19 inning game defines baseball and humanity

"Let's go Pirates!!" girl will always root for her team; win or lose.

The clock is slowly approaching 2 in the morning as you realize that you’ve been watching one baseball game from over 6 hours. Yes, a sporting event that lasted nearly as long as a workday was approaching its 19th inning climax. You couldn’t get the chant, “Let’s go Pirates!” out of your head as the little girl in left field continued to scream. It was a game that was so unusual that it oddly defines what it means not only to be a baseball fan, but a human being.

The game began as any other, just the second game of a four game series between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Atlanta Braves on a steamy July night at Turner Field. The Pirates took the early lead but as the game wore on the Braves fought back and were able to tie it 3-3. Tensions were already high by the time the teams had played nine because of what could only be described as awful umpiring by home plate umpire Jerry Meals. As a result, Braves centerfielder Nate McLouth and manager Fredi Gonzalez were tossed for arguing balls and strikes. As a result, an injured Jordan Schafer (in one of his final appearances in a Braves uniform) was forced into action.

The top of 10th found the Braves hurting again as All-Star catcher, Brian McCann strained an oblique muscle trying to gun down a runner stealing second. Not only did the throw sail into center, but McCann’s evening and next couple of weeks came to an abrupt end. To say that fans were restless was an understatement.

The game carried on, and many of the 22,000 plus fans at the Ted had long abandoned their seats and headed home. It was after all, a Tuesday night headed into Wednesday morning. Not only could you hear players screaming on the field, but the “Let’s go Pirates!!!” girl was more than audible from her seat in left field.

After a brilliant effort by pitchers on both sides (huge props to Braves reliever Christian Martinez who pitched 6 brilliant innings) the game came down to the bottom of the 19th inning. The Braves had runners on first and third with 1 out and pitcher Scott Proctor (the Braves had long run out of bench players) came to the plate. The game was quickly approaching the seven hour mark and the most exciting play was yet to happen. In what can only be described as a botched hit and run, Proctor chopped one into the infield, Julio Lugo, the Braves’ runner on third bolted for home. Proctor, not used to hitting or running, fell face first into the grass about 10 feet from home plate. Lugo running down the third base line toward home got down to slide and boy was it awful. So ready for the game to end, I was about to pound my fist into the air, knowing that this game was likely headed to a 20th inning. However, Jerry Meals, the same umpire responsible for putrid calls all night did something that shocked everyone. Although it appeared Lugo was clearly tagged before he reached home, Meals made no call. Lugo touched home and Meals called him safe. The game was over.

Replay after replay indicated that Lugo was tagged by Pirates catcher Michael McKenry, but Meals insisted that McKenry missed the tag. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle charged toward home plate, turning purple with anger, yelling, spitting and spewing what appeared to be words so vile, that I refuse to print them here. The longest game (in hours) for both franchises had come to a bizarre and questionable end.

The game, for all its faults, proved why baseball, above all sports, best represents humanity. From the inability to score runs and the missed calls by umpires, this 6 hour and 39 minute marathon goes to show that human beings are far more subject to failure and mistakes than success. The best players in baseball fail 7 out of 10 times when they come up to bat and despite all the odds against them, ball players head up to the plate night after night. For the average person, failure and struggle provides the motivation to succeed. If we were triumphant every time we went to the plate, than it’d be doubtful that we’d every truly appreciate success. We’ve all put ourselves in a position, like Jerry Meals, where we’ve blown a game changing call. We’ve missed assignments for work or school, forgot to do a chore, or disappointed a friend or loved-one. It happens.

What we can’t do is let that failure define who we are in the end. We must step back up to home plate, despite a losing streak, a hitless streak, or even a blown call and be prepared to swing the bat. Jerry Meals was back umpiring the next night at third base and the Pirates, who are having their first decent season in 20 years, were back on the field Wednesday evening, ready for another shot. Even the “Let’s go Pirates!!!!” girl was apparently back at Turner Field ready to root on her team, unfazed by the blow call and loss suffered the night before. Just like the Pirates, fans and even Jerry Meals, when we fail, we must be ready to persevere.

That’s optimism. That’s the greatness baseball. That’s humanity.

Baseball represents the best and the worst of us. More often than not, we’ll look like we’re at our worst, but it’s those shining, “Sid Bream slide” like moments that defines who we are. What we can take away from the 19 inning game is not frustration, or Jerry Meals lack of umpiring skills, but what it means to be a human being.

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One response to this post.

  1. […] Joel and/or Will a message asking them to explain, which they kindly did. I was able to catch the Braves’ 19th inning game against the Pirates and will likely forget the controversial call to end the game before I will forget the “Let’s […]

    Reply

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