The other night I got over the sinking feeling that comes when I near the end of a book and finished a good read -- Neal Pollack's Alternadad. To melt my brain before heading to bed I threw on ESPN. During a Sports Center commercial break, ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball kickoff match up was announced:
Cardinals vs. Mets @ 8pm
If you follow baseball, you know this is a rematch of the 2006 NLCS, which turned out to be the most dramatic series of the postseason, making the World Series look like exhibition. In case you don't follow baseball, I'll share (rub in?) that the Cards won everything. East Coast biased reporters kicked and screamed about the Cards not deserving it since they had the worst record of any team in the playoffs and limped into the postseason but that's merely jealous hot air.
Speaking of these talking heads in the sports media, when my wife catches me indulging occasionally in the guilty pleasure of watching them scream at each other over small picture sports topics, she can't help but question two things: 1 - How small is their junk downstairs? 2 - Could any of these losers possibly have wives?
In any case, the announcement immediately burned itself onto my Sunday night slate. I'm all over it like a duck on a june bug, as my rabid Cardinal fan grandfather used to say. It also brought me back to Game 7 of that NLCS --one of the best games I never saw.
Wilco was playing at 930 Club that October night, and my friend Jay hooked me up last minute with a ticket. It's worth noting that Jay and I go back as far as college where the simple gesture of breathing usually spelled t-r-o-u-b-l-e. That said, I set my expectations appropriately. Little did I know I would surpass them beyond my wildest night terrors.
As I recall there were two openers. Two openers for a weeknight show would usually irritate an old man like me, but in this rare case I relished it because it provided a chance to catch the first few innings of Game 7 at a dive bar. A combination of nerves over the game and the desire to have a good buzz for the show, which we planned to hit around 10ish, led to me consuming a healthy dose of bourbon. And by healthy, I mean way too much. By the time we were in a cab headed for the show, a warm current of electricity coursed through my veins. The latest global news travesty being dissected on some talk radio show didn't stand a chance of busting my groove. It was show time, and I had mad game.
Despite our late arrival, we vultured great spots at 930's upstairs bar. From our envied perch, a slight crane of the neck and a nod of the head was all it took to cue another round of Chimay. "Picture perfect" hardly does justice in describing the scene. Soaking up the clean and true sounds of Wilco, drinking beer brewed by monks -- good karma for all my friends!
About an hour into the show, we decided a shot of tequila would make complete sense. The bartender liked the sound of that, so he poured 3 doubles (one for himself) of some top shelf brand, "on the house." Before we knocked our glasses together, I leaned over to Jay and joked, "I wonder what the poor people are doing tonight."
Down the hatch and my fate was sealed.
The post-shot cigarette did not help. On the contrary, it was like throwing a match into a roadside fireworks stand.
Suddenly my world felt like a cement mixer -- churning, spinning, heavy. I looked at Jay and told him I needed to roll. He urged me to stay and drink some water. I nodded in agreement and decided to hit the bathroom to pull myself together. No luck whatsoever, so I spilled from the bathroom door and assessed my options: fight the crowd to get back to the bar or get home immediately.
From the cab I texted a litany of drunken apologies to Jay then tried to look out the windows to maintain some shred of equilibrium. As the city light blurred by, I tried to talk myself back from the edge. My phone buzzed, so I assumed it was Jay texting back to give me shit, but I was wrong. It was another friend, Sam, updating me on the game, which had slipped my slippery mind by then:
Top 9. Molina went yard. 3-1 Cards.
"Pull over," I muttered to the driver. He obliged, and I leaned out the door and lost it all over the curb, right in front of a bus stop, which I remember being rather crowded for 11:something on a Thursday night.
As you can imagine, the driver was not thrilled. Three more pit stops of the same flavor led to his suggestion that I get out.
"No, no...I'm 33." Dry heave. "I have a kid" Spit. "Get me home, man. I'll pay double."
After begging him I started pleading with myself to get a grip. Beyond needing a sliver consciousness to tune in to the remains of Game 7, I knew I would be arriving home ahead of my wife, which meant facing and paying the Jack-sitter.
I dropped a $20 tip on the cabbie, then stumbled into the house. Let me tell you, the words oh my god, look at you are never encouraging, but that's what the sitter came with when she saw me. Fortunately she recognized that I had no game for chitchat. I stuffed a wad of cash into her hand and she was out.
My mind drove me toward the television in the kitchen, but my wrecked body took the wheel and detoured me to the cold bathroom floor where the rest of the night would play out in a series of text messages.
Jay: Where are you
Me: My bathroom floor. So sorry man
Sam: Bottom 9. 2 out, 2 on
The last thing I needed, a swarm of butterflies went to town in my weak stomach at this news. Shit, Cardinals, don't blow this.
Jay: Asshole. No worries
Me: Really sorry really
Sam: Bases loaded. Beltran up
A bit of relevant baseball knowledge: Carlos Beltran is absolute murder on the Cardinals. I can recall countless times he has stepped up in the clutch for an opposing team and broken my heart. Add to the drama that the Cardinals have a rookie closer on the mound and it looks like a major letdown in the works. It was too much. I had to see this at-bat. Alas, my arms didn't see it that way, so they refused to push off the floor. My legs were with my arms and couldn't care less about some at-bat. So I was relegated to waiting.
Sam: Strikeout. Cards win!
With a sigh of relief, I pulled a hand towel from the rack, tucked it under my tired head, and called it a night. An hour or so later, I woke up to my proud wife standing over me asking what the hell happened.
Here's what I told her: "The Cardinals are going to the World Series."
I've grown up so much since last October, really. This Sunday night will be my proving ground. When Beltran steps to the plate, I'll be planted soberly on the couch sipping green tea.