“You see, you spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.”
-Jim Bouton, Ball Four
A 29-year old second-year medical resident texted me that quote from Denver just a few minutes before the end of the greatest baseball game ever played. The young man bleeds powder blue and I blame myself. My son, Scott, was a babe in arms, a mere eight months old when Bret Saberhagen and George Brett embraced on the mound.
Jackie I and share Royals season tickets with friends. Last night, our seats were right next to the Royals bullpen.
Hat on, hood up. Glove on.
Danny Duffy spent the entire game in a brand new MLB-marketing driven hoodie emblazoned with “Always October.” Hat on, hood up. Glove on.
A little kid, prolly 9 or 10 years old, sat in front of us. Between innings, he’d make his way over to the fence and gaze down on his heroes. After his third or fourth trip over there, Duffy picks up a baseball and chucks it up to the kid. He turns around beaming, with wide eyes and shows it to his father, who encourages his son to “tell him ‘thank you.’”
Gripping his new treasure, the kid runs back to the fence and yells, “THANK YOU!” Duffy gives him a smile and a thumbs-up.
That’s how it starts.
Four months ago, Brandon Finnegan was pounding down the ramen noodles and cutting Sociology class at Texas Christian. Now, at 21, he brings the stinky cheese and mows down big league hitters in the playoffs.
A World Cup-inspired rhythmic chant cascades throughout Kauffman Stadium as the Royals come to bat in the bottom of the 12th.
“I be-lieve that we-will-win... I be-lieve that we-will-win... I be-lieve that we-will-win.”
I thought of Jackie, who shares George Brett’s birthdate and like most 40-something females in the Great Plains, grew up admiring his hustle, his passion for the game and his biceps. If you think I love Royals baseball, please allow me to introduce you to my wife.
The next Best Catcher In The Game who has recently looked like anything but, scalds a breaking ball down the left field line.
Directly in front of us.
We’re going b-a-n-a-n-a-s with 40,500 of our closest friends.
I thought of Scott and all those games we went to in the ‘90s and the First Decade of the 21st century That No One Has Yet To Develop An Effective Shorthand For.
Where have you gone, Danny Tartabull?
Christian Colon, whose name means ‘dove,’ flies around third and wins the game.
That bears repeating.
Wins the game.
Tears are flowing.
I thought of me and Willie Mays.
Friday night, August 2, 1968. My first big-league game. I’m the same age as the kid Duffy tossed a ball to. Candlestick Park, San Francisco. Mays hits a home run and the Giants lose to the Bucs, 3-1. The Kansas City Royals were born eight months later and I was in their grip.
The narrative is set. The Hunt for Blue October. Take the Crown.
29 years in the desert. We’re the darling, the underdog, the nation’s new fav.
We won a five-hour game that mattered. It started in September and ended in October. These guys, this team, this game, it just swallows your heart.
I am in its grip and today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth.