I spent Tuesday and Wednesday nights at the SkyDome, riding shotgun as Jose Bautista chased home run number 50. As he chased baseball immortality. I desperately wanted to be there, two or three Bud Light Lime's deep, when he made history.
So it was of absolutely no surprise that Bautista reached baseball's home run hitting peak on Thursday afternoon, in his first at-bat no less, while I was pinch hitting for my brother at Family Business (that's what we named the company; smart, eh?), big bro off manning the company's booth at a trade show downtown. Deep down, I knew that was exactly how it was going to go down. Hey, I tried.
My brother's got a tiny little television at his desk, at Family Business. It's set to MSNBC, all day, everyday. The stock market. Bulls and bears, yo. Thanks to Thursday's game being televised on Sportsnet Fucking One, the TV was of little use to me. I was riding with Jerry Howarth and Alan Ashby and, I've got to be honest, that was fine by me. And as 12:37 pm rolled around, and Shawn Hill threw his first pitch of the afternoon, I couldn't help but think of another historic home run I'd heard on the radio. You might remember it, too. October 11, 1992, at the then Network Associates Coliseum, in Oakland, California. Roberto Alomar, off Dennis Eckersley, a two-run shot that evened the score in game four of the ALCS, a game the Blue Jays had at one point trailed 6-1.
No, I wasn't in the mood yesterday afternoon to complain about the debacle that is Sportsnet One. Instead, I was ready for what I knew would be Jerry Howarth's epic call. And when it came, I was alone, sitting at my brother's desk, listening attentively when Bautista found himself ahead in the count, two-and-one.
"A ball hit deep to left-centre! Back to the wall! ... THERE SHE GOES!!!1 Number 50!"
I knew Howarth wouldn't let me down. I heard the "!!!1" in his voice. And I sat there, smiling like a jackass. Bautista had done it. Fifty home runs. A number baseball legends Harmon Killebrew, Albert Pujols, Mike Schmidt, Ernie Banks, and Reggie Jackson, to name a few, were never able to reach. And, more than being happy for Bautista, I was proud of him. He never let anything slow him down, especially not the steroid allegations. He was -- is -- a model of immaculate baseball consistency. And number 50 came off of King Felix Hernandez, no less, the 2010 American League Cy Young Award winner, whether he wins the bloody award or not. That's how Bautista rolls. In style.
I would have loved to be there. Like I said, I tried. But there was something special about hearing it happen on the radio. I went all Carlton Fisk, and willed that ball past the left field wall through the radio's speakers. I hoped and prayed that it would indeed clear the fence. I pictured Bautista running the bases, head down, like he'd done it 49 times before. And I listened as the sparse crowd roared, and gave him the curtain call he of course deserved.
On a brief aside: I called out Toronto's hockey fans for booing the home team in preseason game number one Tuesday night because, you know, that was fucking pathetic. Hopefully those same folks were taking notes Thursday afternoon, when the Blue Jays faithful rose to their feet to salute Seattle's Ichiro mid-game, as he became only the second player in baseball history to record 10 seasons with 200 or more hits. Ichiro's insane. And Toronto's baseball fans are smarter, and classier.
Back to business. In the end, not even I could have scripted it any better. Number 50 was the game's only and winning run, at the expense of the American League's best pitcher, with Bautista's parents in attendance, to boot.
In the aftermath of the momentous occasion, as Bautista became only the 26th man in baseball history to hit 50 home runs, and the first since 2007, I read piece after piece about his accomplishment. One of them stood out, from FanGraphs:
"... But in 2010, it's harder to enjoy an out-of-nowhere home run performance in the same way [as others who, like Bautista, recorded massive home run spikes]. ... Once miracles are cheaply bought, they are no longer easily enjoyed. I hope Bautista can keep it up, so that we can finally feel at liberty to enjoy his miraculous season."
I couldn't, and still can't, relate. I've enjoyed Bautista's season immensely. More so than any other individual Toronto Blue Jays' season in recent memory. Yep, even Roy Halladay's years. It's different; Bautista made history. And I wanted to be in attendance when he hit the milestone moon shot partly because I wanted to say thanks. Not once have I felt not at liberty to enjoy Bautista's miraculous season all summer. One through 50, it's been a blast. I wasn't there, but thanks, Jose.
Image courtesy the fine folks at daylife.