Monday, December 6, 2010

Why We Love This Crazy Game Called Baseball

By: C.G. Morelli

It occurred to me a while back while watching an inter-league game between the Mets and Mariners (of all teams) that I really love this game. No, I mean I REALLY love this game. To those of you who are forced to listen to the incessant ravings of my maniacal, baseball-saturated brain matter wax poetic about the savage ballet that is the suicide squeeze (sorry, honey), this is no real surprise. In fact, I was quite aware of my addiction long before this random yet unforgettable game, when a chubby but loveable youngster named Felix Hernandez pitched his way to…wait a minute…this box score can’t be correct. Did Felix freakin’ Hernandez really hit a grand slam?

And that, my friends, is exactly how I realized why I love this game so much. It’s for the simple fact that on any night, in any ball park, whether there’s a match up between division rivals or division doormats, you could see something you’d never dreamed would have happened.

Of course, King Felix’s little dinger was not the most classic example of one of these amazing instances. It served as little more than a reminder. But perhaps if I set the stage I can help you relish in a few of baseball’s more magical moments.

Yes, then you’ll see where I’m coming from.

“The Catch”
The time:  September 24, 1954
The place:  Polo Grounds (Brooklyn, NY)
The situation:  Game One of the World Series between the Giants and Indians

With the score tied 2-2 in the top of the eighth inning, Vic Wertz of the Indians sent a drive to the deepest part of center field.  Giants centerfielder, Willie Mays, turned and sprinted all the way back to the fence to make an amazing over-the-shoulder catch.  Some say the ball traveled almost 450 feet before landing in his glove, but Mays wasn’t finished.  He whirled around in mid-stride and fired a bullet to second base to prevent a run from scoring.  Mays had single-handedly stopped the Indians from taking the lead.  The Giants went on to win the game in extra innings and they eventually swept the Indians to win the series.

“The Shot Heard ‘Round the World”

The time:  October 3, 1951
The place:  Polo Grounds (Brooklyn, NY)
The situation:  Playoff series to determine the pennant between the Giants and Dodgers

In just over a month, the Giants caught the Dodgers in the standings despite once trailing by 13 ½ games.  The Giants’ late push caused the two teams to finish in a tie.  To decide which team would move on to face the Yankees in the World Series, the league held a three-game playoff series. 
With the series tied a game a piece, the Dodgers built a 4-1 lead in game three that they carried into the bottom of the ninth.  It looked like the series was over.  But the Giants fought back, scoring a run and putting two more runners on base.  Then, Bobby Thomson stepped to the plate and smashed a dramatic three-run homer over the left field fence to win the game and the series.  He would forever be known for firing “the shot heard ‘round the world.”

“The Called Shot”

The time:  October 1, 1932
The place:  Wrigley Field (Chicago, IL)
The situation:  Game Three of the World Series between the Yankees and Cubs

After winning the first two games of the series in New York, Babe Ruth led his Yankees into Chicago.  He angered Chicago fans by promising that his team would sweep the series from the Cubs.  When Ruth took the field in game three, he was greeted by flying vegetables tossed at him from the stands.  Ruth responded by clobbering two homeruns in the game, one of which goes down in baseball legend.

It is said that Ruth stepped to the plate and pointed to a spot beyond the right field fence.  Then he took a mighty swing and hammered the next pitch out of the park to the exact spot where he had pointed.  The Yankees would go on to sweep the Cubs in the series, but it was Ruth’s famous “called shot” that would become one of the most storied events in baseball history.

“True Grit”

The time:  October 15, 1988
The place:  Dodger Stadium (Los Angeles, CA)
The situation:  Game One of the World Series between the Dodgers and the A’s

Kirk Gibson only had one at-bat in the 1988 World Series, but he made it count.  He was nursing multiple leg injuries and many of his teammates told reporters that the slugger could barely walk.  Dodger fans were sad to hear that he would probably not play at all in the series. 

But, in the very first game, with his team down 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth and with Hall of Fame closer Dennis Eckersley on the mound, Gibson limped out of the dugout to the surprise of everyone.  He told Dodgers manager, Tommy Lasorda, that there was one more swing left in him. 

Barely able to hold himself upright at the plate, Gibson drilled a game-winning two-run homer into the right field bleachers.  He limped around the bases amid the wild celebration of nearly 56,000 fans.  Inspired by the slugger’s incredible feat, the Dodgers went on to win the World Series over the A’s in just five games.

Every time I think of baseball, it is with the images of these crucial moments swirling through my mind. They are what define the game for me and allow me to appreciate baseball’s past, present, and future. They are what help me to never forget why I love the game so much.

So, now it’s your turn. What moments help you remember why you love baseball?

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