Monday, May 12, 2008

A Perfect Day*


Last Thursday night, my best friend (Brett) arrived from North Carolina to attend an Arkansas Razorback baseball series with his dad and me. Although I met Brett at Boys' State in the summer of 1991, I really got to know him as a freshman at Hendrix College where we spent most of our waking hours together that first term as we attended Calculus I classes with Dr. Eslinger ("Stay with us, Brett."), Chemistry I classes with the legendary Dr. Warfield Teague ("Jaybird said to tell you,'Hey!'"), baseball practice, and flag football games. [As an aside, Brett, Shawn Mathis, and I formed the four year nucleus of the best flag football team in the history of the world. The story of putting together that team is a series of blog posts by itself.]

Anyway, Brett and I are generally about as similar as our hometowns, Pine Bluff (Arkansas) and Mena (Arkansas). If you have questions about how alike these towns are, think about how similar New York City and a farm in the middle of Iowa are. However, despite our differences, we get along very well somehow. Brett knew about Kristy's blog (and mine), and he asked to write a post on her blog after the Friday night game. Kristy and I fought over who would get to "host" his post, and we both won. So, here it is. Enjoy!


*Post by Guest Blogger Brett Yates

May 9, 2008—Fayetteville, AR.

Okay, so I completely understand that it is rather shallow (and quite possibly frivolous) to say that one of the best days of my life revolved primarily around a college baseball game. I know most peoples’ “best day ever” usually involves a religious / spiritual event, a wedding, or the birth of a child. And, as this is my first attempt at writing a blog post (yep—that’s right, I’m a virgin blogger!), I hope this small 24-hour excerpt of my life isn’t subjected to eye-rolls and ho-hums from the people that frequent this back road of the information superhighway. However, as Russ has allowed me to guest-blog, please allow me to reset what happened today . . . a day as perfect as any that I can remember.

It started simply enough to the innocent bystander—drinking a cup of coffee and staring at the rolling foothills of the Ozark Mountains. However, it was the morning of my first day of vacation. . . A well deserved vacation. I had just finished up the commissioning efforts of a $250 million pharmaceutical project at BiogenIdec in Research Triangle Park, NC. So, this was a particularly sweet cup of coffee—it was one that wasn’t going to be followed by fighting a deadline and dealing with co-workers, subcontractors, e-mails, and other Dilbert-esque scenarios. And, I was getting to hang with Russell, Kristy, and a little girl that MUST be the cutest 3-year old on the face of the planet. Things were off to a good start. And, to top it off, my Dad was coming up to watch the weekend Razorback baseball series against the South Carolina Gamecocks with Russell and me.

Following a morning that included a trip to the grocery store with Sophie and Russell (a blog post in and of itself!), I went to go pick up my dad. The journey back to Northwest Arkansas to see Arkansas play baseball has evolved into a father-son tradition over the last three years. It started in 2005, when he and I saw the Hogs sweep Auburn in a three-game set. In total, this is my 5th trip in 3 years; however, since the first trip, the games had been laden with disappointment. Losses in the regional tournament in 2005, against LSU in 2006, and the regional tournament in 2006 had left the bitter taste of disappointment in my mouth. Would this be the trip that the Hogs turned it around on the diamond? Probability told me not, as this team was struggling for wins. So, I had already preliminarily determined that this trip would provide more enjoyment in just seeing my friends and family. And, if we did steal a win against South Carolina, it would only add to my joy, as I just can’t stand the state of South Carolina. If South Texas is considered the “rear end” of the United States, then South Carolina is the armpit. If you are one of the nice, civilized people from South Carolina reading this . . . then I apologize—and make sure you tell the other two that I’m sorry.

My dad’s face lit up as Russell and I pulled up in the parking lot to pick him up. We returned to the house for a couple of adult beverages and some catching up conversation before making the trek to Baum Stadium. Knowing that a win was integral for the Diamond Hogs to continue their season, a sense of confidence began to spread thru our loins. The green grass and perfectly manicured field sent chill bumps up and down my arms and back. And, after hearing the fight song, calling the Hogs, and hearing the national anthem, we were ready for a little bit of “America’s favorite pastime.”

(WARNING: For non-baseball fans, here’s where it gets a little boring.)

The game started on a positive note—two solo home runs in the 1st inning gave the Hogs a 2-0 lead; but, it was short-lived. S. Carolina countered with 2 of their own in the next inning, and then took the lead in the 3rd. The Hogs tied it up in the bottom half of the 3rd, but things went sour staring the 4th inning. Two Arkansas errors and timely Gamecock hitting extended the lead out to 9-3, and later 11-5 in the top of the 7th inning. It looked as if my journey from the east coast would again have a loss tainting an otherwise enjoyable visit. This team just didn’t seem to have the winning mentality that I had seen in past Arkansas baseball squads. I decided I would just have to chalk the trip up an experience that was better than my usual work-related pharmaceutical documentation. Rumor had it that the team had arranged for a big fireworks show after the game—an event that young Sophie was looking forward to as much as I had been looking forward to the game. Well, at least that would bring a little highlight to the night!

The bottom of the fifth and sixth innings had provided a couple of conversation catalysts. Our spunky 2nd baseman Ben Tschepikow had gotten an infield single and magically moved to 2nd base. (Later, thanks to the internet, Russell and I determined he had advanced on a balk for which we are yet to find an explanation) He scored on an error one batter later—a run that seemed pretty insignificant at the time, but later would symbolize the miracle behind the night. How had Ben gotten to second base? Oh well . . . it didn’t matter . . . probably not important, right? Also, one inning later, Logan Forsythe belted his 2nd homer of the game, again slightly aided by the breeze blowing out to right field . . . at least HE was having a good game.

The rest of the 6th inning, as well as the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings, were a blurry whirlwind. Russell, Dad, and I continued to obviously state that we sure could use a few more homeruns. Russell, using all 7 years of his Ph.D. education had deduced that if we could only get a couple of runs an inning, we would be back in this game. (Hats off to the new math!) The Razorback batters left the bases loaded twice and two runners on once. We had left more men “on” than Lindsey Lohan and Tara Reed after a night of clubbing. The South Carolina bullpen pitchers were up and down more than Ron Jeremy’s you-know-what during the making of an adult film. And, after the Hogs shutdown the South Carolina hitters in the 8th and 9th, we came up to bat with one more chance down 11-8.

Ironically, back in the 3rd inning, the guy behind me had sarcastically stated, “Man, I hope this doesn’t end up to be another 11-10 game.” My thoughts drifted back to the Nostradamus-like prediction—using Russell’s new math to deduce that this would result in a catastrophic and disheartening loss. I decided to change seats, moving back a row to sit behind my dad and Russ in seat # 23 (my old college baseball number). This, I determined would be my “good luck seat.” Would it work?

Wilkins slammed a 2-2 pitch to right for his 4th hit of the game. Brett Eibner drew a walk, giving us runners on 1st and 2nd with no outs, and bringing the tying run to the plate and our hopes to a new level. Our aspirations for a win were quickly squashed after a strikeout and Tscheipikow’s line out to right after hitting it “on the screws.” We almost started leaving for the car, but I gazed back at the lucky seat sporting “23,” and sat down for one more batter. Chase Leavitt, who had hit the cut-off man as many times as the 3-year old Sophie had on this night, corked a slow dribbler to a sprawling Gamecock 2nd baseman and beat out the infield single by inches. This should have brought Sean Jones to the plate—an Arkansas player hitting .162, but had a homer and a single on the night.

“Now hitting for the Razorbacks, the freshman, Jacob House!” the public address announcer proclaimed. House . . . House . . . my mental rolodex starting flipping—the name didn’t ring a bell. “Is this the time to be bringing in an 18 year old freshman to pinch hit?” I asked my dad and Russell. They shrugged their shoulders, and the South Carolina bullpen continued to work harder than a dentist in West Virginia. My mind began to race to what the most disappointing finish could be: 1) the kid gets a double, and the runner on first gets hosed at the plate trying to tie the game; 2) we tie it up, and lose in extra innings—not only extending the night, but also delaying the fireworks for Sophie; 3) we leave the bases loaded for the third time in four innings.

But then, on a 1-0 pitch, the hand of God reached down from the heavens and touched the bat of the teenage Razorback hitter from Mansfield, TX. Young House struck the cowhide sphere, lifting a fly ball into the air into right field. I hope God had call-waiting, because his prayer line was immediately flooded with the pleas of 7,500 cardinal and white clad Hog fans—“Get out of here!” we all said in unison. The scientist in me kicked in . . . it’s too high, the 5-10 mph breeze that had been blowing for the first 8 innings sending a chill into my father's legs had vanished, and the Ozark air had grown heavy and humid. During the flight of the ball, I must have glanced back and forth a dozen times between the parabolic flight of the ball and the right fielder drifting back, arm out looking for the fence. Did it have the distance?

To tell the truth, I never saw the ball go over the fence—that’s right, the game winning grand slam landed in the South Carolina bullpen, clearing the wall by a yard stick. I never saw the stunned, jaw-dropped expression on my father’s and Russell’s face. Like Elvis, I had “left the building.” I sprinted up the stairs from our 2nd row seats and out into the street screaming like someone on fire. I jumped up and down, throwing my fist into the air like I had just won the powerball lottery. I ran back into the stadium, down the steps back into Section 99 to see that my father and Russell were still leaping in excitement. I hugged my dad—I tackled Russell. Unbelievable . . . magical . . . miraculous. The best ending to a sporting event I had ever witnessed in my 33 years.

(Okay, non-baseball fans—wake up! Time for the meaningful and exciting conclusion.)

And just when I didn’t think the night could get any better, it did. An experience that really brought me back to reality—a slap in my smiling exuberant fact that reminded me of what is really important in the world. Moments later, after calling the Hogs and singing the fight song, we found Kristy and Sophie. . . . Yes, of course, after the win, we were going to stay and watch the post-game fireworks.

I had forgotten how exciting fireworks were to a small child—as adults, we get calloused to things after we have seen them dozens, even hundreds of times. But, during the 15-minute pyrotechnics display, I focused more on the face of a smiling child as the “bombs bursted in air.” My father had offered to hold Sophie during the show, and locked his 71 year old arthritic arms around her as she “oooohed” and “ahhhed” and announced "that's my favorite one!" hundreds of times. I don’t know who was smiling more—Sophie or Dad?

When the grand slam won the game for the Hogs, a 33-year old acted like he was 3, and celebrated the proverbial game-winning fireworks. But, what really made the day perfect was watching my dad and Sophie watch the real fireworks. It’s the little things that end up being really important—like a balk call in the 5th inning. Sophie will forget about this day in a few years. Probably sooner, as other exciting moments vie for position in her little memory.

For me, it was one of the best days ever.


Postscript: Unlike the South Carolina right fielder, #15 Harley Lail ("Not your fault, One-Five!"), we had an extremely enjoyable weekend. In addition to a great time with friends, the Hogs won all three games this weekend. Here is a link to the YouTube video of the rally.


Kritter Krit said...

Hey, Brett, I just thought I'd let you know...

Russ had 264 hits on your post yesterday. That's 214ish more visitors than he averages on a daily basis.

You asked him on the phone where the comments were? Comments or no comments, I think that math is pretty darn impressive.

Well done, buddy. =)

Brett said...

Let it be known that I'm am pushing all of the traffic that I have notified to Kristi's blog.

Watched the video (twice), and got chill bumps again (twice). You can just barely see the frustrated relief pitcher in the bullpen throw the ball against the fence as the homer bounces around in front of them.

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