Friday, July 10, 2009

"I don't believe what I just saw!"

Hall of Fame baseball announcer Jack Buck summed up the magic of baseball with those immortal seven words. At the time, he was describing Kirk Gibson's game-ending (see also:"walk-off") home run that sent the Dodgers to a Game 1 victory over the Oakland Athletics in the 1988 World Series. It is now the height of baseball season: the game's best players and/or fan favorites will all meet each other in St. Louis for the All Star Game next week, and I am actually headed to my first game of the season this weekend (up in Milwaukee!). In my humble opinion there is no better fit for a long summer than the crack of the bat, the thump of catcher's mitt, the search for the next euphoric moment.

My heartstrings have always been tightly wrapped around a rubber ball, covered with a two pieces of leather that have been rubbed with a special mud taken from a secret spot along the Delaware River and hand-stitched 216 times to form a sphere. From the days of being a kid when I would open pack after pack of Topps baseball cards and get a jaw-ache from chewing the accumulation of gum that was included in those packs to the current day where I'm able to watch any ballgame in the country via the internet, baseball has always been my thing.

A major mile marker in my love for baseball occurred when I was 7 years old: the second time I went to see the Natural. My parents, brother, and I attempted to see the Natural one time before, but ended up walking into the wrong theater, where we were treated to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (another moment that altered the course of history for me, but that's a story for another day). The second time around to see the Natural, we managed to find the correct screen and my life was changed (again). For those of you not familiar with the movie, you probably would still know the ending, as it has become deeply interwoven into pop culture. Suffice to say, Roy Hobbs (played by Robert Redford) sends a fly ball into a bank of lights for a home run that wins his team the pennant (I still recommend watching the movie). This piece of cinema is really nothing without Randy Newman's masterfully composed score for that scene: it is the combination of these two that causes my scalp to tingle even 25 years after I first saw it.

What I enjoy about that clip is watching everyone's eyes as they see the one thing they wished for most at that moment come true (well, except maybe the catcher). It is a beautiful thing, a special moment, when someone hits a home run to end the game. I have seen one walk-off home run in my life: it was a minor league game about 15 years ago. Dan Held, the star of the Reading Phillies, cracked a three run homer over the left field fence to end the game in the bottom of the ninth and I was hugging perfect strangers in my excitement. It is a special memory of mine - a Roy Hobbs moment in real life - and its just one in a huge treasure chest of fantastic memories that baseball has already given to me. Every game I watch, every inning, every pitch, I am prepared for the next big play - the passion-filled moment where I put my hands to my head and exclaim, "I don't believe what I just saw!"


Jo said...

What a beautiful tribute to the game, but Joel, I can tell that you did not grow up on the north side of Chicago. If you had, the thing that you wouldn't believe that you saw would have been your childhood favorite team blow an eleven game lead to the New York Mets. Or a two game lead to the Padres. Or the "Bartman ball" debacle. These are anti-Roy Hobbs moments. The only time I ever hugged a perfect stranger in Wrigley Field was when we were crying on each other's shoulders, sobbing "I don't believe what I just saw."

Anonymous said...

OK, Chicago fans, my IDBWIJS moment was Pudge Fisk willing his home run ball to stay fair in the sixth game of the 1975 World Series. Alas, at the time, the Bosox' misstep that propelled Pudge to the Chisox was all too believable…

Oh, and I'm proud of Joel.

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