I already spilt more pixels than one might expect on a sacrifice fly hit by a Single-A player four years ago, but if I waxed rhapsodic about Mike Jacobs' 6/25/01 game winner, it's because that season was such a giddy ride.
The summer of 2001 was when lots of New Yorkers used to nothing but Shea and Yankee Stadium found out about the minor leagues. They got an intimate park full of touches that are standard operating procedure for the low minors but not the kind of thing you'd see in the Big Leagues — dizzy-bat races, kids running hell-for-leather around the bases as if the mascot might actually dare to catch them, scads of errors cheerfully called hits. The big leagues are a daily soap opera that will tie you by turns into knots of expectation, anxiety, wild confidence, despair, joy and anger, but even the most committed fan can't approach the New York-Penn League that way — not with players washing in and out with the organizational tide, and certainly not with the on-field product so raw. What you can do, if you've got it in you, is just relax into baseball, into the green grass and the sound of the bat and not knowing any of the players' names until 3/4 of the way through the season and the just-drafted kids actually turning to look when girls call to them and yelling like a fool when the ball goes up, because (as we've told many a pal brought to Keyspan by way of initiation) anything can happen in the New York-Penn League. It's just baseball, and just baseball is pretty neat: Pick a side, cheer like heck for 'em, and if they don't win, go to Nathan's and maybe hit the Wonder Wheel with the dark of the ocean on one side and the brilliance of the city on the other. What'd you do last night? Went to Coney Island, saw the Cyclones. It was great! Did they win? Um…yeah. Or wait, no. You know, I'm not sure. But it was a great night.
So sorry to rattle on about Single-A doings, but when I heard Jacobs had got the call, it brought all that back. Sure, Danny Garcia had been an original Cyclone, but truth be told I couldn't really remember him. I remembered Jacobs — how could you not remember the guy who won the first home game in extra innings? Back then some visiting dignitary (I'm pretty sure it was Steve Phillips, though I'm clinging determinedly to a smidgen of a doubt) noted that if things went right, we might see one or two of those players in the bigs someday. I found that depressing even though I knew it was just realism. But then four years later it's someday, and one of those players turns out to be the guy who sent 'em home happy on that first night. Seeing him hanging on the dugout railing made me happy in a way far beyond the happiness of having a new member of the family to go record for posterity, get a card of and all the other geeky things I do. It made me happy because it transferred a little bit of Keyspan from when it was new and surprising and perfect to Shea, where I follow things far more avidly but also far more critically. There are bad nights a-plenty at Shea — which isn't a shot at the Mets, just an acknowledgment that that's the nature of the big-league beast — but few bad nights at Keyspan. (As long as the fricking mascot isn't being mean to my kid.)
We headed out for Keyspan this afternoon with friends who'd come up from Philadelphia; David Wright struck out just as we passed Nathan's and I began my usual freakout about parking. I fumed for a while amidst the kiddie rides — Has Cliff ever looked worse during an at-bat? Is Ramon Castro going to play until he expires? What was wrong with Benson? What the heck happened to Victor's ability to play the outfield? — but then the game started and guys from Bensonhurst and Bay Ridge rode tricycles on the field and passing Aberdeen Ironbirds actually slapped hands with the little kids along the left-field line and Joshua and Ellis and Tyson gobbled down hot dogs and chicken and fries and ice cream and there was Mookie in the third-base box and I looked around and thought, “Man, I love this place.”
And so Benson and Floyd and Victor and all of today's disappointment retreated — still there, but at a decent remove — and what was left was Mike Jacobs, who went from trying to catch his breath in the batter's box to mashing one into our bullpen (Hey, cool! He'll get the ball!) before you could say “Tricia's from Ditmas Park, and IT'S HER BIRTHDAY!” After the inning I grabbed the TiVo remote and bi-doop-bi-doop-bi-dooped my way back so I could watch Jacobs levitate around the bases again, then one more time because I'd enjoyed it so much the second time. So that was nine runs that I saw, meaning we won, what, 10-7? Why all the long faces?
Oh, and with Joshua clapping and chanting “Let's go Cyclomes!” (close enough), Brooklyn came back from a 3-0 deficit with a four-run 7th, promptly gave up three more runs, then came back with a five-run 8th for a 9-6 win. Home runs from Jonel Pacheco and Caleb Stewart, doubles from Drew Butera and Mo Chavez. (By the way, Brooklyn's two games out of the wild card.) I looked up those four Cyclones names; all that really mattered was they were the guys in red and white.
Went to Coney Island. Saw the Cyclones. Had Nathan's. Rode the Wonder Wheel. It was a great night.