The Leap

Today as your guest poster you’ve got frequent commenter Doc writing in about baseball. He used to send me this stuff in college, so if you get sick of the OMG football and OMG baseball and OMG SIEVE that occasionally takes this blog over in the autumns, now you know who to blame.
— A.

SOMEWHERE BETWEEN BEECHER AND PEMBINE— I’ll always remember the leap.

When the final out was recorded on Oct. 3, 1982 and the Brewers pushed themselves into their first playoff game in franchise history, my father jumped with joy, touching our living room’s vaulted ceiling.
The room managed to hold 9-foot firs each Christmas, so for a guy closer to 5-foot-8, that was a pretty good stretch.

The day that started with MVP Robin Yount telling pitcher Don Sutton, “Don’t make us have to score more than three runs and we’ll beat this guy” ended for me with that incredible moment in our home in Bay View.
I didn’t really understand what was happening at the time.

I was only 8 years old; The Brewers were only 12.

My first game was Bat Day of that year, where my father braved the insanity of an I-94 traffic jam so I could get a green-and-red Mountain Dew-sponsored kiddie bat. We saw Paul Molitor jack one into the bleachers, sending Bernie the Brewer sliding into the centerfield beer barrel to release a gaggle of celebratory balloons.
Pete Vukovich went the distance on a three-hitter as the Brewers won 7-0.

At least, that’s how I remember it.

I remember my dad taking me to a game in Seattle that season while we were at one of his annual conventions. During the singing of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” I deftly subbed in “Root, root, root for the Brewers,” who were on the way to a victory while the Mariners were being cuffed around Reggie Jackson’s Angels.

Those same Angels faced off against us later that year, and quickly took an 0-2 lead on Brewers in the ALCS. I don’t remember much about how they fought back, but I remember sitting next to my father in the living room during the pivotal fifth game. The one moment crystallized in my mind was when Charlie Moore dug out Fred Lynn’s single in right field and drilled Jackson who had tried to go from first to third.

Jackson got up, looked to right with amazement and tipped his cap to Moore, a star and a plugger crossing paths at a key moment in time. Cecil Cooper’s two-run single two innings later would be the difference as the Brewers made it to the World Series.

I never really understood how tense that all was at the time. I was a child and children believe that things will always work out fine. I think it’s a function of the television written for us at that age.

This time, it was different.

It was Saturday night, and I was bringing my mother-in-law back from church. The Brewers had lost to the Cubs, while the Mets had blanked the Marlins.

One game left for all the marbles.

As I wound along Highway 141 through the dark between these two north woods towns, I heard one line from a song on the radio.

“And I don’t want to go home right now…”

I knew Sabathia would be gone next year. I knew Sheets would be as well. I knew Fielder might not be long for this team either. I knew that Mark Attanasio built this team for one last run at glory.

This was it. Win or go home. Maybe for another 26 years…

So, on my wedding anniversary, my very understanding wife allowed me to park myself in front of a TV at my in-laws’ house and flip back and forth between the Mets and Brewers games. As the innings ticked away, the Brewers weren’t getting closer and the Mets weren’t being cooperative.

And then the past and present converged…

Sabathia became the latter-day Don Sutton, holding the fort in a tense play-in game, serving as a late season acquisition who brought just enough wins with him to get the team to the Promised Land.

Craig Counsel, the plugger who played where he had to, did what he was told and toughed out his baseball existence, laid off a tantalizing 3-1 pitch to draw the walk that helped the Brewers draw even at 1-1.

And then there was Ryan Braun, who deposited a fastball from Bob Howry into the Miller Park bullpen in full view of Yount, who made good on his edict 26 years ago with two home runs off of Jim Palmer.

And it was Yount whose hug seemed tightest of all when Sabathia finished up his four-hit gem. After the Mets finally succumbed to the inevitable, the Brewers’ bench coach seemed to don the “Wild Card” cap with relish. The playoff trips served to bookend his baseball career.

No one knows if the Brewers will advance beyond the first round or if Milwaukee will have but a single playoff game at the friendly confines of Miller Park. No one thinks for a moment that they’ll see Sheets or Sabathia in a Brewer uniform again once this is all over.

What I do know is that when I got home from Beecher this night of nights, my phone was ringing.

It was Dad, and he was as direct as always.

“Find us tickets. We’re going to the playoffs.”

So we’ll be in section 419 come Saturday, a father and a son sharing a moment all fathers and sons should share at some point in their lives.

After I hung up, one thought rattled through my head like a foul ball through an empty upper deck.

Could the old man still reach the ceiling?

Maybe not, but after 26 years, it’s good to know you can still go home again.

3 thoughts on “The Leap

  1. The one moment crystallized in my mind was when Charlie Moore dug out Fred Lynn’s single in right field and drilled Jackson who had tried to go from first to third.
    I am a baseballfan and I cannot make heads or tails of this sentence. Does every man who talks about baseball feel compelled to use euphemistic verbs (e.g. “drilled” for what apparently means “threw out”), or am I very much mistaken? I don’t recall any such thing in Stephen King’s very well-written essay “Head Down,” for example.

  2. It’s pretty easy. Jackson on first. Lynn hits a ground-ball single to right. Jackson, rather than stopping at second, goes to third. Charlie Moore throws him out at third with a hell of a throw.
    If you still don’t get it, I can diagram it for you (the staple of a good sentence is the easy by which you can diagram it).
    And had you seen the throw, you would have agreed that he drilled him. Whether you’re man, woman, child or pet.

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