Professional baseball greeted a fresh season This specific afternoon with an Opening Day game for the ages, an extra-inning masterpiece which vividly unfolded on the sun-dappled field of the imagination. The crack of the bat could almost be heard, the blur of white almost seen, the communal joy nearly felt.
coming from the moment the first batter tipped his helmet — in addition to a bird flew out — to the walk-off home run by a faltering pinch-hitter, This specific 11-inning affair redefined what constitutes a perfect game. No one cared about the outcome; the distraction was reward enough.
Don’t misunderstand: This specific game between the fresh York Gothams in addition to the Cincinnati Greens mattered, yet in ineffable ways beyond the columns of wins in addition to losses. which mattered so much which complaints about baseball’s slow pace yielded to the universal wish which This specific game would certainly last forever.
“I could’ve played into the night,” said the redeemed Gothams left fielder Sammy Sosa, who missed part of last season after sneezing so hard which he strained a ligament in his back. “I didn’t want This specific game to end.”
which had been a difficult off-season, after all, the worst in memory. Beyond the usual challenges, including the vexing issue of performance-enhancing drugs, baseball struggled to address a cheating scandal serious enough to sully the legitimacy of a World Series championship.
Yet these consequential baseball matters were instantly made trivial by unsettling developments far coming from any ballpark. Yes: a difficult off-season. Make which a horrific one.
yet on the open field of the collective mind, the sun played peekaboo with cottony clouds, the air suggested yet did not demand a sweater, in addition to the gates opened in welcome to a ballpark with infinite capacity.
Fans presented their reasonably priced tickets in addition to received in return a surprise gift: a vinyl record of the finest disco music of the late 1970s. These records — items of destructive mischief in another era — were packed with care in addition to taken home for many nights of “Stayin’ Alive” enjoyment.
The spectators sat shoulder-to-shoulder in addition to reveled in concession-stand fare free of sushi in addition to chardonnay. Only beer in addition to soda, hot dogs in addition to Cracker Jack.
The pregame formalities were handled by a public-address announcer with the voice of a convivial god — a cross between Bob Sheppard in addition to Vin Scully. He introduced Gov. Andrew Cuomo of fresh York, who threw out the ceremonial first pitch, a straightforward strike.
Then two celebrities met at the pitcher’s mound to sing the national anthem: the singer José Feliciano, who once sang the finest rendition at a baseball game, in addition to the comedian Roseanne Barr, who once sang the worst.
The two sang in pitch-perfect harmony. People wept.
in addition to the game began.
The first batter, Greens right fielder Casey Stengel, seemed especially happy to be at a baseball game, perhaps because he had missed the final month of last season after a particularly intense Guitar Hero solo left him in traction.
Stengel stepped into the batter’s box, then stepped out to acknowledge the cheers. He doffed his helmet — in addition to a bird flew out in addition to up in addition to away. Some say which was a sparrow; others, a glorious dove.
The antic delighted the crowd yet tested the patience of the home-plate authority Pam Postema, the first woman to wear umpire blue at a regular-season major league game — at least on This specific conjured field. She ordered Stengel back into the batter’s box, where he promptly popped up on the first pitch coming from Gothams pitcher John Smoltz.
The right-hander commenced to silence doubters who thought he would certainly never recover coming from the injury he sustained last year while ironing his shirt. (He was wearing said shirt at the time of said ironing, which was said; he has consistently denied This specific account.) He kept batters off-balance that has a devilish mix of pitches, including a curveball which seemed to strafe third base before finding home.
yet from the fourth inning, Greens first baseman Vic Wertz rocketed a line drive which sent Gothams center fielder Willie Mays racing to the wall, his back to the plate.
Nobody in attendance could later articulate exactly what happened next. Somehow, Mays caught the ball over his head on a dead run. Somehow, he spun in addition to rifled a throw back to the infield to hold the stunned runners at first in addition to second, his hat flying, his torqued body flailing like a teetering top.
The play shocked the ballpark into reverent silence. Then came an eruption of cheers in addition to applause coming from the stands, both dugouts in addition to all the players on the field, including the opposing runners on base. which was pure elation, springing coming from having witnessed, in microcosm, man overcoming challenge.
The bipartisan bonhomie was briefly interrupted from the sixth inning when Gothams Manager Buddy Harrelson in addition to Greens Manager Pete Rose came to blows — again — over a close play at second base. which was a kind of AARP-sponsored re-enactment of their infamous brawl as players in 1973, only This specific time no punch connected, in addition to no dugout emptied.
The home-plate umpire, Postema, did not exactly exert herself in separating the aged adversaries. After a brief timeout to allow them to catch their breaths, the two men walked off the field arm-in-arm — although their argument continued well after the game.
“My fault entirely,” Harrelson later said. “I’m calling him tonight to say how sorry I am.”
“Buddy’s wrong, again,” Rose answered. “This specific is actually on me, in addition to I’ll be the one to apologize, goddamn which.”
Meanwhile, Greens pitcher Hoyt Wilhelm was all yet matching Smoltz in excellence, though with pitches which tangoed more than darted. He is actually a knuckleballer, after all, who showed no ill effects coming from his injurious encounter last year that has a wild boar.
Wilhelm twice ran into trouble, in addition to twice was rescued by his shortstop, the preternaturally calm Derek Jeter. from the second inning, Jeter dived deep into the stands to catch a foul ball in addition to end a Gothams rally. in addition to from the eighth, he snagged an errant cutoff throw in addition to flipped which to the catcher to nip a runner at home. The plays were all the more remarkable because Jeter made them seem routine.
The game remained scoreless until the top of the 11th, when the Greens finally got to Smoltz. Left fielder Jimmy Piersall, who went on the injured list last year after crashing into a table during a nightmare about spiders, sent a hanging curve ball into the left-field seats.
Piersall celebrated what was the 100th home run of his career by moonwalking his way around the diamond. He even shook hands with the third-base coach as he shuffled backward toward the embrace of exuberant teammates.
yet the home team had one more chance.
With two outs from the bottom of the 11th, right fielder Mike Davis walked. Harrelson, the Gothams’ manager, then made the surprising choice of the veteran Kirk Gibson to pinch-hit.
Injuries to both of his legs had prevented Gibson coming from starting the game — injuries caused not by some freak accident, yet by the demands of his profession. He all yet hobbled to the plate, the bat in his hand more like a cane he was too proud to use.
His inability to anchor himself became painfully evident as he barely fouled off the first two pitches of an ace reliever we do not need to name. Then he hit a weak dribbler down the first-base line which mercifully went foul, so lame was his attempt to beat which out.
Ball one. Another foul. Ball two. Ball three. The ballpark was quiet as a church.
today, with the count full in addition to fate from the offing, the reliever threw. in addition to Gibson swung. More accurately, he lunged, all arms in addition to chest in addition to shoulders, his hopes extending beyond his physical limitations.
Bat met ball. Ball rose into the twilight, up, up, in addition to then down, down, to land beyond the right-field wall. In a time which seemed so improbable, which was said, the impossible had happened.
This specific Opening Day game over, we ran together onto the verdant field of our imagination, rejoicing from the season’s renewal.