Posts Tagged ‘perfect game’

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Perfect Thoughts

June 22, 2012

Last Wednesday I witnessed baseball history. I watched Matt Cain throw a perfect game, just the 22nd in major league history and the first in the 128-year history of the New York/San Francisco Giants. Along with Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup finals, it was one of the two greatest sporting moments I’ve ever witnessed. Both of these games had drama (Can the Canes do it? Can Cain do it?) and tension (So close … almost …YES!!), until at the end I could hardly believe that I was witnessing such an incredible moment. Here are a few things I remember about watching Cain’s perfecto:

I started thinking about a perfect game from the start. I’ve been asked, when did I notice he was throwing a perfect game? Right away. When I go to a baseball game, I always speculate whether I’m going to see a perfect game, or no-hitter, or shutout. Or maybe someone will hit for the cycle, or hit 4 home runs. So when Cain sent down the Astros in order, striking out two, in the first, I noted it. With two outs in the fifth, the guy next to me said, “You know he’s throwing a perfect game, right?” I slapped his arm and shushed him; it is bad luck to speak of such things whilst they are occurring. When Cain got the next guy, I looked at my friend Danilo, who had joined me for the game, and said, “That’s 15 up and 15 down.” Danilo just nodded; he knew, and knew nothing further need be said. That was the inning when the fans near the Giants dugout started standing as Cain returned from the mound. By the 6th everybody in the lower bowl was standing. By the 7th Danilo decided to call his wife Catherine and have her put on the game, but he wouldn’t tell her why. “Bob sure is nervous here next to me,” he told her, but she missed his meaning. I chose not to alert my family in North Carolina; I was afraid I’d jinx it. By the 9th the cheering began as Cain warmed up and crescendoed with Belt’s catch of the 27th out. I could hardly stand still and clapped my hands to vent my nervous energy. I could hardly stop yelling when Cain finished off the last man. The small possibility of the first inning had reached fruition. I got to witness history fulfilled. Not “I was there when Cain lost his no-no in the ninth” but instead “I was there when Cain threw his perfecto.” Undeserved, but so very grateful, to have borne witness.

Luck figures prominently… As a fan you can’t choose to attend a perfect game; you just have to be in the right place at the right time. I got my ticket from my dear and unlucky friend Tommy, who has had Giant season tickets since they were still playing at the ‘Stick and who has not missed a home opener since elementary school. We’d made plans in April to attend this game together; I was in town to teach, and I’d not been to AT&T Park since 2005 (coincidentally, Cain’s MLB debut). But days before, Tommy learned he had to head to Chicago for a business meeting, and his ill fortune became Danilo’s good. The only regret I had about being at this game was that Tommy wasn’t, but he was most gracious. As our friend Brad texted me the next day, “You can’t plan it or buy your way in. It’s total luck.” And joyous, wondrous luck at that.

… For the pitcher too. My presence at the game was pure good fortune: right place, right time. The pitcher has luck of a different kind. He creates lots of it himself; striking out 14 significantly helped Cain retire all 27 batters he faced, because strike outs don’t require any assistance from teammates. But while the Giants had opposite-field hits fall in, and ground balls squeeze between infielders, the remaining 13 balls the Astros put into play were fairly easy to field. With one amazing exception. It feels like standard fare for a perfecto to require one heroic play, and Gregor Blanco provided Cain with one in the 7th. Otherwise the only other hard hit was Snyder’s drive to left in the 6th, which looked to me like a dinger but which Cabrera handled just in front of the fence. This is not to suggest that Cain didn’t deserve his perfection, or that his performance was akin to winning the lottery. In fact, it requires some good fortune, much more physical skill, and even more mental fortitude. Because the pitcher can only record three outs in an inning, his work is broken up by his teammates’ turns at the plate. With each inning, as he moves closer and closer to destiny and history, these intermissions become harder to wait out, and thus leave a heavier weight on the shoulders with each return to the mound. As Sam Miller of Baseball Prospectus remarked the next day, what makes ballplayers special is not that they don’t experience nerves; it’s that they feel them but continue to execute at extremely high levels. Cain’s good luck was largely of his own, and partially of his teammates’, creation.

Sport can provide moments of pure emotion. The feeling of am-I-really-here comes in part from witnessing directly the amazing capacity to perform brilliantly in the densest moments of competition. While the surface emotions swirled–anxiety and excitement and joy–beneath them I felt deep appreciation, almost awe that I could watch this game in person and feel my own expectations, and those of the crowd around me, build with each out. We all wanted so desperately to be part of history. Our hopes turned to euphoria when the game was over. Danilo and I took some pictures; like many we just didn’t want to leave the ballpark while the experience was so fresh. Outside many hung around the plaza, taking pictures of the AT&T Park sign lit up, of the Willie Mays statue, of each other. There was lots of high-pitched conversation and occasional screams of delight. I texted friends and family in all caps: “DANILO AND I JUST SAW MATT CAIN THROW A PERFECT GAME FOR THE GIANTS!!” I yelled enough that on my ride back I stopped at a 7 Eleven for throat drops, and it was there that I had the strangest thought of the night. I stood in front of the beer section and remarked to myself: “Why would anybody want to drink alcohol. It just gets in the way of experiencing life directly.” That is the purity of feeling this game provided me. It took a while to fall asleep, which allowed time to photos to Facebook. I awoke after just four hours or so of sleep, my body jerking with adrenaline again. As I drove to that day’s workshop, and even as I began teaching, I kept flashing back to moments in the game and after. The euphoria took a good 12 hours to fade, but writing tonight has brought back glimpses of it. My high school tennis coach, Harvey Smith, once said, “The memories of an event are often greater than the event itself.” If he’s right, then I will be feeling those glimpses for years to come.

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