The Road to 17: Watchmaker

We gaze continually at the world and it grows dull in our perceptions. Yet seen from the another’s vantage point, as if new, it may still take our breath away.
-Watchmen, Chapter IX

It is March 31st, 2008. In twelve seconds, a fly ball will drop harmlessly between Nate McLouth and Jason Bay, allowing the Atlanta Braves to complete a five-run rally to tie the Pittsburgh Pirates at 9 in the bottom of the ninth inning. I will type incomprehensively into two live-blogs, seven instant message windows, an e-mail, and do it all why howling in pain on the phone with my father. That’s in twelve seconds. Until then, I am happily watching Matt Capps take the stretch position on the mound with the assumption that Capps will be able to close out the Pirates’ 9-7 lead. Ten seconds now. Nine.

It is September 8th, 1990. I am five years old at a tailgate in the Three Rivers Stadium Parking lot. It is my first Pirate game. My dad tells me that Doug Drabek is pitching. My dad’s friend asks me if I like pigeons because our seats are so high up in the ballpark. I chatter excitedly about the game to anyone that will listen. In the park I ask my dad about everything. He tells me about the Expos, the scoreboard, and every player I ask about. The Pirates win 6-1. My favorite player, Andy Van Slyke, hits a home run. Sid Bream also hits a home run.

It is two years, one month, and seven days later. I sit up in excitedly in bed and run down the hall to find my dad. I breathlessly ask him if the Pirates held on to the narrow lead they had in Game 7 of the NLCS against the Braves, the same Atlanta Braves I am watching in 2008, and clinched a spot in the World Series. The winning run was scored by the same Sid Bream I saw hit a home run. My dad sadly shakes his head. Tears well up in my eyes.

Matt Capps sets. Seven seconds.

It is August 13, 1991. The Pirates beat the Phillies 4-3. I attend the game with my dad as bunk beds are being installed in my bedroom. Doug Drabek again gets the win for the Pirates.  In the car on the way home, we listen to the Cardinals/Mets broadcast coming out of St. Louis on a cloudless night. As we drive past a billboard for a Howard Johnson, Howard Johnson hits a home run off of Omar Olivares.

It is 2001. During breakfast, I read a headline in the Sharon Herald about Omar Olivares having the worst ERA in the National League for the Pirates.

Matt Capps kicks his leg up. Six seconds.

It is October 10, 1992. I am at Three Rivers again, watching the only playoff game of my life in person. The same Atlanta Braves lead the Pirates 2-1 in the NLCS. Braves’ fans taunt us in the parking lot before the game. John Smoltz leads the Braves to a 6-4 victory and leaving the ballpark, I feel certain that the Pirates will never leave me more brokenhearted than they do on this night.

It is July 28, 2004. I am 19 years old and at PNC Park with my brother. Oliver Perez pitches brilliantly, but the Pirates fail to score despite 11 hits in the first eight innings. John Smoltz records the save for the Braves in the ninth. I again leave the ballpark in disgust.

The ball leaves Matt Capps’ hand. Four seconds. It makes contact with Brian McCann’s bat. Still four seconds.

It is September 19, 1991. I am in the back seat of the family car as we drive through Chicago late at night. On the radio, the Pirates are playing the Cardinals. They enter the ninth inning down 1-0. After two consecutive singles, they chase the Cardinals starting pitcher, Omar Olivares. The Pirates tie the game and with two outs, little used utility man Curtis Wilkerson steps to the plate. As our car passes under an overpass, radio reception flickers out. As we emerge, we realize that Wilkerson has hit a walkoff grand slam to right field. Our family goes wild in the car.

It is May 28, 2004. I am sitting in right field at PNC Park with my dad. The Pirates are tied with the Chicago Cubs at 5 in the ninth inning when Chicago native and Pirate utility man Rob Mackowiak steps to the plate. He hits a walkoff grand slam to right field. I, my dad, and several thousand friends that we don’t know go wild in the park.

McCann skies a pop-up over the infield. The camera pans to the outfield. Three seconds. Two seconds. Jason Bay closes in on the ball. One second.

It is 1994. I am at the home opener as the Pirates misplay an Expos bunt into a home run.

It is 1995. My uncle and I are getting beer dumped on us during the home opener.

It is 2003. The home opener is snowed out.

It is 2007. A man heckles Jim Edmonds for wearing a coat under his jersey. It is 40 degrees out.

The ball impossibly drops between McLouth and Bay. I am 24 years old, sitting in an apartment in North Carolina. I am 5 years old, running around the Three Rivers parking lots. I am 19 years old at PNC Park. I stare in disbelief at the TV screen. I type furiously. I say I have never seen anything like this before. I am six as Omar Olivares imperceptibly intersects with my life twice. I am 16 and it happens much more noticably. In 2008, I feel sick to my stomach. In 1991 and 2004, utility men hit walkoff grand slams.

In fifty-two minutes, the Pittsburgh Pirates will win the game and I will smile and breathe a sigh of relief.

Author’s note: Inspired, of course, by Chapter IV of Watchmen.

Pat Lackey

About Pat Lackey

In 2005, I started a WHYGAVS instead of working on organic chemistry homework. Many years later, I've written about baseball and the Pirates for a number of sites all across the internet, but WHYGAVS is still my home. I still haven't finished that O-Chem homework, though.