Earlier tonight (Oct 9), a post from an old coworker on Facebook reminded my of one of the most infamous moments in Orioles and baseball history: The Jeffrey Maier game. It opened up a flood of emotions not only from that game, but from my time in baseball. So, please indulge me as I ramble down through some of them.
For those of you not familiar with it, the 1996 ALCS matched up the New York Yankees and the Baltimore Orioles. All regular season, the Yankees had pretty much beat up Baltimore at every turn and the Birds now had to figure out how to take four from them in the playoffs.
In Game 1, the Orioles held a slim one-run lead going into the 8th when the rookie Derek Jeter hit a long fly ball to right field. As the Orioles right fielder, Tony Tarasco, settled under it against the wall, a kid, Jeffrey Maier, reached over the wall and grabbed the ball. The umpire should have ruled it fan interference and an out, but instead called it a home run. Tie game. The Orioles held the Yankees off the board for the rest of the 8th and the 9th and probably win that game. Instead, they face the legendary Mariano Rivera and Bernie Williams broke Baltimore’s heart with a walk-off in the 11th.
To this day, when I let myself thing about this game, the rage rises and I actually literally feel sick to my stomach. I worked for the Orioles at the time and that game just ripped all of our hearts out. Part of my job as an intern was to pour through newspaper after newspaper and cut out any article about the Orioles. Whole books seemed to have been written overnight about that game and I was forced to read story after story about Jeter and Meier. I had to look at pictures of their smug faces and the their smug quotes. I died a lot on the inside that day.
Tied into that postseason was also a personal crisis as Andrea and I were struggling in our relationship after two years of dating. The night of this game, I remember distinctly as I sat stuck in my car in traffic in the rain listening to it unfold on the radio as I headed down to Washington DC to visit her. I was pissed and moody when I got to her apartment and that was before Bernie’s home run. The night was a blur as my foul mood seemed to amp up the tension that was simmering between us. I won’t go into details about why we were struggling in our relationship, but the general gist is that all the time I spent at the ballpark and Andrea starting on her Masters in DC lead to obstacles that we could not overcome.
Five nights later, the day after the Yankees completed the series win against the Orioles, we broke up. I distinctly remember my friend and coworker, upon me telling him, saying, “All you need is for your dog to die and you would have a pretty good country western song.”
Prior to that Jeffrey Maier game, I remember everything being great. I was in my first year of baseball and the Orioles had battled into the postseason and then upset the Indians in the ALDS. Life seemed great, even though, on the surface, they weren’t. Regardless of whether it was true, the 1996 ALCS marked everything crashing down around me. That rough period in my life and Jeffrey Meier are tied together in my mind and it still ties me up on the inside to think about.
Obviously Andrea and I worked through things (although the Mets and a Grand Slam Single did put a scare into us with Game 1 of the 1999 World Series scheduled for our wedding day) and my very favorite memory of working in baseball is tied to her.
In 2000, in the hours after Mets beat the Cardinals in the NLCS, we wandered around Shea Stadium together, going from the stands, to my office and visiting other people, eventually finding ourselves with the rest of the Mets staff at a party that even Mike Piazza was at. It was a series of absolutely magical moments tied together as we celebrated together.
It would go early into morning hours. Afterwards, we hopped on the Subway to head back to our apartment in Hoboken. While on the train, as we talked about the game in the surreal world that a subway can be in New York at 4AM, a guy across from us asked if we were there. When I told him I worked for the Mets, he pulled out the New York Post from under his arm and told me he worked for the paper. He handed me the newspaper and told me it was one of the first that came off the press that morning and it celebrated the Mets advance to the World Series.
Despite calling myself a writer, I just cannot describe what that paper and that moment meant. I think it might be that those moments after the clinch seemed so private and intimate, even with the entire Mets staff, that seeing it celebrated outside of Shea Stadium just made them even more special and I was able to share that with Andrea.
Less than a year later, I would be out of baseball. There were a handful of nice moments after that night. Even the World Series loss to the Yankees was a happy time. However, that magical night with Andrea and the Mets was one of the most special to me.
As much as our early troubles were tied to that 1996 postseason, some of the happiest memories in baseball are tied to Andrea. It had felt like life had come full circle and it is these moments that battle back down those dark night in 1996.
And in a side note, all of the wonderful memories I have of my time in baseball really weren’t about the game. I maybe remember a handful of plays that happened on the field. What was special about my time in baseball were those moments with friends behind the scenes. Whether winning or losing, I’ll never forget those conversations and interactions and those laughs. They really were magical.
I think I need to write more about a few of those moments in future posts. I wouldn’t trade my life now to go back to those days, but I’d love to pass some of those memories down to my sons.