Saturday, February 18, 2012

No. 838 – (Da Le) Yaleo

Performer: Santana
Songwriters: Shaka Ra Mutela, Carlos Santana, Christian Polloni
Original Release: Supernatural
Year: 1999
Definitive Version: None

I’ve liked Santana since I was exposed to the group from the movie Woodstock. How can you not, right? But I didn’t get Supernatural. I mean, I literally did, of course, like everyone else, but I didn’t get why it was so huge.

I didn’t care for any of the superhuge collaborative hits. I liked the songs that actually WERE Santana songs—Latin infused incandescent rock—like this one. Songs like Smoothe or Maria Maria weren’t really Santana songs but just songs where Santana was a guest star. Supernatural, to me, was mostly fake Santana.

I think about that in context of a baseball-related trip that Debbie and I took at about the time this album came out. Unless you were living under a rock, you knew that Mark McGwire was the unquestioned King of Baseball in 1999 after his giddy home-run chase that ultimately ended up, of course, with McGwire hitting an unheard-of 70 home runs in a season and in several opinions saving strike-torn baseball in the process.

When I saw St. Louis at Detroit on the 1999 schedule, that was intriguing. I wanted to see Mark McGwire vs. Tiger Stadium. So we drove up on a one-day windsprint for the game and made sure to arrive at the park two hours before game time, because I wanted to see McGwire take batting practice. So did a lot of other people, and there were maybe 5,000 fans outside when the gates opened.

I’d seen McGwire do his thing before, but this far more memorable. He started slow: His first cycle resulted in only a line shot that cleared the left-field fence by a couple of feet. He was just getting warmed up.

His second go-round, on the second pitch, he hit a moon shot into the upper deck. Applause. Next swing, he hit one off the face of the roof in left field. More applause. Next pitch, another moon shot that hit the top of the roof and bounced over—out of the stadium. Huge applause.

The next pitch made a sound like an explosion when it left the bat, and you just knew he got it all. It cleared the roof by at least six feet in left center field just to the left of the light tower. Good … bye. The crowd roared … during batting practice.

McGwire hit two more that hit the roof down the line to left and bounced over, four balls out all told, including one that might very well have landed on the Fisher Freeway. That he ultimately did nothing in the game itself mattered not at all. His batting practice exhibition was unreal.

Years later, that’s the perfectly apt description: It wasn’t real at all. As we all know, the hero had a lot of extra help in hitting so many long home runs. McGwire and others of his ilk have been exposed as frauds. Sure, I saw what I saw, but it was an optical illusion, no more real than the handiwork of Industrial Light and Magic. What a bummer.

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