ALMOST

by David Sisler

It is one of the greatest words in sports almost!

I have two personal memories of baseball almosts.

The year was 1964. I was seventeen. My Dad, my brother, Kyle, and I drove to New Jersey to visit Dad's brother and then go to the World Series. That year it was the Yankees versus the Cardinals the first visit to post season play for St. Louis in eighteen years and the Bronx Bomber's fifteenth trip to the Fall Classic in eighteen years.

Game 3 saw 67,101 fans gather in "The House that Ruth Built." We were four of the multitude, with standing room only tickets. Uncle Don slipped an usher $20 and he found seats for Kyle and me.

With the game tied 1 to 1 in the ninth, we began to move towards the exit, so we could "beat the crowd." We glanced back at the field as we wound down out of the stadium. We didn't see it, but Mickey Mantle hit Cardinal reliever Barney Schultz's first pitch in the bottom of the ninth into the left field seats, and the Yankees won.

Later we saw the filmed highlights of the game, and in my memory, Mickey hit that shot right where, moments before, Kyle and I had been sitting. It would have been a chance for the baseball souvenir of a lifetime. But it remains classified as "almost."

Fast forward this memory replay a decade. I had purchased first base box seat tickets for a Pittsburgh Pirates double header.

Younger sports fans may never have seen it, but there was a day when Major League Baseball scheduled double headers it was something they once did just for the fans. It was sort of like signing autographs: you'd get to the ball park early, watch batting practice, hang out down by the rail, and players would actually give you a few minutes of their time. That really happened, once upon a time.

Earlier this month I saw my first game in Fenway Park. Standing down by the rail, watching batting practice, were a score or so of very young fans, doing what young baseball fans have always done watching their heroes and hoping they'll sign.

Three Red Sox players strolled by, coming in from the outfield. One of the adults called a player's name and said, "Hey, how about signing a few for the kids?"

As the players walked on, ignoring a booming bass voice that was impossible to ignore, the man said, "I guess when you're seventeen games out, you don't want anyone to know your name, let alone sign something."

But back to the Bucs.

Harvey Haddix threw twelve perfect innings against the Braves in Milwaukee County Stadium on May 26, 1959. That counts as a perfect game, but "The Kitten" lost on a home run in the thirteenth. As of this writing, no Pittsburgh Pirate pitcher has ever thrown a perfect game at home.

I saw the "almost" from those first base seats. For eight and one-third innings, Kenny Brett (big brother of George of Kansas City Royals fame) was perfect. Twenty-five batters went up and down. With two more outs to go, Pirate shortstop Gene Alley played the next batter a few steps to his right. If "The Stick" had stayed in his regular position it would have been an easy 6-3 out, and the next batter struck out. It would have been a perfect game. But with Alley shaded towards third, the ball shot into left field and the perfect game became an "almost."

A few days ago Kevin Brown threw the first no-hitter of the 1997 baseball season and almost registered a perfect game as the Florida Marlins defeated the San Francisco Giants 9-0. The Giants lone base runner was hit by a pitch.

With two outs in the eighth, Brown threw a 1-2 pitch that glanced off Marvin Benard's lower right leg. Benard was San Francisco's one and only runner as Mark Lewis then grounded out to shortstop. In the ninth, Giants batters grounded to first, grounded to shortstop and took a called third strike. Almost a perfect game.

It is one of the favorite sayings around our house: "Almost only counts in horse shoes, quoits, hand grenades, and atomic bombs."

General Joseph Ralston was almost chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

Amelia Earhart almost flew around the world.

Jim Lovell almost touched the moon twice.

Dewey defeated Truman, almost.

The governor told the preacher, "You almost persuade me to become a Christian." And that is the worst possible almost. Philip Paul Bliss wrote a hymn based on the story of Agrippa and Paul. It ends hauntingly with the words, "Almost. But lost." Because of Jesus of Nazareth, God's Son, there is no reason for that almost to count.

-30-

Published in the Augusta Chronicle 6/21/97

Copyright 1997 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.

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