Remember? You were young, just a kid really, not yet ready to toss your dreams aside to make way for reality. It was in the back yard with others, or alone in front of the bedroom mirror. It was in that vacant lot, that alley behind the house, that small meadow next to the shed. The place where you could move enough to warm your developing muscles, yet find a moment of stillness, a moment where in the drift of a summer’s ending, the roar of October contained your name. You stood, exactly as millions before you had, a baseball in one gloved hand, a Louisville Slugger ash wood bat in the other. You were ready.
It was game seven.
When you began to watch this year’s final World Series game on TV between the San Francisco Giants and the Kansas City Royals, you thought of all those men of summer, what they must be thinking. To a man, you’d bet, they had been that young boy hoping it would be their name coming over the ballpark’s public-address system, the verification that their wildest dreams had come true.
Then, looking back at your own youthful aspirations, a melancholia that runs hand in hand with the perpetuity of baseball, sent you back to John Euless Park. There, on a wondrous August evening in the late ’40s, you waited, leaning on your bicycle, until the Fresno Cardinal players came out from their cramped clubhouse, and there was shortstop, Tommy Glaviano, after his final game at this small wood-planked ball yard. Tomorrow he’d be moving on to a larger facility in another state closer to the parent club in St. Louis, Mo., and you grew a year older right then, catching his quick smile and nod when you wished him luck.
Hero worship was childish, you warned yourself, but still it was thrilling to witness the way those special players made the sport memorable. There was no TV then, only late night recreations of the local Cardinals on the radio by George Bryson that took preference over boring homework, and of course, no Major League squad had ventured this far west. Not long after watching Glaviano play here in Fresno and following him in the St. Louis Sporting News, you read James T. Farrell’s novel, “A World I Never Made,” and, in the life of Farrell’s fictional depression era, Chicagoan Danny O’Neill, “one dandy little infielder, sure to make It,” you found out how important the game was to O’Neill’s generation. You studied Farrell’s written words over and over. Just plain words, nothing fancy, yet they told you more about yourself than you bargained for, and you wondered what that particular process would be like -- writing words about made-up people whose vulnerabilities could cause readers to examine their own lives.
Now, the seventh game of the 2014 World Series is in the record books, and the parade is over. Third one in the last five years in the city that couldn’t win one with the great Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda, and Willie McCovey. You saw in the present player’s celebration all their individual boyhoods, and it came to you that their team leader, Bruce Bochy, symbolized the old saying about how the strongest thing baseball had going for it today was its yesterdays, when men with the hearts of riverboat gamblers won it all.
You go back to that game seven and play it forward in your mind. Madison Bumgarner has entered the game in the fifth inning. Just for a couple of innings to hold the lead, right? After all, the young left hander had already won two games for you as a starter and is pitching on two days’ rest. You find the roughly sculpted face of Bochy as he stands on the top step of the dugout watching the game progress. He was once that kid, playing the game like the rest of us. Some would tell you he seemed old before his time even then. Big head on him, like he could grow up to be some sort of a wizard or something. Somebody we could pin to lore or myth. Hall of Fame maybe.
Then your gaze lands on the tall young man on the mound. It’s easy to picture Madison Bumgarner as youngster, throwing the ball to his daddy in Hickory, N.C., shade of the Appalachian foothills beginning to spread across the yard. His daddy nods when a pitch stings his hand. Madison nods back. He’s not much for talking. That’s not his way. He just keeps starting each delivery the same. That rocking movement, the way his left hand sweeps across his strong young torso at a devilish angle, it all appears to be effortless, except in that quick baring of his teeth as the ball seems to come out of nowhere.
His daddy finally suggests he take a break. Madison does what he’s told. One thing about this kid, he’s been taught manners. Still you wonder what might happen in a game where he wants more than anything to stay in and finish the job, and it hits you that he’s played this part since he could pick up a ball and wing it at a fence post.
Game seven was not a mystery to this skipper and his ace. No. Each of them had known since game six how this one would play out. Maybe even before that.