-in leather. Or the smell of the fresh-cut outfield grass. Or the smell of hot dogs and roasted peanuts.
Then there are the memories.
One of the greatest times for me as a baseball fan was 1998. Mark McGwire came over from the A's the year before. A home-run hitter for his entire career, he had come dangerously close to breaking Roger Maris' single-season home run record of 61, set in 1961, by knocking 58 out of the park. So from opening day in 1998, all eyes were on Mark as the chase began. As the season progressed, the tension mounted, made more so because Sammy Sosa of the Cubs was only the smallest step behind McGwire.
September 8, 1998, found me at marching band practice in the evening. My only contact with the game came because one of the trumpet players had smuggled in a small radio. In the middle of practice, a cry went up from the trumpet section- "HE DID IT!!!" McGwire had broken the record. When I got home, I recorded every sportscast I could from local news. The next day I bought every newspaper I could find for the article clippings. I still have them in a plastic storage container in my room, along with the commemorative issue of Sports Illustrated. I pinned the articles to my bedroom wall, creating a mural of pictures and editorials and news stories about the event.
And steroids or not, controversy or not, for me, that is one of the greatest moments of baseball for me, because I lived it in my own small way.
Greater than that was the 2006 Cardinals World Series run. Being a student enrolled at the MU School of Journalism, and being in the Sports Reporting class that fall, I got to go to Games 3 and 4 of the Division Series against the Padres. Not only that, I got to go onto the field as the teams were taking batting practice. I could have spit on Jim Edmonds or Jose Vizcaino. I could have reached out and poked David Wells. I got to talk to Cardinals reliever Tyler Johnson. I sat in on press conferences with Tony LaRussa and Chris Carpenter.
Better than that was going to cover Games 3 and 5 of the World Series. We didn't have press access, but I got to report just outside Busch Stadium. I got to talk to people about ticket prices during Game 3.
Better than that, I was standing outside the stadium when Wainwright struck out Brandon Inge to clinch the Series. I was there when pandemonium erupted on the streets, people screamed and cried and cheered, and fireworks exploded over Busch Stadium. And I got to report on it.
That will be with me forever.
I live for this game. I live for Cardinal baseball on KFRU and Mike Shannon's gravel voice. I live for an Albert Pujols home run, a David Eckstein double play, a Chris Carpenter strikeout, or a Jim Edmonds diving catch.
I live for this.