September 24, 2010

Chasing 50

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


William Tasker - Caribou, ME said...

At the risk of sounding all sappy and stuff, I was sitting here smiling all goofy for you and all your Blue Jays faithful. It's a special thing and I hope you are all proud of him and of yourselves for witnessing such a wonderful moment.

Louie said...

A while back - I think after a game against the Yanks - you had a post brushing off stupid American commentary with "haters gonna hate."

I took it to heart.

I saw your comment on the Big League Stew post, so I know you've read the article and probably seen the inane comments from ignorant retards south of the border.

"Haters gonna hate"

I really don't care what the rest of the league, or its fans, say. I've had a great summer watching Bau-Wow hit dingers and dominate the American League. This season would've probably been a drag without him. So I don't care if the Jays live in obscurity, and I don't care if a bunch of non-fans "ask the question." We have Jose Bautista. Period.

"Haters gonna hate."

Pension Plan Puppets said...

And Toronto's baseball fans are smarter, and classier.

The same fans that shit on Vernon Wells non-stop despite your assurances that he doesn't suck?

And are the Leafs fans that gave Sundin an ovation despite the shitty way he dumped the franchise not classy?

Fans are fans are fans. They'll boo and cheer at times that drive us nuts or make us proud.

Thought of you when I saw the news though. J-Bau should toss his staunchest defender a HR ball.

Navin Vaswani (@eyebleaf) said...

@ William: There's no doubt that thanks to Jose Bautista, we'll always remember 2010 as The Summer of Jose.

@ Louie: Enjoyed your comment. The sentiment I expressed at BLS was that it doesn't matter what they think of him down south, and it doesn't matter that only 12,000 were in attendance yesterday. Living in Toronto, I know Bautista is appreciated. Haters gonna hate. Cheers.

@ PPP: That part of the post was just to get you riled up. I know how to push your buttons. I called out the foolish Jays fans who shat all over Wells. All year, last year. Each fan base will always have it's morons. As you say, fans are fans are fans. And, here we are, still disagreeing about Sundin. Playing out your contract is now akin to dumping the franchise? Come on. But it's not about any of that. It's about Bautista. Sick, sick season.

ben wideman said...

Well said. Bautista has made this season a pleasure to watch until the very end. How many will he end with? Every shot is a new record.

But the real burning question is - will Stealing Home be completed before the end of the season? Its been a while since I've had my fix of Navin's ballparks travels!

Ian - BJH said...

Navin, I can't recall a time where I was glued to the TV to see a player's at bat. This is exactly what Jose Bautista has done this year - he has captured fans and has them on their feet each and every time he comes to bat. BAS 4 LIFE, my friend.

Escaped Lab Rat said...

Bautista isn't wasting any time moving off of 50. Damn.

Giana B said...

It felt like Bautista was my son...I've never been prouder. I was really glad that the majority of the fans at the game knew what was going on when he hit the home run and gave him the ovation he deserved.

Navin Vaswani (@eyebleaf) said...

@ Ben: I'm calling 55. Three more. And, yes, I'm hoping to finish Stealing Home before MLB's playoffs get under way. I lost a 3,500 word entry last week. It was not a pleasant experience.

@ Ian: He truly has captured fans. I've got a guest post coming down the pipe about just that.

@ Escaped: Bautista loves Baltimore pitching. I do, too.

@ Giana: I felt the same: proud. It's strange to feel that way, since he's an athlete who's "working," but I totally understand where you're coming from; we're in the same boat. Curtain calls have been rarity in Toronto for years. So it's been great to watch Bautista get his fair share these last two months. Fun.