The Stuff of Legend

I realize that I’m a little late to the Josh Hamilton suck-fest, but regardless, I’m still going to write about it.  First off I don’t really care about Hamilton’s past or any of that other crap.  I’m not going to call him a hero or heroic, because those words get bandied around way too much in the sports world, and I have trouble calling anyone a hero who plays sports, and is rewarded handsomely for it.

I just want to talk about the home runs.  The home run is a thing of beauty.  If you have ever been to a game, and seen a home run, then you know what I’m talking about.  Everyone wants to see some homers when they go to the game.  As a fan you will take anything for your team to win, a bunch of singles, doubles, even a timely walk, but deep down everyone just wants a homer, especially when the situation–late in a game–calls for a homer.  It’s really amazing how the whole stadium acts and reacts collectively. First everyone collectively takes a breath and holds it waiting for the pitcher to throw, and once he hurls the pitch everyone waits in baited anticipation…the balls in the dirt.  Ok, ok this is the pitch everyone starts thinking, this is it, he’s going to do it this time.  The pitcher gets back into the stretch, and everyone, again, holds there breath.  This time though there is something different.  For whatever reason those few seconds seem like an eternity, and so much is experienced in those seconds:  the crowd begins to release their collective breaths, the batter coils as he sees a pitch to drive, the pitcher realizes he has made a mistake, and then the best sound in sports CRACK!  No sound can compare to the crack of the bat, and the simultaneous outburst of euphoria that ripples through the crowd.  CRACK! the ball comes off the bat streaking towards the heavens like a misguided falling star, and the crowd starts to vibrate and their voices begin to crescendo, almost pushing the ball further into the sky, and then comes the eruption.  The crowd loses all self-control people who minutes ago annoyed each other are hugging and high fiving.  There is a euphoria that sweeps through the crowd and makes everyone instant friends, while on the field the pitcher is sauntering around the mound dejected, and upset with himself, while the batter is rounding the bases pumping his fist and getting ready to high five the third base coach and his teammates at home plate.  It really is something special, and if you have never experienced that before in a stadium, well, you are missing out on one of life’s truly great moments.

The thing is though that there are two types of home runs.  There are the home runs that I have just described, and then there are HOME RUNS.  The latter are mythic, and the stuff of legend.  I remember when I was just a little kid, knee high to a grasshopper, I used to go into my grandpa’s living room, and we would sit and chat about baseball.  Our conversations always used to center on the Yankees, and Babe Ruth.   He used to get a far away look in his eyes as if he wasn’t remembering it as much as he was still seeing it, and describing it to me like I was blind.  Of course he would always have to interject his stories, and recollections with his opinions on the world as it was then.  “You know how much I used to pay for a ticket?” he would demand at me, and I would shake my head no dutifully even though I had already heard this part many times.  “A quarter! A QUARTER! do you hear that a quarter, and cracker jacks were a nickel.  Ahhh those were the days,”  and he would turn he head away, and get a look of disgust on his face, and then wave his had at some invisible entity trying to shoo it away.  But then the sparkle would come back to his eyes, and his face would brighten up again, and he’d look at me “imagine paying just a quarter to see Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig play.  I saw them all, all the greats, and the greatest of them all were the Yankees, and Babe Ruth.”  (He really did see everyone.  He was a great lover of baseball and even when he was old he could still remember more stats about more players than I ever will be able to.  Just thinking about all the players and teams he saw makes me a bit jealous.)  It would be then that he would launch into tales that were intermittently interrupted with laughter, and sometimes tears, about the moonshots that Babe Ruth used to catapult into the stratosphere, and out of Yankee Stadium.

When he would talk about this it was like he was young again sitting at the stadium in his suit and hat, probably with a news paper rolled up in his hands, and a box of cracker jacks.  It are these types of home runs that I’m talking about.  These are the stuff of legend.  The stuff that you see in your youth, and remember fondly in your old age.  Our conversations would end in one of two ways.  The first way, and most prevalent, was him asking me imploringly “do you know how many more at-bats Aaron had than Ruth?”  Once again I would diligently shake my head no, and he would begin “foooouuur thooouusand, four thousand.  You hear me? four thousand.  Now Aaron was a fine ball player, but four thousand more at-bats.  You know what Ruth would have done with four thousand at-bat?  he would have hit another 300 home runs at least, then no one would have caught him.  No, no, no if you can’t accomplish the same thing in the same amount of at-bats then you shouldn’t get the record.  So for me Ruth is the home run king, and will always be.”  Now mind you none of his was race motivated, but was a valid argument in the earlier days of baseball.  Why do you think Maris got an asterisk next to his record of 61 homers in one season? because he played a 162 game season as opposed to the 154 that Ruth played.  Anyways back to the tale.  The other way the conversations would end would be “Ooooh now that Steinbrenner fellow.  He’s a scoundrel.  I don’t trust him.  If he tried to give me something I wouldn’t take it, you know why? because he’s shifty and dishonest.  He’s done some good things, but I think he’s bad for baseball and the Yankees.  The commissioner, if he had any guts, should have kept him out of baseball, and not reinstated him.”  It was here where he would become disgruntled again, and wave his hand trying to shoo away the specter of the commissioner from his minds eye.

Now I’d get much the same stories from my dad when I was a kid, only this time about Mickey Mantle.  Of course every kid in New York born around my dads time loved the Mick.  I don’t know how many times I’ve heard the story about the Mick hitting a ball off the roof of Yankee Stadium, just missing hitting the ball completely out.  My dad talks about him with the same far away look and hushed tones that my grandpa talked about Babe Ruth, and many old Negro Leaguers talk about Josh Gibson.  So what’s the point of this long tale?  I thought you were going to talk about Josh Hamilton?  I am, but first I had to set it up.  Now that you hopefully understand the mystic of the home run, and the difference between a home run, and a HOME RUN, I can sum up my feelings about the other night.

Three nights ago I sat down opened a beer, and started to watch the home run derby.  It was just like every derby I’ve seen.  Fun, but almost bordering on tedious at times, it can be a bit long at times.  Then Josh Hamilton came up to bat, and the night was transformed.  I’ve seen quite a few home runs in my day, and I’ve seen some really moonshots–especially by Ryan Howard, but he usually follows up those moonshots by missing the ball completely for the next week–but I have never seen someone hit balls so hard, so consistently, and so far.  Sure it’s not in a game and the balls were coming in quite a bit slower, but that makes it even more impressive when you consider that faster balls would go even further.  I sat here watching the TV eyes affixed on what was going on.  I drank two tall-boys in the time it took Hamilton to finish putting on his show.  I started out sober, and finished drunk.  I sat in my chair cackling, laughing, and convulsing like some sick mad scientist, because I was amazed, astounded, and absolutely euphoric.  I have never seen a display of  power like that in my life.  At one point he hit 13 straight homers far into the depths of Yankee Stadium.  Places where I don’t think I have ever seen a ball hit (he hit one off the Bank of America sign, and he almost hit the jumbo tron.  Those are places where you don’t see balls get hit).  That night is perhaps one of the first nights in my life that someday I may look back fondly on.  As some old man sitting in a rocking chair I’ll think about those awesome shots, and I will brighten up, start laughing, maybe even tearing up a bit, and the gleam will come back to my eye.  We’ll have to see if this event will stand the test of time, and I’m betting that it will.  There’s a lot of people who have seen a lot more baseball than me, and they all were shaking their heads and smiling in disbelief.  If I was a betting man I’d bet that someday far into the future my memories of that night will bring a smile to my face, and I will start cackling again, and whistling through my dentures and shaking my head remembering the night that Hamilton hit 28 bombs, and had Yankee Stadium shouting HAM-IL-TON! HAM-IL-TON! HAM-IL-TON!

If you haven’t seen if, and even if you have it is worth watching again.  Added bonus the version I found is in Spanish with some guest announcing done by Carlos Zambrano, super sweet.  Check it and enjoy.

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~ by Perpetual Memory Loss on July 17, 2008.

2 Responses to “The Stuff of Legend”

  1. hmmm I see what you’re saying about the love of homeruns… but I think fans are really in deep anticipation during each pitch in looking/hoping for a balk.

  2. That’s only when Jose Reyes is on base.

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