Last season I got to meet one of my biggest baseball heroes, Steve Garvey. At the time, I had the opportunity to tell him my own story of the 1981 World Series, of which to this day, I have never seen a single pitch, and how it inspired and strengthened me to get through a tough time.
He was very gracious to listen to me, and gave me my mantra that night, “Isn’t Baseball Great…“
Anyway, the point is that I have never seen a single pitch of the most personally influential World Series ever, the 1981 Dodger win in six games over the Yankees. I was in Basic Training at the time, and while I had been lucky enough to listen to the Rick Monday home run to beat Les Expos on the radio, I neither heard nor saw as much as a single pitch of the World Series.
Last night, I was scrolling through the options on my 2013 MLB.tv subscription – and by the way, if you are a Baseball fan and don’t have this, you are missing out on the best thing ever – and what did I find?
Game Six of the 1981 World Series.
Oddly enough, I did not watch it last night. I want to savor this, to enjoy it at my leisure. Then again, I am not altogether certain that I want to watch it either. In my minds eye, I already lived this game through box scores, Statis-Pro Baseball games and dreams. There’s something special to me about it that way.
But after all these years… Nothing will change in history if I do watch it, but what about my delicious memories? What if it isn’t how I imagined it?
I wish that I had time to just be a baseball writer. As I have gotten older I have come to realize though, that being a full time baseball writer would still be a job. Sure it looks good from here, but to baseball writers maybe being a chat show host looks fun and easy and relaxing.
Still, as the All-Star Break winds through it’s last day here in the Minor Leagues, I have to take a few minutes and reflect on the season so far.
Like most seasons, it started with great hope and optimism. My Stockton Ports were coming off of a California League Championship Series appearance, and with the departure of Frank McCourt, the Dodgers couldn’t help but be better. I had planned to blog weekly (at least) and quickly cranked out the first of my own pithy thoughts about how much I love baseball.
Somewhere in the midst of a sixteen game losing streak for the Ports the writing dropped off. Between work, trying to exercise more and just being tired, things sort of slipped away. And when I looked up, my two year old was able to use my iPhone – to watch his favorite train videos while I worked in the kitchen – without my help.
The First Pitch
As the final weekend of the first half of the season chugged into the station, I found myself for the first time ever setting foot onto the playing surface of a professional baseball diamond. The Ports had invited me to throw out a what I now call a “pre-game pitch” since they really aren’t the “first pitch” anymore, now they are a set of multiple pitches by people and causes being honored before a game. Kind of like carrying the Torah on Yom Kippur. Yeah, it’s an honor, but after the first one, who’s really paying attention to who it is anymore?
So after Jeffrey the Giraffe (yes, from Toys-R-Us) threw the first “first pitch,” I went to the mound for my chance. I did take a moment to look around and enjoy it, but then to business. I looked in and the only thought in my head was “Make a better throw than the damn giraffe.”
“Clear the mechanism,” I told myself, and threw a beautiful strike at the knees. Then I stood to the side as the other honorees took their pitches.
Among them were Alumni of the Ports. It’s one of the great things about baseball the way cities honor their own past and their connections to the game. And on this day, Stockton honored Elijah Jerry “Pumpsie” Green.
Maybe you know him, probably you don’t. But Pumpsie Green did something that no one had done before.
In 1955 Pumpsie Green played for the Stockton Ports, then a minor league affiliate of the (also) minor league Oakland Oaks. his contract was purchased by the Boston Red Sox, who then moved him along through their system until July 21, 1959 he stepped onto the field in Chicago as a member of the Boston Red Sox, the last team to racially integrate and allow African-American players on their squad.
The Losing Streak
The sixteen game losing streak, which also included 19 out of 20, was painful in a lot of ways. Obviously I am not a player or coach or even a broadcaster, but I have a better than average relationship with the team, so I felt like it was me losing. What could I do to help? At one point I took my Ports coffee cup and put it away since I thought that my using it was part of the problem. I sat in one seat while listening, I stood, I did all the things that we fans do in an attempt to influence the Baseball G-d’s in an attempt to do my part to end the misery.
At one point I was about to turn the radio off in one of the games (in Bakersfield) when I thought to myself I wonder how Zack is dealing with this? I can’t abandon him to broadcast this alone. Probably somebody else was listening at that point, but I wanted to make sure, and so I texted him and let him know that I wasn’t going to leave him to this himself.
At least I could multi-task, but that was when I realized that baseball can become work when it’s not fun.
When it more or less ended the team got back on a .500 or so roll, but hasn’t really seemed to shake it completely. Every body seems to agree, we all needed a break, so thankfully the All-Start break arrived, and everybody put it all aside for four days.
Maybe the most pleasant part of the first half of the season has been watching Miles Head do his thing here in the Cal-League. He’s being overshadowed a bit by Billy Hamilton (Bakersfield) and his 700 stolen bases (not really, it just seems that way). Miles has put together an awesome first half than ended Saturday when – in what most expect to be his last Ports plate appearance – he clobbered a home run to center left.
Everybody pretty much figures he’s off to the Midland RockHounds (Texas) and then eventually to Sacramento and I believe that you will see him with the Oakland A’s (or some other MLB Team) someday in the not-so-distant future.
The highlight had to be the opportunity to meet Steve Garvey. A former Ogden Dodger (my quasi-hometown), Steve Garvey is, of course, one of my biggest heroes. You must understand this – I did not see the 1981 World Series. Still haven’t. And yet it was one of the most inspiring things for me ever. In so many ways, that 1981 Dodger team helped me get through Basic Training. If they could keep coming back, keep winning when the odds said to lay down and quit, so could I.
Zack interviewed Garvey on the air during the game and asked him what his favorite career moment had been. Steve Garvey then described the final out of the 1981 World Series and his thoughts and feelings. It was as if I had been transported through time to that moment and was finally there myself. I am not ashamed to say that there was a lump in my throat.
The best part? I got a moment alone to tell Steve Garvey what that team had meant to me personally.
He smiled at me and said, “Isn’t baseball great?”
Yes. Yes, it is.