May 22, 2007


Cooperstown calling: Redemption proves elusive in Hall of Fame game (Tom Verducci, May 22, 2007, Sports Illustrated)

COOPERSTOWN, NY -- I will tell the story for years to come about how I played the outfield like Willie Mays in the 61st annual Baseball Hall of Fame exhibition game at historic Doubleday Field. I will conveniently forget to mention I did so like the Willie Mays of the 1973 World Series, turning a routine fly ball into a Sir Edmund Hillary-sized adventure.

Baseball, however, is a redemptive game, offering about 250 pitches worth of second chances every nine innings. I saw mine coming clear as day (which is more than I could say of the ball that caused my need to be redeemed.) It was carried on a seventh-inning fly ball headed toward the right-field gap and very possibly to the outfield seats. As a reprise to my 2005 story about playing one week with the Toronto Blue Jays in spring training, I played right field for the Jays against the Baltimore Orioles for five innings in the Monday exhibition. This fly ball would be my moment of glory, the very stuff Abner Doubleday himself might have had in mind when, at least as baseball mythology goes, he helped invent the game and its dreams right on these very grounds.

I ran toward the gap. The flight of the ball took me nearer and nearer to the wall. It wasn't until I felt my spikes first hit the cinder warning track that I knew with some certainty that I was going to catch it. I reached up and across my body for a backhand catch, calculating that the ball would hit my glove and the wall would hit me at just about the same time. The ball was not more than three feet from my glove, and then, suddenly .. nothing. Darkness. Black. The sky gone.

Worse: I got smacked in the nose and mouth by something, followed immediately by my back slamming against the wall. I knew even as I fell to the warning track what had happened. That darkness that blotted out the sky? A leather eclipse. Someone in the stands had reached over the wall and down toward the field to make the catch that should have been mine.

"Man, you had that!" center fielder Wayne Lydon told me, the disappointment clear on his face. "You had it."

A friend, since departed, hit a homerun out pof that park in high school, which is kind of cool.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 22, 2007 8:08 PM
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