I’m talking about the “I can’t believe what I just saw” moment. Something that stands up to the test of time. An “I was so lucky to be there” instant that still gives you the chills years later. One of those events that has 30-for-30 written all over it.
A couple days ago, I was talking to someone about a possible freelance writing assignment. I hadn’t spoken with this person before, so I tracked down his bio online to learn a little bit about him. And I found out one of his life highlights was that he was at Three Rivers Stadium for Franco Harris’s “Immaculate Reception” in 1972. How cool would it be to say you were there for that?
I know I have an unfair advantage over most people when asking the “top moment” question. I’ve been to thousands of sporting events, and there have been countless moments I can talk about. But for the purpose of being there live, I’m eliminating the games I was working from the discussion – since I was paid to be there. That automatically eliminates the Kerry Wood 20-strikeout affair … the Bartman game … the Hank Blalock game-winning 2-run homer off Eric Gagne that gave the American League the victory in the first All-Star Game “that mattered” … anything/everything that took place during the Sammy Sosa/Mark McGwire home run chase.
As a 10-year-old, I was at Mike Schmidt’s four-homer game at Wrigley Field in 1976. That was both cool and not cool.
I was at Super Bowl XVII in 1983 – when John Riggins had his famous 4th quarter, 4th-and-inches 43-yard touchdown run to lead Washington past Miami. That was really cool (don’t tell my Dolphins-loving wife, though). Not as cool as participating in an “Up With People” halftime celebration that day, but cool nonetheless.
In 1995, I was backstage when Pearl Jam played Soldier Field. There were 50,000 people watching, and I was less than 50 feet from Eddie Vedder. I can’t wait to share that story.
On a softball field on a beautiful Saturday last June, my “pitcher kid” threw a no-hitter and my “catcher kid” cleared the leftfielder twice for two more triples than this Wasserstrom ever had. I get goose bumps thinking of it.
None of those moments compare to the Franco Harris catch, but if I ever do a bio of myself, I’m happily listing “Sat in the nosebleeds for Bo Jackson’s 1989 All-Star blast” on that profile.
I started full-time with the Cubs in January 1988. One month later, the Chicago City Council approved the proposal allowing the Cubs to add lights to Wrigley Field. Shortly after that, it was announced that the 1990 All-Star Game would be played at The Friendly Confines.
I had never been to one of baseball’s jewel events, so I thought it would be a good idea to attend the 1989 All-Star Game and get the feel of the Midsummer Classic. So me and the posse – also known as Dr. Scott and Uncle Al – headed off to Anaheim. We were just happy to be there, so the seat location –upper deck, rightfield corner, literally next to the foul pole – was inconsequential.
After a tremendous pregame show – including the introduction of Cubs all-stars Ryne Sandberg, Andre Dawson, Mitch Williams and Rick Sutcliffe – the National League pushed across two runs in the top of the 1st inning.
In the bottom of the 1st, my favorite childhood Cub – Rick Reuschel – took the mound for the National League. Reuschel, then 40 years old and in his 17th big league season (he pitched through 1991), was just a wonderful pitcher to watch – mainly because he relied totally on deception and didn’t look like much of an athlete. Thanks to his size, he was known as “The Whale” during his early years with the Cubs. He graduated to “Big Daddy” during the latter half of his career – and was in the midst of a 17-win season with the Giants in 1989.
So here we were. Reuschel on the mound – and Bo Jackson coming to the plate. Big Daddy, the aging hurler, facing Bo – who knows how to make his presence felt. Bo was already a star on both the MLB field and the NFL gridiron, and he was a national phenomenon.
Up in the nosebleeds, we were soaking in the atmosphere. There was a buzz in the air, but no one knew what was about to happen. But we were a captive audience.
First pitch, low. Ball one.
Reuschel, being the quick worker that he was, got the ball back from catcher Benito Santiago and almost immediately went into his half-windup.
The pitch … super quick swing … and the next thought was … Holy Sh*t.
Bo didn’t just touch the ball with his bat. He mangled it. He destroyed it. It didn’t matter that we were sitting three-quarters of a stadium up, over 100 yards away from home plate. The bat hit the ball, and it made this tremendous, almost indescribable sound. You didn’t believe what you just saw or heard.
“THWACK” is a descriptor for it, but in billboard-sized letters. There are line drive homers. There are towering shots. This one was different. It had that sound.
“THWACK” … Like a missile, the ball rocketed halfway up the centerfield embankment. Bo was credited with a 448-foot home run, but the line drive was still rising when it “landed.” It took just three seconds for the ball to get from his bat to the black tarp in centerfield. From up high, you knew immediately that it was out of the park; it was just a matter of how far – and if the people in the bleachers were going to be safe. From our rightfield perch, it was a thing of beauty.
I know Wade Boggs followed Jackson’s blast with a home run of his own, and I know the American League won the game, but the rest of the night was a total blur. Frankly, the game didn’t matter. All anyone was talking about was Bo’s blast.
It was immaculate in its own way. And I was there to see it.