“But then it got beautiful.” — St. Louis Cardinals right- fielder Lance Berkman.
1. I like nearly all sports, in the right dosages. But if you forced me to choose only one sport to watch for the rest of my life, I’d smile and answer: baseball.
Yes, I’m one of those eggheads who loves to sift through reams of baseball statistics, comparing players, seasons, eras. But I realize that numbers are only one way to appreciate the game. There are others. For example, I’d throw out my record books and calculators for an old timer with stories about Joe DiMaggio’s swing or Satchel Paige’s fastball. Even better than the game’s rich history, though, is if you’ve actually played the game and understand some of the mini-dramas staged in each at-bat, in each fielding play, and in each coaching maneuver.
For me, baseball transcends sport. I love watching it played at any level, from Little Leagues to the majors. For me, it’s art in motion; timeless, in every sense. There’s no pesky clock counting down the seconds until The End (like at the workplace, or in other sports). Each inning, each out, is loaded with nearly infinite possibilities. And as the last day of the 2011 Major League Baseball regular season proved, a game is never over until it’s over.
Still, you could watch (and enjoy) baseball for a lifetime and never see a game quite like the one last night between the Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals. No after-the-fact summary could do it justice. Highlights, while entertaining, hardly convey how the contest evolved from sloppy to sublime to epic. It was an unbelievable treat for fans.
I was pulling for the Cardinals, mainly because I root against teams from Texas. However, I would’ve been delighted to see Manager Ron Washington, a native New Orleanian, win the first championship in Rangers franchise history. At some imperceptible point last night, the game itself took over and became so damn compelling, I didn’t want it to stop. During the extra innings, I just wanted it to keep going.
I won’t even try to summarize what happened, but here’s a valiant attempt, by ESPN.com writer Jayson Stark:
What will [Cardinals players] tell the next generations about the greatest World Series game ever played?
Well, here’s where they ought to start:
• They should say they were a part of the first World Series game in history in which a team got down to its final strike, its final breath, twice – once in the ninth inning, once in the 10th inning – and somehow won.
• They should say they were a part of the first World Series game ever played in which any team trailed five times – and still came back to win.
• They should say they were a part of the first World Series game ever in which a team found itself losing in the ninth inning and extra innings – yet still found a way to win.
• They should say they played in the first World Series game in history in which two players – Josh Hamilton for the Rangers, then Freese for the Cardinals – hit go-ahead home runs in extra innings.
• They should say they were the first team in the 1,330-game history of postseason baseball to score in the eighth, ninth, 10th and 11th innings of any game.
• But mostly, they should say this: That they played in a baseball game that reminded all of them why they play, why we watch and why sports can be such a powerful force in all of our lives – because the term “baseball game” doesn’t begin to do justice to this remarkable life experience.
“The greatest game I’ve ever played in,” said the right fielder, Lance Berkman.
2. In the June 27 edition of ESPN magazine there is a list of “unbreakable” sports records compiled by sportswriter Hallie Grossman. She selects five relatively obscure achievements that she thinks will outlast Joe DiMaggio’s legendary 56-game hitting streak.
Bill Mosienko’s hat trick for the Chicago Black Hawks, accomplished in 21 seconds, is cited. So is Wilt Chamberlain’s 48.5 minutes per game average in 1961-62 (since he played every minute in every game, including overtimes, and never fouled out).
No arguments so far. Those are interesting and seemingly “unbreakable.” But then Grossman touts quarterback Johnny Unitas’ 47 straight games with at least one touchdown pass.
That one really is in jeopardy, if New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees maintains his passing touchdown streak, which stands at 34 straight. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough games left in the season for Brees to rewrite Unitas’ record this year. But I’ll bet you a bowl of beefy mac that he ends up breaking the “unbreakable” mark in 2012.