On the 20th anniversary of David Cone’s perfect game, a co-worker spotted me watching the highlights of his historic day several times over as if I didn’t just watch it 90 seconds prior. Noticing him looking at me like I was crazy, I spoke up without even taking my eyes off the screen.
“I was at this game,” I said with a reminiscent smile and tear-filled eyes. “It was 20 years ago today.”
“Oh. Was it an important game or something?” He asked.
“It was a perfect game. There have only been 23 perfect games in the history of baseball.”
“That’s like when a pitcher doesn’t give up any runs or something, right?” He asks politely, acting as if he’s interested.
“It’s amazing. The pitcher has to be completely perfect. No hits. No walks. No errors in the field. No hit by pitches. Do you know how much could go wrong in a baseball game? One inch here, one inch there. A dribbler. An error. A bad ump behind the plate. It’s amazing it ever even happens. It hasn’t happened since 2012.” … I went on and on as he watched me rant and rave with passion about the significance of a perfect game and the history that goes along with it.
“Anyway,” realizing I was going on for too long, “It’s a big deal. And I can say I was at one.”
He knew I was a big sports fan, so knowing a lot about baseball didn’t surprise him, but the amount of passion and visible love I had for the game did. Watching me for a few more seconds as I began to entrance myself in the highlights once more, he asked an intriguing question.
“What is it about baseball?”
“What do you mean?” I perked up.
“What makes it so different from other sports for you? Why does it envoke so much passion among baseball fans?”
Another co-worker chimed in, “Yeah, isn’t it just a numbers game? It’s all stats and no substance.”
His question stopped me in my tracks as all these advanced metrics entered my head. He was right, it is basically about numbers, especially in 2019. But I knew it wasn’t the numbers that gave people passion. It was something more, something I couldn’t put my finger on, something numbers couldn’t measure. I stuttered, fumbled my words, and tried to put together something that made sense, using phrases like “there’s just something about it” and “it’s hard to explain” or weirdly, “baseball has ghosts.” Baseball has ghosts? Finally, I stopped my freight train of thoughts, gathered myself, and sat silent for a moment.
“It’s not the tangible numbers that make baseball so great,” I said finally. “It’s the intangibles that make it great. Baseball isn’t just about numbers. It’s bigger than the numbers.”
I went on.
It’s about records being broken, and stats being challenged.
It’s about curses and storied franchizes and mythical “calling the shot” moments from The Babe or “600 foot” home runs by Mickey Mantle.
It’s about a home run king who’s not really the home run king and the debate of who the real home run king is.
It’s about asterics and Hall of Famers, who’s in and who’s out and who cheated and who didn’t, because we care.
It’s Bill Buckner making an error to prolong a century curse for another seventeen years, Aaron Boone pinch hitting and extending that curse just one more year, and the Yankees giving up a 3-0 series lead to help break said curse the following year.
It’s one “Billy Goat.”
And yet another GOAT that featured just one pitch that God Himself gave him.
It’s a 1996 playoff home run by a rookie that wasn’t actually a home run because an imperfect umpire made an imperfect call.
It’s a guy not pitching a perfect game that was actually a perfect game because an imperfect umpire made a very imperfect call.
It’s the game within the game.
A manager feuling his team by getting thrown out as he crouches down and shows an ump what’s a strike and what’s not.
A brawl on the field in Boston that ignites a nearly undefeated tear for a month.
It’s giving up your body and diving into the stands and getting your face bloodied during a regular season game because you have to beat the Red Sox.
A boombox blasting “New York, New York” past a Red Sox clubhouse being used as motivation.
A CC Sabathia starting something out of nothing because he knows his team needs a jolt.
An Aaron Boone gaining respect from all his “savages” after an epic rant.
It’s the goosebumps, the mystique, and the almost religious feel of the game, and it’s the heartbeat and emotions of the players within it.
It’s Bobby Murcer getting the winning hit and having the best game of his career the same day he buried his best friend and captain of the team.
It’s seeing a guy will a ball to stay fair and pump his fist while limping around the bases triumphantly.
It’s Willie Mays making one of the greatest plays you’ll ever see.
It’s watching a guy with one hand pitch a no-hitter.
It’s seeing a black man, Jackie Robinson, defy the odds, be spat on, mocked, and threatened just to play the game he loved, changing the trajectory of baseball forever.
It’s being in awe of Yogi Berra winning 10 rings after surviving storming the Omaha beaches in WWII.
It’s a man making a speech about being the luckiest guy on the face of the earth, knowing full well he was about to die.
It’s the entire Los Angelas Angels of Aneheim team playing heartbroken and grief stricken while wearing the late pitcher, Tyler Skaggs’ number in his honor, only to pitch a combined no-hitter, the first one in the state of LA since the very day Tyler was born.
It’s players crying over their lost friend in front of the world to see and still going out there and playing a game that seems to mean nothing, but means everything at the same time.
It’s a family heirloom, a nostalgia, passed down from generation to generation, father or mothers bringing their sons or daughters to their first game, almost like a rite of passage, throughout history, each child remembering their ‘very first game’; the smells, the sounds, and most importantly, the memories they made bonding with their dad or mom.
It’s an 11-year-old girl witnessing David Cone pitch a perfect game and falling in love with the game of baseball because her Daddy loved it first.
Okay, so maybe I didn’t say everything above, but I sure tried, and I could have kept going. His question took me down a path that goes on and on, wading through all the historic and almost holy like stories baseball provides. He stared at me blankly, wondering what everything I said just meant. So I give him my nutshell answer.
“Listen, it’s just … sacred. Romantic, even. There are lots of sports movies out there about all the big sports, but none more than baseball. And if you watch them, there’s almost always something romantic about them. There’s a history to this game that goes back longer than any other sport. It’s quite literally America’s pastime. Baseball is like one continuous story, like a romance novel entwined with religious text, an on-going memoir as thick as War & Peace, dating back to the 1800s. It’s a phenomenon, giving you a constant and familiar game since day one with the ability to show you something new every day. You can watch baseball for 100 years straight and still see things you’ve never seen before … just like I did when I saw that perfect game.”
I closed my laptop as if to show my job was done here. I felt good about my answers and I was ready for him to jump for joy and scream, “Hooray, Baseball!” To see that baseball was a worthy passion to follow, to jump on board with me and allow me to teach him anything and everything about the game like he was my own son. To open the door to a new fan who now unlocked the treasure chest that is baseball. Baseball was a religion, of sorts, and I just got him to convert.
“I guess that’s cool. Still seems pretty boring, though,” He concluded. “I mean, even a perfect game sounds boring. Don’t you wanna see some fireworks?”
Annoyed, I stood up and picked up my laptop.
“You don’t watch baseball to see fireworks,” I strongly proclaimed. “You watch baseball to see history.”
Triumphantly I walked away. And without turning back I threw my arm up and yelled,
“And to see the Yankees win!”