Wednesday, October 28, 2009

World Series Memories - Part 1

Play ball!

Tonight, the excitement level in the cities of Philadelphia and New York will be at a fevered pitch...as many of their citizens anticipate the first pitch.

After a 162-game season and two playoff series, the Phillies and the Yankees find themselves in the Fall Classic. It is the ultimate goal of any city that hosts a Major League Baseball team. The fan bases, of both teams, are chomping at the bit, with each team now just four wins away from being crowned World Series Champion.

Baseball fans everywhere, of which I am one (see Heaven in Mudville), are also preparing to settle in and watch the two best teams, in our beloved sport, go head to head. At this point, it no longer matters if your team is there or not. It's about seeing the best against the best.

With baseball only allowing eight teams into the playoffs, there is a purity to the World Series finals that is unmatched by the other major professional sports. You may be able to fake being good for 10 games, but 162 competitions is a pretty good equalizer. Even if The Classic does host a number eight-seed...chances are it's still a real good team (not always...but mostly).

Every year around this time, I become nostalgic. Not only is baseball's premiere event shrouded by a long and storied history, but it is decorated with countless awe-inspiring moments. Kirk Gibson, hobbling to the plate, in 1988, to hit a game winning home run off Dennis Eckersley was at the top of my list for a few years. But, that changed forever, after I had the immense privilege of experiencing an all-time classic moment...in person. And this one had a much deeper emotional attachment.

Flash back. 1993.

The Toronto Blue Jays, were in the World Series for the second year in a row. Having been crowned kings in 1992, we (that is the, all encompassing, royal "we") were attempting to become the first team, since the 1978 Yankees, to successfully defend a championship.

In 1977, the Blue Jays were welcomed into MLB as an expansion team, and in 1983, after six-years of growing pains, the Jays had begun to make some noise. This young baseball fan would sit up to listen.

I followed the Jays, fairly closely, over the next few years, but the jump from "observer" to "die-hard" fan actually started Oct. 5, 1985. I was 12-years old.

That evening, I remember watching the Blue Jay game on my little black and white TV - rabbit ears and all. I remember the batter hitting a lazy fly ball to Left Field. I remember George Bell settling under it. I remember the ball landing in Bell's glove. I remember him dropping to his knees. I remember him shaking his arms in celebration. I remember his team mates rushing the field.

I remember crying.

With that catch, the Toronto Blue Jays had just won their first division title. It was a tremendous moment for the organization and one that would tremendously impact my life...especially over the next decade.

I think it is fair to say that from age 12 to 20, I lived and breathed Blue Jays. I knew every player...and their stats. I knew their schedule back to front and, for a time, even kept a calendar to record the scores of each game.

For years, I was a walking billboard for the team. I had Blue Jay shirts, hats, sweaters, jackets, pants, socks and...sunglasses - with the logo etched into each lens. In the mid to late 80's, I doubt a day went by that I didn't have the classic Blue Jay logo some how attached to me. Even to this day, when I don "Jay wear", I refuse to wear the new logo. It's the original or nothing.

Back then, I cried when they lost and I cried when they won...and that was even for pre-season games. I even tossed some furniture around at the end of one particular playoff loss. For a time, the Blue Jays and I were emotionally connected - at least from my end.

The highlight of every year was my dad, picking me up from school, and taking me down to the stadium for each season's home opener. I loved going to the games with my dad...and we went to a lot of them. Great seats...right behind the plate.

Every game, my dad would pick up a program and I'd fill out the score sheet, as the game went on. I still have over 100 of those Blue Jay programs in a storage bin.

I am also a very proud owner of two baseballs, that were hit into the stands of Exhibition Stadium and Sky Dome. One I caught off the bat of, former Ranger, Steve Buechele and the other was hit by Willie Upshaw. That one my dad snagged for me, but it was my first foul ball, so who cares who caught it...right dad?

Over those years, I have witnessed, first-hand, many historic moments in Jay history, including what is by far, THE most historic moment to date.

Tune in tomorrow to read my reflections about the best sporting experience of my life.

"Now, here I was. Saturday, October 23.
Game six of the 1993 World Series.
Row one, second deck...first base side."

I'm tearing up just thinking about it.

Have a good one,
Timmy

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