Thursday, December 18, 2008

Your 2008: Two Memorable Moments

(For the third straight year, I've asked a few of my readers and friends to write about their favorite things from this past year. The series continues here with a post by Jake Williams -- a.k.a., my dad.)
I searched for my best of ‘08 among books read, movies seen, spontaneous news stories that struck a chord -- any source that exists beyond the narrow world of sports. But the search yielded nothing that compared with two surreal events that took place within that narrow world. I cannot separate them, so I have co-winners:

1) Some marketing guru thought it would be a good idea to play an NHL game outdoors on the very first day of 2008. I have no particular interest in hockey; I stumbled across the contest while channel surfing. The teams were Pittsburgh and Buffalo, playing in the stadium that serves as home to the football Bills. It was Buffalo-cold with a stiff wind blowing snow flurries across the ice. The players’ breath was clearly visible as they skated up and down the makeshift rink in front of a sellout crowd that was largely invisible due to their far remove from the ice. I stopped surfing. The game was well played and close all the way, and I knew that something special was going on. For a couple of hours, pro sports weren't about obscene salaries, showy egos, labor strikes, or drug abuse. Hockey was just a game being played by a bunch of kids on a frozen rink in the great outdoors, the way they played it when they were 14 or 15, before the money and the fame and the indoor arenas beckoned. They played with fire and abandon, and I have to believe that they were transported back in time, and that those lucky enough to see it were reminded why they were fans. I know I was.

2) I don't like all-star games, and have particular disdain for the peripheral events that accompany them. Slam dunk contests, rookie games, and home-run competitions are strictly TV time-fillers, and I avoid them without a passing thought. But this summer, I happened to be in a bar with a group of guys while the home-run contest played on a big screen. I had a mildly greater interest than usual, since it was part of the long farewell to Yankee Stadium, where I had seen my first baseball game and which housed many of my most treasured memories. Still, it was a home run contest. Who cared? Then Josh Hamilton came to the plate. Since I was in Dallas, interest picked up throughout the bar. During the first half of the season with the Texas Rangers, Hamilton had posted huge numbers and become a national symbol of both the dangers of drug abuse and the struggle needed to break the bond of addiction. Adding to the human interest was his choice of a 71-year-old former mentor to do the pitching for him. Then he began hitting, and everything seemed to take place in slow motion as he pounded ball after ball into the far reaches of the outfield seats. At one point, he hit 13 in a row, and after the camera followed the arc of the towering shots it would return to Hamilton as he stood watching. The beauty of the moment was that he seemed as mesmerized as the crowd at what he was doing. I couldn't help but think of Robert Redford in The Natural, with its supernatural overtones. Words don't do the scene justice. You had to see Hamilton's face. Here was a gifted individual who had been to hell and back and now stood at what must have seemed the center of the universe as the roar of the crowd washed over him. He will likely go on to accomplish great things on the diamond, but when he reflects back on his career, that summer night in Yankee Stadium may be the pinnacle.


Blogger Kraig Smith said...

Hamilton's performance at the All-Star game still gives me the chills when I think of it. EVERY detail of it speaks to all that is great about the game of baseball---and so much more. I think the fact that he lost is evidence of just how special his performance really was. Nobody will remember who won, they'll only remember what Hamilton did in the final season of the House That Ruth Built. And there go the chills...

2:03 AM  

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