Sunday, April 15, 2012

No. 781 – The Distance

Performer: Live
Songwriter: Ed Kowalczyk
Original Release: The Distance to Here
Year: 1999
Definitive Version: None

Debbie and I got up at the crack of dawn on Saturday. I had worked the night before till the usual 12:30 or so, and it would be one of my quickest turnarounds since the old Journal days in Flint. Debbie said she’d drive the first shift, so I could sleep more if I wanted. But how do you sleep when you’re heading to your first World Series game?

You don’t. Or at least I didn’t. I just put the seat back and chilled out as we began the nine-hour trek to Atlanta. It was light by the time we got to Cincinnati. Debbie would drive till about Lexington, Ky., and I’d take it from there. Having just made the same journey that summer, I knew the way, even after we hit the Atlanta metroplex, which only just seems to start once you hit the Georgia border.

Debbie’s aunt was excited to see us, not just to have us visit but also that her team—the Braves—were back in the World Series after a drought of three years. Some Braves fans might have been spoiled by the team’s success during the Nineties, but not Dot.

I just wish she could have gone with us, but her days of going to games had ended a couple of years before. At her age, it was too much of a hassle to deal with parking or Marta—the rapid-transit train. So she would watch from home as Debbie and I attended the game. I promised her I’d root extra hard for her at the game, which wouldn’t be difficult considering the Braves were playing the reviled Yankees, or Skankees, as I called them.

We got to Sandy Springs with plenty of time to spare before we had to get downtown to the game. As per usual, I wanted to be there as soon as the gates opened to have time to wander around, inspect the bunting and just get a feel for the event. I was beyond excited to be going to see my first major-league postseason game.

Before we left Dot’s house, Debbie had a surprise gift to bestow. I had packed my sweet road-gray Steve Avery jersey to wear, but Debbie didn’t think it was appropriate to go to a World Series game donning the togs of someone who no longer played on the Braves. So she bought me an authentic home Braves jersey, properly sized. Granted, no name was on the back, but how cool is that?

Per Dot’s advice, we took Marta downtown and a shuttle from the station to avoid the parking and expected traffic hassles, and there was a great electricity in the air. By now, the Braves were infamous for not selling out their playoff games, but the fans were fully back on board the bandwagon for the World Series. The chop chants were already starting to emanate from the parking lots, which filled up fast.

When we got to the gate, we were given a foamy tomahawk and two posters of Atlanta Constitution pages. One had a big picture of Chipper Jones, who infamously had called out New York Mets fans earlier in the year (and had been serenaded by chants of “Larry, Larry” the entire LCS against the Mets). The headline caption read: “That’s Mr. Larry, to you.”

The other one was a picture of an apple with a huge Braves tomahawk stuck it in and the words New York, New York above it. Yeah, the newspaper was holding the bandwagon’s reins.

Because we had attended a game at Turner, we didn’t have to walk entirely around the park to check out everything. There would be no on-field b.p., so we just hung out in the outfield section while we noshed on bratwurst before heading to our seats to catch all of the festivities.

Because I had bought in almost immediately when tickets went on sale—and I recall that face value was reasonable, like $65 per ticket—we had pretty great seats. We were in the upper deck, but in the first section, about four or five rows from the railing, and we were directly above Ted and Jane and the Braves’ dugout. That will work.

The pageantry was as hoped, with the huge flag unveiled on the field and the lineups of both teams being introduced with boos cascading down onto the field for every Yankee. Warren Spahn, Debbie’s favorite old-timer, threw out the first pitch.

The game was pretty good. Greg Maddux faced El Duque, Orlando Hernandez, and the two pitchers lived up their billing. Unlike in the regular season, there was no need for the p.a. system to fire up the crowd. It chanted pretty much from the first pitch on.

Debbie, who is part Cherokee, as I’ve mentioned, chopped right along, although she drew the line on me giving a scalp with my foamy tomahawk to Paul O’Neill as he stood unaware in right field—not because of the racial overtone, but because she loved Paul O’Neill, who grew up in Columbus. I didn’t care if he had gone to my grade school: He was a whiny little crybaby. I hated him, like pretty much every Yankee who ever has played the game. (It’s impossible to hate The Bambino or The Iron Horse.) The only time love and Yankee should ever be in the same sentence, in my opinion, is, “I love to see the Yankees lose.” I’m scalping O’Neill anyway.

Anyway, Mr. Larry roped a solo homer down the right field line in the 4th—the Braves’ first hit off El Duque—and the pitchers otherwise traded zeros for seven innings. When the Yankees came to bat in the 8th, not only was the score 1-0, but the hits were 3-1, Yanks. (Yes, Jones’ homer was the Braves’ only hit of the game to that point.) That’s a pretty good pitchers duel, right there.

But, well, you might know what happened next. Maddux fell apart against the bottom of the order, and John Rocker—much to any New Yorker’s delight, even those who detested the Yanks—poured gas on the fire. When the inning was over, so was the game: The Yanks were up 4-1. I gave O’Neill another scalp, because it was the right thing to do—regardless of the situation.

The Braves did bring the tying run to the plate in the bottom of the ninth, but Mariano Rivera, the cyborg, shut the door and like that my first—and until further notice last—World Series game came to an end.

It was anticlimactic heading back to Marta amid the rest of the downcast and very quiet Braves fans. Oh well, there still was Game 2 tomorrow. And we’d watch from Sandy Springs before heading back to Columbus Monday. Debbie was particularly looking forward to seeing Pete Rose on the field before the game …

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