As a summer sport it seems somewhat ludicrous that the finale of the baseball season, the showpiece event, takes place towards the end of October when the air is crisper and the days are shorter. It’s not uncommon to see supporters wearing gloves and scarfs as baseball’s elite duel it out on the diamond; yet there’s something symbolic about a pitcher blowing on his hands to warm them up while in the midst of a shut out, or a hitter in long sleeves belting a crucial, career defining home run. The World Series is a week long feast of drama and sport rolled into one, and it’s an event which has provided me with a host of memories over the years, both good and bad.
I was just two years old when the Philadelphia Phillies lost the World Series to the Toronto Blue Jays in heartbreaking fashion in 1993, on Joe Carter’s famous walk off home run. Thankfully I’m not old enough to recall that memory, but I’ve been informed by my Dad and my Brother that while they were watching that series I was in front of the television with them at some ridiculous hour, so I guess you could say that was my first exposure both to baseball and the World Series.
Thankfully I caught the bug and became hooked, and the first October classic I vividly recall watching was the post-9/11 duel between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the New York Yankees in 2001. New York as a city was grieving following the terrorist atrocities of September 11 and its people had gained tremendous respect for the way they had fought to rebound from the attacks, showing the terrorists that they would not be beaten. However despite the fact New York was mourning the Diamondbacks were the neutrals choice for the series, a franchise spawned in 1997 who were enjoying their first taste of baseballs grandest stage. Although Arizona closer Byung-Hyun Kim blew two consecutive saves in games four and five the Diamondbacks won the series 4-3, with Luis Gonzalez hitting a walk-off single off Yankees legendary closer Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning of game seven. In game four Derek Jeter had hit a walk-off home run for New York after the clock had passed midnight and October had been left behind, earning him the nickname “Mr. November” in a tribute to former Yankee great Reggie Jackson whose post-season excellence saw him labelled “Mr. October”. The 2001 series would go down in history as one of the best ever, in equal measure because of the emotional backdrop and the unparalleled drama produced on the field.
In 2003 the Yankees were back in the classic, this time taking on another newly created franchise; the Florida (now Miami) Marlins. This was the series where a then 20-year old Miguel Cabrera hit a crucial home run off of Roger Clemens, at the time regarded as a lock for the hall of fame. Clemens’ reputation has since been tainted by admissions of PED use, nevertheless Cabrera’s blast has remained iconic. The Yankees went on to lose the series again, this time by a score of 4-2, with the underdog Marlins heavily favoured by anyone who wasn’t a Yankees fan. By this series I had established that the Yankees aren’t very well liked outside of New York, mainly because of their unrelenting success and the bandwagon jumping fans their success had created. In many ways they’re the baseball equivalent of Manchester United. The team themselves haven’t done much, if anything at all, to inspire such loathing. However the fact that the majority of the teams support exists outside of their respective cities makes them easy to despise.
Five years later was the pinnacle for me personally as a baseball fan, when in 2008 the Phillies won their first World Series since 1980 and their first championship in my lifetime. Cole Hamels was magnificent, earning MVP honours for his pitching prowess. Pat Burrell drove in the series winning run with his last ever hit in a Phillies uniform. And closer Brad Lidge completed his flawless season by striking out Eric Hinske, sinking to his knees in euphoric celebration. The Phillies came up short of a repeat the following year, being denied by those damn Yankees in six games. However I still have fond memories of that years classic, almost as fond as the previous year, including Cliff Lee’s two gems and Chase Utley slugging two home runs off of New York ace C.C Sabathia in game one at the new Yankee Stadium.
The World Series has produced heroes. It’s produced villains. It was even the scene of a natural disaster in 1989, when an earthquake hit California as the Oakland A’s and San Francisco Giants were about to square off in the ‘Battle by the bay’. This years contest between the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals is an opportunity for a new generation to be inspired by some October brilliance, whether it’s an awe inspiring catch by Boston’s Shane Victorino or a complete game shut out spun by St. Louis ace Adam Wainwright. One player I’m particularly rooting for is Carlos Beltran, the Cardinals slugger who owns one of the best post-season resumes in baseball history. In a quirk of fate he’s never made it the the fall classic before, and at 37-years old this could well be his one and only opportunity to make his mark on the biggest stage of all. Beltran’s in the midst of a borderline hall of fame career – if he rises to the occasion like Gonzalez, Jeter and Cabrera before him there’ll be no borderline about it. The drama starts tonight. Don’t miss out.
Game One is live on FOX at 19.30 ET in Boston.