Day 218: On Watching Greatness

I went to a lot of Lions games as a kid. While nowadays, that sentiment is met with pain and disappointment, things were a lot different back then. The team was still just as awful as its modern counterparts. The talent level was never balanced, they always had a tendency to lose at the most heartbreaking moments and there was still that air of dread every time our hopes got up. But there was one thing that the Lions team in the 90s had that can never be replicated today. Something that packed the dark and filthy Silverdome every week and always gave us our money’s worth. Something unique and great that you couldn’t find anywhere else. That was Barry Sanders.

I’ve been fortunate enough to see some of the best athletes perform their greatest feats. I saw Miguel Cabrera mash a Mariano Rivera cutter into the stands. I squealed in glee when Mike Trout humbled the Yankees in his best performance ever, going 5 for 5 with a home run and 3 doubles. I’ll cherish those memories for the rest of my life. But with Barry, it was different. He played for my home team. My Dad and I had the opportunity to watch him whenever the hell we wanted. We’d just hop into the pickup truck, drive for a couple hours, park in a sketchy lot, buy tickets from an even sketchier dude, pray they weren’t counterfeit, make our way into the dome and let our jaws drop for 3 hours. It was one thing to see him do his thing on TV, but seeing it live was a completely different experience. He wasn’t human. The way he moved made no sense to me and watching it from the nosebleeds made it seem even more impossible. There will never be another football player like him, just like there’ll never be another Nolan Ryan. It’s not because their talent can’t be replicated, it’s because modern coaches would never allow it to happen. Part of Barry’s talent was that he could dance around the Lion’s swiss cheese offensive line. If any other running back was behind that line, their careers would be shortened considerably. He played dangerously and that would just not fly in the modern culture of the NFL. Just like how nobody will ever break Nolan Ryan’s records, because no skipper would ever allow a pitcher to wear themselves out like he did. When Barry retired, it was a really dark day. I mean, it was sunny out, but it was dark, you know? The magic was essentially gone. My Dad and I would still go to Lions games, but it never felt the same.

I think that’s why I’m addicted to going to sporting events. I’m just trying to chase that magic feeling. I’ve never seen someone hit for the cycle, nor have I ever seen a no-hitter. But what I’ve come to realize is that with Jacob deGrom, I finally have that Barry feeling back. It wasn’t until last night that I realized the full magnitude of it. Here we have one of the best pitchers to ever play the game, at the peak of his career, doing his thing a mere stone’s throw away from my apartment. And watching him do that damn thing last night was nothing short of mesmerizing.

He came out of the gate hurling 101 MPH and didn’t slow down from there. He hit all the right spots and his slider was finishing everybody off. And this wasn’t against some jobber team. The Nationals won the World Series two years ago. And he made them look completely. Fucking. Stupid. There were some at-bats towards the end that had me openly cackling. They had just given up. The batters were just listlessly swinging at nothing. And he also got the job done at the plate. Blooping 2 hits with 2 runs and an RBI, he made a case against implementing the universal DH. As of right now, he now has hit more RBIs than he has allowed. Just think about that for a moment. Tom Brady can throw touchdowns, but he’s not out there sacking other quarterbacks. Did Michael Jordan block more shots than he made? Ever see Jeff Gordon change a tire? I didn’t think so. Jacob deGrom took matters into his own hands and won the damn game himself. And threw a career-high 15 strikeouts in the process.

That was my 4th baseball game this season. Although the first 3 were great, last night was the first time that I truly felt like I was back at the ballpark. There were only 8,130 in attendance but every single one of them were screaming at the top of their lungs, chanting “MVP” over and over. When he showed up in the on-deck circle, the entire place exploded in ecstasy. It meant he was going to finish the game. I imagine the pop was like when Kirk Gibson came out of the dugout in game 1 of the ’88 World Series, or every time Stone Cold Steve Austin’s music hit. Being a part of that was one of the best experiences of my life. I felt like I was 10 years old again, watching Barry break away from a tackle just to dance for a few more seconds. Moments like these are why I keep going to baseball games. And it’s also why I have to cut this short. Because I have to get ready to go back to the stadium. Rolling the dice, crossing my fingers, hoping to watch some sort of greatness again.

– TeeCoZee