Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Go Crazy, Folks! Go Crazy!

My ticket stub from 10/14/85
Today is the 30th anniversary of one of my most cherished adolescent memories, and yet it is a day of somewhat mixed emotions. Mixed emotions on the one hand because the Cardinals were eliminated from the MLB postseason yesterday, and (to make matters worse) they were eliminated by the Cubs. It's about the worst way possible for a Cardinals season to end.

Apart from that though, and more pointedly, there is a tinge of melancholy attached to this beloved memory because it's the memory of an event shared with my late father. Dad didn't get too worked up about much; he was a pretty stoic guy. But on this day three decades ago, he definitely got excited. You could even say that he went crazy.

It was far more common for me in those days to go to games with my mom. Among my earliest childhood memories is going with her to Sunday afternoon games with promotional giveaways (bat day, pennant day, hat day, etc.). We would head down to the stadium after church, brown-bag lunch in hand, and wait in line for seats in the left field bleachers to be as close as possible to her favorite player (and subsequently mine), Lou Brock.

On this overcast Monday though, it was my dad who pulled me out of middle school and took me to the fifth game of the 1985 National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. The series stood tied at two games apiece and whoever won the day's contest would achieve the enviable position of being just one win shy of reaching the World Series.

The Cardinals scored two runs in the first off perennial all-star, Fernando Valenzuela, only to squander a number of other opportunities throughout the next seven innings. The Dodgers broke through in the fourth against one of my childhood favorites, Bob Forsch, when four-time batting champ Bill Madlock hit a two-run homer to tie the game.

The score remained 2-2 into the ninth inning. After Jeff Lahti retired the Dodgers in order, Willie McGee led off the bottom half of the inning with a pop out to 3rd. Then Ozzie Smith, all 150 pounds of him, stepped to the plate. NBC's television broadcast flashed a graphic stating that in 3,009 left-handed at bats over the course of his career, the switch-hitting Wizard of Oz had NEVER hit a home run. Then, with a 1-2 count and Dodgers closer Tom Niedenfuer on the mound, the rest, as they say, is history:

From our upper deck perspective high above the right field wall, we couldn't tell at first if the ball had cleared the fence. Our initial clue was the joyful reaction of the relievers in the Cardinals' bullpen, which was located in the right field corner. For an instant, I feared their exuberance (as well as that of 53,000 others) was misplaced when Dodgers right fielder Mike Marshall threw the ball in to shortstop Mariano Duncan, who looked as if he was going to tag Ozzie out. We quickly realized though that Ozzie's shot had caromed off of one of the concrete pillars above the wall and was indeed a game-winning homer.

As we stood there, clapping, yelling, cheering, chanting Ozzie's name, it occurred to me that in my 14 years of life, I had never seen my father so excited. I had truly experienced something special; something I would never forget.

It would not be until later that evening that we would hear Jack Buck's soon-to-be-famous call of the home run. Even so, three decades later, the text tone on my phone is Mr. Buck's voice beckoning, "Go crazy, folks! Go crazy!"

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