WISHING ON A STAR
a dream (World Series) come true

A cluster of a dozen or so kids gather in a field. There's no shade: the afternoon heat and humidity envelope them. Cotton tee shirts stick to sweaty skin. There's precious little grass to absorb any of the Sun's rays, only occasional awkward clumps of tall, wild grasses adorn this vacant lot - a clump here, a clump there. Sandy soil reflects and radiates heat upward; humidity is the ceiling, pushing it back downward, effectively steam cooking everything in between the two. It's summer vacation and perfect weather for baseball.

There's no backstop, pitcher's mound, dugout, bleachers or sponsor's placards in this field Rocks, sticks and a haphazardly dropped shirt provide the bases in the formation of this primitive diamond. It's simply one of a million such places across the great expanse of America where neighborhood kids gather to play the game: the veritable sandlot of sandlot baseball.

Two alpha dogs posture themselves and assume the responsibilities of team leaders. The rest of the gathering is a huddled mass waiting to be dismembered, one player at a time: best players and comrades first, and then on down the line. As the teams form, kibitzers become involved in the selection process, making for some interesting exchanges between team leaders and meddlesome advisors.

"No, no, no! Not Bill! Pick Frank instead" one of the already chosen and self proclaimed assistant advises.

"I'm the leader, so I'll pick who ever I want!" the team captain snaps back.

For those sweating it out (literally and figuratively) waiting to get picked, the most troublesome and uncomfortable exchanges between leaders and kibitzers are those that are whispered, as if doing so would protect the feelings of those left in the cattle corral. At times like this, thank goodness for the comforting feel and smell of soft, oiled leather mitts and gloves - most being hand-me-downs from older brothers, fathers and uncles.

Between anxious, troubled, darting glances, the group of available players gets smaller and smaller, until there's one person left who goes to a team without being one of the chosen. The last Mohegan goes to one team or the other by default of being the least desirable of the group.

That's an uncomfortable position to be in: the last to get picked. It's certainly an in-your-face, up front and personal appraisal of one's baseball skill level. The last to get picked turns out to be a thin, scrawny kid.

fast forward

Just as that sandlot scenario is history, so is the 2002 World Series of Baseball.

And what a series it was!

I had dropped out of regularly viewing sporting events many years ago, but recently marrying a true sports fan has changed all that. For the first time in years, this autumn found me consumed in watching professional baseball post-season play. Though rabid competition still doesn't settle well with me, and probably never will, enjoying the game and the drama of end of season baseball has been a lot of fun. It's nice to be back.

Both long shots at best, the Anaheim Angels and San Francisco Giants ran the gauntlets of their individual league wildcard and play off series. So not only was a west coast World Series in the making, but an underdog pairing as well! The stage had been set for an interesting and enjoyable World Series. Mutual hope for a full seven game series filled our household and an appropriate size box of microwave popcorn was purchased in optimistic anticipation

That anticipation was tempered with melancholy, though, as both Jane and I had grown fond of the playing styles of the Angels and Giants, had been rooting for both of these underdogs, and now the dogs, our dogs, were going to be thrown into a pit to fight it out.

"Isn't it a shame that someone has to lose?" was Jane's query to me, and innocently provided the impetus for writing this essay.

the waiting is the hardest part

Tom Petty was right when he sang those words. It seemed like an eternity between the start of the wildcard series and the end of the play off. Then we had to tough it out until the start of the World Series. The wait for game one was sheer agony, and having marked the game dates on our kitchen calendar only made the wait seem longer as the constant reminder stared out at us from the kitchen wall. The baseball jones hit hard.

When the series finally started in Anaheim, game one turned out being a pitching duel that ended up Giants 4, Angels 3. Game two was a serious slugfest for both teams with the Angels topping the Giants 11-10.

Monday, October 21, was a travel day for teams to get up the coast to San Francisco. Though another day of waiting and dealing with the jones, maybe it was a good thing that game three wasn't played on the night of the Hunters Moon!

Games three, four and five were on the Giants home turf in Pacific Bell Stadium, San Francisco, with wins going out to the Angels 10-4, Giants 4-3, and Giants 16-4, respectively.

This ratcheted the Drama Quotient up a few notches, as the Giants were then ahead of the Angels three games to two in a best of seven series.

We were revisited by the baseball jones on Friday, that being a travel day for the teams to head to Anaheim.

If angels (or Angels) pray, there must have been some power-prayer going on before game six, as a win for the Giants would have ended the series. This Drama-rama of a game closed with the Angels keeping their dream alive with a 6-5 win.

The series was tied at 3-3, thus forcing a seventh game. By fate, coincidence or divine intervention, the series had progressed nearly exactly as I had craved it would.

The final showdown at Edison International Field Information in Anaheim crammed a sellout crowd into the 45,050 seats, the vast majority cheering for home team heroes, the Angels. Being a west coast series and Californians, by virtue of the size of their state and the resultant limited mass transit, have a more voracious appetite for automotive travel than we easterners, many Giant fans headed south and packed themselves into whatever seats they were able to obtain.

The finale of the World Series of Baseball 2002 is now in the past. We know how it ended. Instead of a recap of game seven, let the history book close and imagine an alternative ending scene to a game seven that has yet to come.

when you wish upon a star

Something that I had been persistently talking about with and inflicting on my wife Jane, is what Ill call my Dream World Series of Baseball. Jane insists it would never happen, which, like pouring gasoline on a fire, makes me wish even more feverishly that it could happen. Ill admit, albeit sadly, that its more likely I get elected President of the United States of America in 2004 than seeing my Dream World Series of Baseball become a reality.

Fortunately, I frequently toggle back and forth between logical and mildly irrational thought, which makes for an interesting life. Logical thought tells me "it will never happen" and irrational thought leaves the door open to fantasy and a connection to a childhood innocence that counters "but wouldn't it be awesome if it did?"

I'll concede that the world isn't ready for the kind of World Series that I'm about to describe. As a society and part of this 2002 world community, we're locked into the "bigger, better, faster, more" and "better than" philosophies of life. And being Number One is everything.

Baseball is a relatively simple game when thought of as a full scale version of a peculiar board game played in real life. Add human players, necessary implements such as bats, balls and gloves and you have a true American sport: our national pastime.

Things start to get dicey when players don uniforms Its odd how uniforms, which by definition provide one form, actually separate player from player. The teams display the one form of the uniform. Adding names and numbers further dilutes the purity of one form: baseball uniform to team uniform to player uniform. Baseball remains baseball, though. Its a sport void of the tightly packed clusters of players of two teams common to the play of football, hockey or basketball, where identification and definition of individual players by their uniform markings are necessary.

Our insatiable thirst for more and more statistics further divides the sport and the game of baseball by league, division, team, player and position. And at seasons end, there must be one team declared winner and one player declared Most Valuable Player (MVP).

The words of my wife echo in my head: "Isn't it a shame that someone has to lose?"

your dreams come true

After all the analysis and given that baseball today is what it is, regardless of how I may feel about it, here's how Id love to see the final scene to my Dream World Series of Baseball play out. Leaning back and closing ones eyes helps to hear the sportscaster doing the play by play, at first only anxious, but then frantic.

"Well folks, here we are in a classic do-or-die situation. This is baseball drama at its best. It just doesn't get any better than this."

"Game seven of the 2002 World Series. Bottom of the ninth inning. Two outs. Bases loaded. Full 3-2 count on Kenny Lofton. A whopping total of nine pitches thrown to this batter."

"This is real baseball, folks."

"The entire 45 thousand fans plus in the stadium tonight are on their feet and the noise is deafening."

"Molina signals to the mound. Percival gives a nod of approval, checks the bases, and OH MY GOD! STRIKE THREE! Lofton couldn't connect with that 98 MPH fast ball! Hang onto your seats - we're going to extra innings in game seven of the 2002 World Series!"

The Fox network immediately runs the requisite collage of video replay clips of ninth inning highlights and breaks to commercial. Then the unthinkable happens: the 30-second, million dollar commercial is interrupted and there's a live picture of the playing field. Players are casually emptying out of both dugouts, walking to the pitcher's mound, shaking hands and exchanging high fives. Then the assembled multitude of players from both teams walk around the perimeter of the field pressing the flesh with fans lucky enough to be within reach and waving to those in "higher latitude" seating.

When the circuit is completed, they retire to their respective locker rooms. The press and other media have been banned entry. The game is over. The World Series is over. Tie score. Two winners. No losers. Confrontation neutralized. Closing time.

And the "there can only be one winner" dragon has finally been slain.

random thoughts

Imagine this: the American Sports Psyche would be a target rich environment for psychologists in the wake of such an event. People wouldn't' know what to do, as they've undergone lifelong brainwashing that has left them mindset that there has to be a winner and a loser. Period.

Not being a gambler leaves me hopelessly ignorant as to what the ramifications of my Dream World Series of Baseball would be on existing bets in the world of sports gambling. Would bets be returned or would "the house" keep all bets made? I don't know and am more than a little hesitant to ask around. Needless to say, there'd be a lot of confusion and quite possibly chaos.

Other sports would have to be affected in some way. Calling in the football term Sudden Death for critical review comes to mind immediately.

Our goal oriented, success driven society would be forced to take a long and no doubt difficult look at itself and question the insane lengths it goes to be Number One. Isn't that a delicious thought?

there's got to be a morning after

It's all in the history books now, except for those stories still being written, such as this one. The night of October 27 was a busy one for sports writers needing to have The Story ready for newspaper morning editions. Print press operators across the country were holding up the front page and sports section for the fresh ink. Delivery trucks idled at loading docks. Such is life in Deadline World.

I'm one of the lucky ones. Being an essayist affords me the luxury of not having to reside full-time in Deadline World under a thumb heavily laden with the additional weight of a clock. I went to bed immediately after last night's game, was up at 7 A.M. the following morning and didn't get down to working on this piece until 9 A.M. So I've had time to rest and think, which may or may not be a good thing ...

Of course, the final act of my imaginary seven-act play didn't play out in real life. For whatever reasons, Life version 2002 requires there must be a winner. But in a game between two opponents where a winner must be decided, a loser must also be decided.

San Francisco center fielder Kenny Lofton was the last man down on a sinking Giant ship last night. It was the fate of the moment: Lofton hit a nuclear propelled pitch of Troy Percival, but not quite hard enough to count for anything other than being the last out in the last inning of the last game for this year's World Series of Baseball. Lofton's hit was the final deciding factor that defined the winner being the winner and the loser being the loser - not a very comfortable memory to have to carry around for the rest of one's life.

With a chance of snow in the forecast for Wednesday, I find myself fighting off a magnet-like force to daydream about warmer days many years ago, and can't help wonder if Kenny Lofton shares any of the feelings of that thin, scrawny kid in the sand lot.

Copyright © 2002 by Jeff Bauer

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