Video at bottom of story
To watch a six-minute video of the last out— it has around 1,000 views already — go to the bottom of this story.
She was no more than 8. With big, brown eyes and curly hair, she looks back at me with quizzical eyes and a sheepish grin. I had been making a scene for some time now, and she couldn’t quite figure it out. So I try to explain the importance of the moment to her.
“There are 20,000 people here,” I say. “When you’re a young lady -- a few years from now -- a million people will say they were here. Keep your ticket stub.”
But let me back up. Just what was happening on April 21, 2012?
• • •
Last Saturday morning is breaking bad in Vancouver. Cold, damp and cloudy. No surprise there. But today we have a ballgame to get to in Seattle. The weather guy is assuring me things will get better, but I believe him about as much as I believe the guy who sold me that aluminum Christmas tree in the ’60s and said it would put the real tree business … out of business.
But I’m smiling because the go-go White Sox are in town. My team! That means the 160-mile road trip is about to begin. I pile in the car with my wife, Maley, and a cup of joe. I’m wearing my “I live on the Soxside” black T-shirt. There are some parks where you can’t wear opposing gear without feeling very out of place. Safeco Field is not one of them.
When we hit Tacoma, I take everything back that I said about those weather guys. It’s now breaking beautiful.
• • •
As I enter the ballpark, I think about the total number of fans the White Sox have. Let’s put it this way: It’s about the same number as there are fans of aluminum Christmas trees. Chicago is a Cubs-crazy town. Period. The Sox are mostly an afterthought for the residents.
Part of this has to do with the Cubs being a Northside team, where most of the money resides, and the Sox being a Southside team, where most of the crime resides.
Sox numbers shrink even more when you leave the friendly confines of Chi-Town. Chicago Superstation WGN has always favored airing Cubs games and that has created a national fan base.
Me? I grew up near the Southside, and thus my Sox allegiance. And total numbers mean little to a Sox fan.
• • •
I’m 10 feet into the park when someone hands me a garbage pail. It’s the giveaway for this day. I immediately wonder if there is some sort of double meaning going on. I can’t figure it out, but I accept almost anything free, including the smattering of “boos” I hear when Mariners fans see my shirt. Bring it.
• • •
As the game begins, Sox pitcher Phil Humber looks sharp. Very sharp. After he retires every Mariners batter through four innings I do something you’re never supposed to do. I tell my buddy Eric Stahl, who is sitting next to me, that we’ve got a perfect game going. He tells me it’s against the baseball rule book to mention that before the game is over. It would jinx the … thing, he says. Since he’s an attorney, I blindly accept his statement. But we immediately move toward binding arbitration on just what exactly I can say. I suggest the phrase “We’ve got something special going on here!” Eric agrees. A consent order is quickly signed on the back of a Cracker Jack bag.
• • •
Mariners right fielder Ichiro Suzuki is the biggest obstacle to the “something special” we’ve got going on. I really dislike this guy, mainly because he’s so good. He reminds me of a slow pitch softball player, always dinking the ball around the park, never really swinging. He is, put simply, a hitting machine. And, of course, any hit ruins the “something special.” But Ichiro goes down meekly in each at-bat. We inch closer as batter after batter goes down.
• • •
It’s the top of the ninth now. “Something special” is a real possibility. I move forward in my seat. I’m nervous. Very nervous. I turn to two friends from Portland, Libby and Taylor Clark, who joined us at the game. I suggest that we all make a pact: If the “something special” is consummated, we all agree to rush the field to celebrate. They both look at me as though I’ve been chewing too long on an aluminum Christmas tree. They’re eating vegetarian hot dogs. And they’re both Mariners fans. They’re not in. My attorney buddy gives me some quick legal advice if I proceed on my own: “You’ve got my number. And don’t say anything.”
• • •
We get the first two outs in the ninth in short order. It’s 26 batters up and 26 batters down. One more to the “something special.” I stand. In fact, most everyone is standing now. Good for the Mariners fans. I turn on my iPhone and begin to record the last out. But instead of training the lens on the field, I opt to record the crowd’s reaction. And although you never see me, you do -- ah -- hear me in the video. I use the agreed-upon phrase, “We got something special going on here,” more times than I wish to admit.
The last batter is pinch hitter Brendan Ryan. With all due respect to this guy, he’s a bum. Nothing personal, mind you. Ryan is constantly flirting with the Mendoza Line. If you don’t know what that is, well, let’s say it ain’t good for a long-term baseball career. But it’s these .200 hitters that more often than not ruin “something special.” He begins to work the count. It’s 3-2 now. A walk kills the perfect game. What’s this guy thinking? Would he really take a walk in this spot? Isn’t there some baseball rule about that? I let him have it from the stands. He probably hears me because, well, it’s me and one little boy (“Don’t let that Ryan hit that ball!”) who’s cranked up. Make no mistake, this last-batter stuff is often trouble in a spot like this. In fact, 31 times in the history of baseball, a pitcher has had “something special” with one out to go. Ten of those times, the last batter ruined it.
• • •
Humber’s last pitch is way outside and low. Ball four. The “something special” is lost. But wait! That bum, Mr. Ryan, looks like he took a wild swing at it. The ump agrees. Strike three! But A.J. Pierzynski, our catcher, drops the ball. If Ryan gets to first base before the ball gets there, the “something special” would be lost … again. Humber urges Pierzynski to get the ball to first base. His throw beats Ryan to the bag.
• • •
“Perfect game, baby!” There, I say it. It’s legal now. Sounds pretty sweet. I rush down the aisle to the Sox dugout and think about jumping the fence. But I don’t look good in cuffs. Instead, I celebrate a few feet from the field. Since Major League Baseball began in the 1800s, only 21 perfect games have been thrown. More people have flown around the moon than have thrown a perfect game. Seeing it in person was indeed something special.
• • •
As the little brown-eyed girl leaves the field with her parents, she looks back at me. She smiles. I smile at her. She has a perfect smile.