My 9-year-old son, Andrew, covered his eyes as the bottom of the ninth inning began Sunday night. I sunk into the couch and looked toward the kitchen. My wife leaned toward the television.
"It isn't over," she said.
"Mariano Rivera," I mumbled. "That means it's over."
My son peeked at me through his fingers. I saw a boy looking for man pointers for coping with dire straits.
My limp slouch taught him fatalism, the mechanism of a Nebraskan reared on fourth-quarter losses to the smirking bootlegger antichrist Barry Switzer. When I care too much, fatalism is my Depakote for the bipolarity of sports.
My wife was surprised. Usually I only cower for Husker football.
We moved to Phoenix from Nebraska less than two years ago. I hadn't realized Arizona had been given a baseball team.
I stopped playing baseball in the early 1980s. I stopped caring about baseball sometime after 1985, the year my dad's favorite team, the Kansas City Royals, stole the World Series from the only team I cared about, the St. Louis Cardinals.
I attended my first Diamondbacks game last May. There were Jersey natives in front of us, Michigan natives in back, a retired couple from Colorado to our right and a couple Phoenix natives to our left. I felt the glory of God as the roof opened to that absurd Aztec tabernacle, then spent the next three hours feeling like I was watching the fish tank in an Alzheimer's ward.
It was major league baseball with an attachment disorder, the first nonpartisan sports event I had ever seen. The guy from Jersey congratulated me for being the archetypal D-Backs fan.
Last fall, a friend invited my son to play on a team he helped coach. The head coach had played for Cal State-Fullerton and my friend's neighbor, D-Backs pitcher Armando Reynoso, helped out when he could. It sounded like three months of professional instruction for $45. Andrew was excited, so we joined up.
The kids played together again in spring. In May, I took my wife, Denise, and two sons, Andrew and 5-year-old Evan, to watch Armando pitch. He got shelled quickly and, according to hecklers, took too long between the pitches he was serving up. Andrew didn't like seeing his hero derided; I didn't mind seeing some emotion. We left in the seventh inning.
Armando ended up needing surgery to fix a pinched nerve in his neck. The personal tie, as tenuous as it was, was gone.
But we decided we'd still like to see more games. Andrew wanted to see how the pros handled grounders and ran the bases.
I got tickets for a Curt Schilling game. He got shelled. Still, I found myself enjoying his pitching, particularly the way he set guys up with fastballs, then got them to chase his split finger.
In August, Andrew and I found ourselves watching more D-Backs games on television. I listened to analysis, culling wisdoms I could pass off as my own. We began playing more catch. We tried to liven up our arms, we discussed the virtues of small ball.
D-Backs, Giants, Dodgers. Edging up, edging down, hitting streaks, hitting slumps. I had forgotten the comforting ebb and flow of a baseball season, the light charge it brings to the backdrop of summer evenings. Crickets singing to an affected broadcasting voice, mosquitoes dancing to the mellow, otherworldly white noise of a crowd between pitches. "Holy crap," I exclaimed to my wife in early September. "I think I'm becoming a baseball fan again."
Andrew continued with his team. In early October, dads began bringing radios to practices and games. These were guys from North Carolina, Mexico, California, Arizona and Iowa all hoping against what we believed was an inevitable fade. Some Gonzo stances started showing up at the plate. Some kids squatted, rose, pumped three times and swung, homage to the whooping crane mating-dance style of Craig Counsell.
At home, we watched games with the Oklahomans down the street and the Californians over the back wall. In the park, kids beaned each other with B.K. Kim submarine balls. My wife and youngest boy started watching the games with us. We began making dips and special smoothies for games.
Portable televisions showed up at Little League games. St. Louis fell, then Atlanta. General fatalism shifted to guarded optimism.
The series began with two blowouts at home. Optimism went unguarded.
Then Game 4, two outs, bottom of the ninth inning. I muttered the f-bomb, said something about bombing Korea, apologized, then went to bed without kissing anyone goodnight.
My wife said she had trouble getting to sleep after Game 5. I had never seen a sporting event affect her sleep.
My son seemed okay, which worried me that he might have a problem over-sublimating his anger.
Game 6 came and taught me what it must have felt like to be a Lakota warrior at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
Game 7. Tony Womack drove the ball down the right-field line. Is it fair? It can't be fair. It is fair! One run in. Sit the fat lady! It ain't over!
We heard whooping in the neighborhood. We huddled around the television.
Rivera hit Counsell. Bases loaded.
Gonzalez choked up and fought the ball off over the heads of the infield. Absolutely stunning artistry for the last sentence of a storybook series.
And I wouldn't have known or understood any of this, or shared any of this divine madness with my family and neighbors, if it wasn't for this team for which I cared nothing one year earlier.
We jumped, hugged and high-fived. Fireworks shot off in the neighborhood. For the first time in her life, my wife opened the front door and hollered into the night like a banshee.
Thank you, Diamondbacks. Your wicked sense of drama made for great fun and helped a big city of people from somewhere else come together as a hometown.
"I think I've seen a lot for a 9-year-old," my son said as he got ready for bed. "I've seen the Millennium, a war and now, I've seen the Diamondbacks win a World Series."
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