The Greatest Experience of My Life

This is the seventh and final entry recounting the 2001 World Series between the Arizona Diamondbacks and New York Yankees that started with the Five Short Years Ago entry posted on the fifth anniversary of game 1 of that World Series. With the dismantling of the New York Yankees yesterday, hopes were running high among Diamondbacks fans. The state and country was extremely interested to see how this World Series would end. It was already being counted among the top 5 World Series ever played. Tickets to game 7 were suddenly the hottest commodity around and no more so than at our house. We had 2 tickets to the deciding game 7 of the World Series. I knew there was no way anyone would ever pry these out of my fingers but the question was who would be attending with me? Each of the kids made an argument as to why they should get the tickets. Dakota had not been to a game but since he was only 4 years old it was decided that he probably didn’t get included in the ticket lottery. Whitney didn’t really care since she went mostly to play at the playhouse or play video games so she too was quickly eliminated from the drawing. Tiffany was the biggest fan so she was definitely in the drawing even though she had gone just the day before. Mallorie thought she should go since it was her turn because the last game she went to was game 2. Then Trina stepped up and said that she wanted to attend so the discussion was over. It was decided, mom and dad would go to the game and the kids would watch on television. There are certain defining moments in a person’s life and this event had all the earmarks of being one

We went down especially early since each game parking was becoming harder to find. Today was especially bad and we were faced with having to park some 10 blocks from the stadium. The part of town where we were parked was pretty scary and I questioned whether or not it was legitimate but given the circumstances I had little choice. It was something I would later regret as a couple of weeks later I would find a summons in the mail to appear in court for ignoring a parking ticket. After a lot of discussion with the police, it seems I was a victim of a scam whereby people set up parking lots on property that they did not own. I was not only taken for $20 the day of the game but also had a parking ticket for nearly $100. The ticket was subsequently torn up with several of us came forth with similar stories.

This game had so many sub-plots and story lines that you needed a program just to follow along. There was the fact that Curt Schilling would be again pitching on 3 days rest and starting his third World Series game. There was the fact that this was rumored to be Roger Clemens last game before retirement. There was the emotion and drama of New York City trying to heal from the events of the twin towers and what a victory would mean to that city. There was the fact that the Diamondbacks had only been in existence for 3 years and were the quickest expansion team to ever make it to the play-offs and could be the fastest to win a world championship if they could win one more game. This was also a bonanza for baseball statisticians as they describe the probability of pitching on short rest, of the home team having won every game in this series, the batting average of the Yankees versus Diamondbacks pitching. The list was endless. Then of course there was the fact that this was probably one of the best World Series ever played and we were in the midst of history.

On a warm November afternoon we found our way down to our seats. As part of the pre-game ceremonies the Diamondbacks opened the roof to allow the fans to bask in the afternoon sun and watch as the stars in the sky tried to match the stars on the field and in the stands. During the national anthem a B-2 stealth bomber flew over the stadium bringing a chill to everyone followed by one of the largest ovations I have ever heard. The bunting was perfect, the grass was amazing, and there was electricity in the air. I had butterflies and all I had to do was sit in the stands and keep score. Everyone was anticipating a classic pitching duel in the desert and they were not disappointed. Clemens and Schilling went toe-to-toe matching each other pitch for pitch. Clemens was the first to blink in the sixth inning, his last full inning. It started with Steve Finley hitting a single to center. Danny Bautista continued his hot hitting streak hitting a double to center that scored Finley and gave the Diamondbacks a 1-0 lead in the game. The decibel level increased two-fold with the Diamondbacks leading as people throughout the stadium wondered whether one run would be enough to win a championship. That question was quickly answered in the top of the seventh inning with Derek Jeter hitting a single followed by Paul O’Neill singling to move Jeter to second. Bernie Williams forced O’Neill out when he hit a ball to Tony Womack. Tino Martinez singled to right scoring Jeter and tying the game 1-1. The game was now a 2 inning contest and everything became magnified. The eighth inning began with Alfonzo Soriano hitting a home run off Curt Schilling to give the Yankees a 2-1 lead then striking out Scott Brosius. Miguel Batista relieved Schilling and forced Jeter to hit into a fielder’s choice for the second out. Brenly then did the unimaginable, he brought in Randy Johnson in relieve just 24 hours after Johnson had pitched 7 innings in game 6. It was clear that this was not a time for Byung-Hyun Kim or any other reliever. Johnson got Chuck Knoblauch to fly to right to end the inning with New York up 2-1.

It is times like this that you begin to feel helpless. The game was now in the eighth inning meaning that it was time for Mariano Rivera to enter and close things out. Rivera had been nearly lights out in every appearance he had been in and expectations were that this would be no different. The Diamondbacks were 6 outs away from losing their first World Series after outplaying their opponent. In the Diamondbacks eighth Rivera struck out Luis Gonzalez and Matt Williams for the first two outs. Steve Finley singled to right but the inning ended with Danny Bautista striking out to end the inning and leave the Diamondbacks 3 outs away from elimination. My stomach began to knot up at the thoughts of the Yankees celebrating on the Bank One Ballpark field celebrating another world championship. Randy Johnson took the mound and faced Bernie Williams who flied out to Steve Finley. Tino Martinez grounded out to Tony Womack for the second out. The top of the ninth ended with Johnson striking out Jorge Posada giving the fans something to cheer about.

When the game began, it was a perfect night. Not a cloud in sight and a beautiful sunset could be seen out the open roof. The stands were filled with joy and happiness at the thoughts of possibly witnessing history. Now we sat in stunned silence as Mariano Rivera took the mound. I sat in my seat with my scorebook marking down pitch counts and getting ready for the final half inning. I looked up and suddenly a stiff breeze was blowing paper and debris around the field. I looked up to find that the clear skies had been replaced by storm clouds and rain began to lightly fall. I thought to myself, even the baseball gods are weeping at the outcome. Mark Grace walked to the plate to face Rivera. Grace singled to center as the wind and the rain began to pick up. David Dellucci came in to pinch run for Grace at first. Damian Miller was asked to attempt a sacrifice bunt to move the runner into scoring position. The bunt went back to the mound and Rivera for whatever reason bungled the throw putting a man on first and second with no outs. The rain was steady now and I wondered why they were not closing the roof but things were happening so quickly that my mind was racing. No longer was anyone sitting in their seat. The crowd of 49,589 were all standing cheering the weather and the Diamondbacks hoping that this was a sign of something magical. Midre Cummings pinch ran for Miller while Jay Bell pinch hit for Randy Johnson. Bell attempted a bunt that was fielded by Rivera who threw to third to get Dellucci out at third. Tony Womack came to the plate and hit a double down the right field line that was partially obscured by the wind and rain. Midre Cummings rounded third and scored the tying run and moved Jay Bell to third. Craig Counsell was hit by a pitch to load the bases with one out. And as the rain began to subside and the breeze started to slow Luis Gonzalez strode to the plate. With 1 out Yankees manager Joe Torre decided to play the infield in to cut off a grounder for a force at the plate. Given Gonzalez speed it may have been prudent to play at double play depth but that is left for history to ponder. The box score will read Gonzalez singled to center but in actuality it was a slight flair that would have easily been played by Jeter if he were not playing in. It fell like a rain drop from heaven landing gently on the wet grass just beyond the infield as Jay Bell rushed home to score the winning run and leap into the arms of Matt Williams who was on deck. It will be the most famous bloop single in Diamondbacks history as it brought the first championship in Diamondbacks history.

I stood there in amazement writing down the play in my scorebook while hugging everyone around me and kissing my wife. It was amazing as everyone in the stands and on the field went crazy. On the infield players were embracing each other while fans cheered madly from their seats. Players were given championship shirts and hats to wear and it was announced these items were available in limited numbers at the team shop. Trina lept over the seats and rushed to the team shop so that we had them to chronicle our attendance at this monumental event. We stayed in the stands until late into the night cheering as they presented the World Series trophy to Jerry Colangelo and the MVP trophy to Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson. For as long as I live I will never forget the events that night and what it was like to be a baseball fan.

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