Greatest Sports Moments- Part I
Each baseball season is a roller coaster- each team has its ups and downs, punctuated by awesome moments of athletic amazement that keep fans talking for a long time, sometimes even past the end of the season.
More rare, though, are those moments which transcend the season and even, sometimes, the years and decades themselves. They become the subject of reminiscing and conversation, as exciting and gripping as the day they happened.
Of the three things which, for me, consititute the Greatest Sports Moments, baseball has yielded two such moments.
Greatest Moment #1: Back on Top
The St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series in 1982, the year I was born. Before 2006, they made it back to the Series three times. In 1985, they lost to the Kansas City Royals. In 1987, they lost to the Minnesota Twins. And in 2004, they got owned by the (it still hurts to say it) Boston Red Sox.
After losing to the Houston Astros in an exciting yet depressing NLCS in 2005, the Cardinals looked strong heading into the 2006 playoffs. A late season swoon almost kept the Redbirds out of the postseason, but they tumbled their way in and made short work of the San Diego Padres in the first round. The NLCS against the New York Mets couldn't have been any better- it went to the full seven games, and came down to the wire. The deciding Game 7 came down to the bottom of the ninth, bases loaded for the Mets (losing 3-1), and two outs. Carlos Beltran, who had consistently made the Cardinals hurt in several postseasons, was up to bat, facing rookie pitcher Adam Wainwright. Three beautiful pitches later, Beltran struck out and the Cardinals were on their way to the Series.
Well, the next step wasn't any easier- they were playing the Detroit Tigers, the best team in the American League that year. The Tigers had made short work of their playoff opponents and were plenty rested coming into the World Series. Maybe that was the problem.
Though the Cardinals had one of the worst records for a team in the World Series ever, they didn't play like it- the Tigers did. Over the course of five games, the Cardinals capitalized on little mistakes by the Tigers (most notably several errors which involved the pitcher missing throws to first or third base) and went up in the series 3-1. Game 5 was in St. Louis, and though the Tigers went up early, the Redbirds, thanks in large part to eventual MVP David Eckstein, came back and ended up winning the game and their first World Series in 24 years.
This World Series was made so much more memorable, though, by the fact that I got to cover a lot of it with KOMU. I had been able to go to games 3 and 4 of the Division Series agains the Padres, and my colleague and I enjoyed a lot of "backstage" access- we toured the press boxes, got to stand on the field during the teams' batting practice, even got to talk to a couple of players like David Wells of the Padres and Tyler Johnson of the Cardinals.
For the World Series, someone had goofed and we didn't have press badges. So we had to cover the games from just outside the stadium. I got picked to cover game 3 (here's a link to the story I did that day), and by lucky circumstance, game 5 (game 4 got rained out, so the next guy in line got the make-up game and I got game 5). I was standing outside the stadium, among thousands of screaming and mostly-drunk fans when the final out was made and the Cardinals became world champs. It was an unforgettable experience. Those few days definitely stand out as my greatest sports moment ever.
Greatest Sports Moment #2: The Year of the Home Run
Say what you want about Mark McGwire. Go ahead, say whatever you want. In recent years, he has been examined, questioned, scrutinized, and by many, villianized, all because he was frustratingly un-forward on the issue of steroids. But for me, Mark McGwire will always be a person of admiration and marvel, all because of the year 1998.
That was the year that the home run propelled baseball back into the good graces of fans all over, many still soured by the baseball strike only four years previous. Three men- Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs, Ken Griffey Jr. of the Seattle Mariners, and McGwire, who had come to the St. Louis Cardinals the year before- were all slated to break the single season home run record, held by Roger Maris, who slugged 61 dingers in 1961. As the season progressed, though, the race came down to Sosa and McGwire (Griffey had to drop out due to injuries). Sosa took a brief lead in the race in August with his 48th home run. But later that same day, Big Mac hit homers 48 and 49 to retake the lead, and he never looked back.
September 8, 1998: I had marching band practice that night. As we drilled ourselved on music and marching maneuvers, I couldn't help but wonder what was happening in St. Louis, where the Cardinals were playing the Cubs. Mac had hit his record-tying 61st home run the day before, and I was sure the whole city of St. Louis was high on the electric possibility that tonight would be the night for the record to fall. At one point during practice, a cry went up from the trumpet section- one of the guys had smuggled in a small radio and had it tuned to the game. They started whooping and hollering- Big Mac had done it! 62! He had broken the record!
Well, we all shouted and cheered and celebrated for a few minutes, but then it was back to business. As soon as I got home, though, I turned on the news, flipping back and forth between the three local stations, drinking in as much of the coverage as I could. The next day, I bought all the periodicals I could find, adding to my already big collection of McGwire coverage, dating back to around home run #55. I plastered the walls of my room with every article I could find, making my own makeshift shrine to Big Mac. I still have those articles, and would eventually like to find a way to permanently preserve them for my kids to enjoy.
Has all the negative press about McGwire tainted the record? Maybe. Has it ruined that year for me? No, nor will it ever. 1998 will always make me smile and remember those good old days when baseballs couldn't seem to stay in the park.
Coincidentally, the NBA Playoffs are happening right now, and though I don't much follow the NBA anymore, I was a huge fan in 1997, when the Utah Jazz were enjoying the deadly duo of John Stockton and Karl Malone at their finest.
In the 1997 Western Conference finals, the Jazz were playing the Houston Rockets for a chance to lose to the Chicago Bull in the NBA Finals. The Jazz were up 3 games to 2 on the Rockets, playing in Houston. As time ran out with the score tied...well, just watch for yourself:
All the Jazz fans in the house went nuts, and Beckie was screaming her head off! It was pure euphoria!
Unfortunately, the Jazz would lose to the Bulls, but no one could take away that moment from us at that time.
So there you have it- the three greatest sports moments of my life (so far). Runners-up might include the Rams Superbowl victory or the Texas-USC Rose Bowl ('cause I like watching USC get owned), but those three are the tops.
Coming next week: Greatest Sports Moments- Part II, where you can read about some of the best sports moments in my personal achievement.