My father plopped himself down on the couch and turned on the television. He was wearing his grey overalls. He had a cup of coffee in his hand. He changed channels for a minute and settled on sports highlights.
The sportscaster was introducing a “this day in history” segment.
The TV droned on, “In one of the most mind-boggling interleague games in history…”
Recognizing the game in question, my Dad excitedly turned to face me. He talked over the television, forcing me to focus on him and not the broadcast.
“Mets versus Yankees,” he said, “Very, very famous interleague game. Have a seat, boy.”
I obediently sat down on the couch. My father muted the television, so I could hear his version of the story. At this point, the broadcaster had already moved on to another segment.
“I was actually at this game,” he continued, “It was a Tuesday and I had called in sick to work. You see, calling in sick on a Monday looks too suspicious, but on a Tuesday, everyone believes you really are sick.”
“Anyways, we get to the game. We find our seats. The weather is gorgeous. Perfect day for a baseball game.”
“So, it starts out as one of the most boring games I’ve ever seen. There was no score into the 9th inning. The game went into extra innings and nothing notable happened until the 11th.”
“Hmm,” I said, “That does sound pretty boring.”
“That’s when the weird stuff started happening.” Dad slid a pad of paper across the coffee table and picked up a pencil. He drew an arc with his pencil and started writing some kind of algebraic equation.
“You see, this is the equation that dictates how a baseball should fly. This is basic high school physics.”
Dad talked about physics a lot. It was one of the courses he had to take for his demolition job.
“So, it’s like this. We’re basically talking about the equation of a parabola here. We need to take into account the exit angle of the baseball, and the velocity. There are some negligible factors we can ignore, atmospheric pressure and wind.”
He was losing me, but I tried my best to keep up.
“We consider the horizontal velocity and vertical velocity. Two vectors. The vertical component of the velocity will be counteracted by the force of gravity. That is equivalent to minus nine point eight metres per second squared…”
“Dad, what does this have to do with the game?” I asked.
“Well, son, it has everything to do with this game. Or maybe I should say it has nothing to do with it.”
“What do you mean?”
“In that inning, three batters in a row hit what should have been a home run, but in all three cases, when the ball hit the vertex of the parabola, it just collapsed.”
“What do you mean, collapsed?”
“Lost momentum. Fell straight down. Broke the laws of physics that I just drew on this piece of paper.”
Now I was engaged. I leaned closer to show my interest. My Dad continued.
“The coach didn’t know what to do. The top of his batting order had literally just been demolished, so he put in a rookie pinch hitter.”
“This guy was a nobody. Can’t even remember his name. He had only taken batting practice once in his life. In the minor leagues. His coach in the minors said he couldn’t even hit the side of a barn. I don’t even know why they called him up.”
“Now back in those days, there was this little teeny-tiny target up in the outfield. Fourth deck. So far up there you could barely see it. It wasn’t quite a circle, it was some other kind of polygon shape. The deal always was if you could hit a ball through the hole in the middle, the commissioner of baseball would give the league the rest of the week off.”
“Anyways, by some obscene miracle, Joe Blow, who has never hit a baseball in his life, cranks the hell outta that ball. He threads the needle perfectly and the ball goes right through the target. Unbelievable.”
“Wow,” I said, “Did the commissioner give the players the week off like he promised?”
“I’m getting there, son. Now, at this point the coach was so impressed with the rookie batter, he decided to try it again. He pulled another nobody off the bench who had never swung a bat in his life.”
“The fans were going nuts. No one had ever seen a game like this. Some of the fans near home plate were getting rowdy and they were banging their fists against the infield wall.”
“The next pitch came in. The rookie took a swing like I have never seen before in my life.”
“And…?” I asked.
Just then my mom came into the room.
“Dear, you’re going to be late for work. Junior, can you give your Dad a lift to the airport?”
I got up off the couch. My Dad put down his coffee cup and we started walking to the garage.
“So, what happened with the rookie? Did he get a hit?” I had to hear the ending.
“Well, just as he was taking his swing, the fans who were banging on the wall, ran onto the field. It totally blew his concentration. The hitter spiked the ball into the ground.”
“Was it fair, or foul?”
“No one knows. It just disappeared into the clay.”
Dad and I got into the car. I started the engine, opened the garage door, and we drove.
I was trying to do the baseball math on my Dad’s story. Nothing about that game was adding up. If it was the bottom of the eleventh, they should have walked off after the rookie batter homered. If it was the top of the inning, then what happened to the players whose pop flies fizzled? Were they called out? Did any runs score? I had so many more questions about that game.
“You probably have a lot of questions about that game, son,” my Dad said as if he could read my mind.
“That’s an understatement,” I said.
“That’s good, son. Asking questions is good. Hey, do you know what the funniest part of that day was?”
“You know my boss, Larry? He saw me on television that day. At the game.”
“How come he didn’t fire you for calling in sick?”
“Well, the truth is I wasn’t the only person to call in sick that day. And in addition to that, there were a lot of changes going on in the way our industry was doing things at that time. I found out later Larry kept me on the crew because I was the only one with a pilot’s license.”
It has been years since my Dad told me the story about that baseball game. Although my Dad’s account does not concur with the documentary I watched FOX Sports, I still believe him. He was there. He saw it with his own two eyes.
Believe your eyes.