Aerosmith is a great band, but I’ve always felt that they peaked with their first hit, “Dream On.” Now, that’s a fine zenith, one that most bands would kill to reach, and a lot of my Aerosmith-loving friends would disagree with my assertion to begin with. But I know I’m not the only person to rank “Dream On” as Steven Tyler & Co.’s best song and one of the greatest in rock & roll history. You could argue they recorded a song or songs that were as good as “Dream On,” but I can’t be convinced that they’ve done anything that was better. (It was also the featured song of the above highlight reel ESPN played to close out 1999, which was, for me, the best of the uber-emotional musical sports montage genre . . . still gets me verklempt.)
|Notice the price in the upper right of the ticket: $6.00|
I bring this up now because of May 6 and May 7. You may recall a game that took place on May 6, 1998. Cubs. Astros. Ring a bell? You probably remember where you were when it happened. I do. I remember the telephone of my Chicago apartment ringing shortly after the game ended. It was my mom.
“Did you see the game?” she asked in a near shriek.
“Yeah,” I said calmly, followed by a pause for dramatic effect. “From the BLEACHERS!!!“
I was supposed to have been at work. But for the third day in a row, I had been swinging a sledge hammer all day long, knocking down brick-plaster walls, picking up the scraps, and hauling away the wreckage. I was exhausted. So at about 11:30 I asked for the afternoon off. It just sounded like a good idea to catch a game. I thought Kerry Wood was pitching, and I really wanted to get to see him in person. One short El ride later, and I was at the Wrigley Field Box Office hoping, but skeptically, that there were still bleacher seats left. The attendant laughed off my skepticism.
“Oh yeah, we got plenty. We definitely have one.”
I took a seat in the left-center bleachers where there was plenty of room to stretch out. I was a bit worried by the clouds sweeping across the sky, some of them spilling a few drops here and there. It was one of those weird days when some of the ballpark was in sunshine while other seats were getting rained on. All in all, though, it was a beautiful day for me and 15,757 of my friends to enjoy.
Soon, a married couple of Astros fans (in town from Houston, they had seen the Astros win the night before) in Biggio jerseys sat in front of me. I felt a sting of anxiety when they smirked at Kerry’s first fastball, which sailed directly into Jerry Meals. But from that point on, the smirks were all mine.
Kerry’s fastball zipped so blindingly fast, there were times when I confused the smack of Sandy Martinez’s glove with the crack of a bat. Some of his pitches I genuinely could not see. But his breaking stuff? Normally I can’t tell a slider from a 2-seamer when I watch a game in person, but I could see Kerry’s slider swooping out of the strike zone like a Frisbee. I could see the fear in the Astros’ eyes, the wobble in their knees, and the swirly black thought bubble of frustration emanating from the tops of their heads.
As the game wore on, that crowd of less than 1/2 capacity exploded with ovations of glee. We were high-fiving. We were shouting. We were openly mocking the trespassers from the West who were outed by their Cardinals umbrellas when the rain got a bit too heavy for them. One guy to my left, wearing a newspaper for a rain hat, was announcing the strikeout totals with every batter. We were all grumbling slightly about Kevin Orie. We united as one in sheer joy over the crowning of baseball’s newest King of K’s.
After 2 hours and 19 minutes, we went home. Unbelievable. Unstoppable. Unequivocal.
In the career of Kerry Lee Wood, the apex of his achievements occurred in his fifth start as a major leaguer. It was quite possibly the greatest display of pitching in the history of baseball. He could never improve upon that. Nobody could. I find it suddenly and incredibly sad to think that Kerry Wood’s finest moment, the most dramatic tear-jerking, goosebump-inducing highlight, came just a few steps into his journey as a pro.
It’s not exactly the same situation, but I’d hate for something similar to befall Starlin Castro. On May 7, 2010, he took the baseball world by storm, yet another 20-year-old Cub to set the standard for big-splash achievements. Starlin drove in 6 runs, 3 on a homer in his very first appearance at a big-league plate, and another 3 on a triple showcasing his yes-we-should-be-excited-about-this-kid speed. No player had ever begun his career with a 6-RBI game. Ever. How can Castro improve on that?
Tonight, Starlin has a chance to impress the Wrigley faithful as he debuts in a building that, according to Ozzie Guillen, he’s not even old enough to attend. The kid needs McLovin to help him buy beer, but 40,000 screaming fans are relying on him to deliver them a champion—you know, just another thing that hasn’t happened in over a century.
UPDATE: Starlin Castro went 0-2 with 2 walks and 3 errors. He got booed after the last one. Lou knew Starlin would be learning on the fly, but fans lack the patience for that. They want the prodigy but not the child. Starlin’s first lesson: Wrigley Field is infested with jerks, and the real cockroaches like to come out at night.