Tuesday, September 27, 2011

ESPN'S Catching Hell

I'm not sure if anyone else caught this movie on ESPN tonight (no pun intended).  The movie is about the most infamous moment in Chicago Cubs baseball history over the last one hundred years, October 14, 2003, National League Championship Series Game 6, Cubs vs. Florida Marlins.  The Bartman game.

It's a double heart breaker for me.  Not only was the loss to the Marlins in game six, which I attended, followed by losing game seven at home the next night crushing, but the movie starts with another famous play from 1986 which involved my favorite baseball player of all time: Bil Bucker.

For those of you living under a rock or who have no interest in sports, just watch Bill Buckner's 1986 World Series Error and the The Steve Bartman Play.   

When I was growing up a Cubs fan, the Cubs were stinking up the National League.  The only bright spot was at first base: Bill Bucker.  Billy Buck.  He lead the NL in batting in 1980, hit over .300 seven times, was a very good fielder and holds the distinction of being the only player in major league history to have more than 200 hits in a season and NOT hit .300.  But the only thing he is remembered for is, while playing for the Boston Red Sox in game six of the 1986 World Series, letting Mookie Wilson's slow roller to first roll through his legs costing the Red Sox the game.

The movie quickly moves to the Cubs and 2003, slowing building up to the foul ball down the left field line, Moises Alou leaping against the wall, a cloud of fans doing the same, the ball bouncing off of one fans hands. Alou's reaction.

I was there, sitting in the lower level on the left field side.  We didn't see the Alou play.  It wasn't until after Alex Gonzalez error, when my friend Phil went for a cigarette and told me about the replay he say did we know what had happened.  After the 8th inning collapse was over, after the game was over and we were on our way out of the stadium, we saw Bartman surround by Cubs security personnel as they fended off verbal and physical attacks.

I didn't see the replay until after I walked the mile and half home from Wrigley and flipped on the TV.  After seeing the play that night, and after seeing the movie tonight, I can't help but see myself doing the same thing.  If I were in that seat, wearing my Cubs hat, the same one I'd been wearing for years, wrapped in my gray Cubs Jersey that I've worn to Wrigley at least a hundred times, my hands would be reaching for that ball, too.  And if I did, and the ball bounced off my hands, could I handle going through what we put Steve Bartman through?  Staking out his home, his office, years later reporters still approaching him in the parking garage where he works.  Has he been able to go to Wrigley Field since?  Does he know that people pilgrimage to his seat?  Is there some secret hiding spot both he and Bill Buckner shared?

As fans, we should be ashamed.  After all, it's just a game.  Or is it?

Things end on a happy note for Buckner.  The Red Sox won the World Series in 2004 and again in 2007 and after offers to lure him back to Boston, Buckner acquiesces and returns to Fenway to throw out the first pitch of the season opener in 2008.  As he is announced, the place goes nuts.  Tears formed in his eyes.  From the mound, he throws a perfect strike.  All is forgiven.

Someday, hopefully sooner than later, there will be an opening day for the Chicago Cubs, one where we are allstill hung over from celebrating our First World Series title in however many years it ends up being.  Hopefully, without any fanfare the Cubs reach out to Steve Bartman and ask him to come back to Wrigley.  Without anyone know, Steve will get to enter the park, sit in the upper deck, behind home plate, away from the cameras.  He'll get to watch the banner rise above Wrigley, drink an Old Style, maybe keep score.  Naturally, the Cubs will lose the game, but it won't matter.

But if they call, will Steve answer, or will he just continue to live as he has the last eight years, keeping to himself, eschewing lucrative offers to extend his fifteen minutes of fame, always being the better man.

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