Photography by Jeff Curry.
The official story is that on Friday night, the St. Louis Cardinals won their National League Division Series against the Washington Nationals by pulling off a seemingly impossible ninth-inning, two-out victory. Down by six in the third, they crawled back run by run and then exploded for four in what ought to have been their season-ending ninth-inning at-bats. Final score, 9-7. But the version I love happened in Hillsborough, North Carolina, and it’s in the present tense.
My dad is visiting from St. Louis this weekend. My three kids, Elijah (14), Natalie (13), and Amelia (10) are also staying with me (post-divorce; it’s one of my weekends). I live in a 650-square-foot duplex, no TV, just a functioning kitchen, a living room dominated by a bunk-futon and hundreds of books, and a bedroom with a second bunk. No yard, no outdoor area, except a wooden stoop about fifteen feet from the street. Tight quarters, no complaints.
So Dad’s here and wants to watch game five of the NLDS—expects to, really. Our team is in it. He’s been a fan of the Cardinals since the 1950s, took me to the ’82 World Series, etc. Many of our Belz clan, but for a few dissenters, are longtime members of Cardinal Nation, both on- and off-season—we hold hot stove discussions via email. So it’s 2012, the deciding game of the Division Series, and I don’t have a TV. Plus, the kids and I are committed to helping out at church from 5 to 8:30 p.m. (eastern) anyway, so everything just feels tight and impossible. I tell Dad, wait here till we get back from church; we’ll figure something out.
When I get home it’s after 8:30 and the game’s already a half-inning in. The Cards have gone down 1-2-3 to the Nationals’ ace starter, Gio Gonzalez. I give Dad my van keys and suggest he take Elijah down to the Wooden Nickel Pub so they can watch. They leave. The girls and I hunker down in the living room, with my iPhone on the coffee table playing the game audio on MLB At-Bat. It’s the St. Louis broadcast, KMOX radio (1120 on the AM dial), barely squeaking through the phone’s little speakers, Mike Shannon and John Rooney calling the game as, quickly, the Cardinals sink into a six-to-nothing hole.
By the third inning, the girls notice that I’m pacing around a lot, as far as I can walk in this tiny place that they have referred to as “the glorified bike shed.” I call it “the tugboat.” It’s more like sailor’s quarters than a home. We’ve grown fond of it.
But the game is what’s important. The Cards come back for one run of their own, and we hear the van tires grumbling across the gravel outside the living room window. The boys have basically given up. So now we’re all here, half-listening to the game, half-milling around doing stuff. Dad’s checking his email. I’m on Twitter. My iPhone is always somewhere playing the voices of Shannon and Rooney at low volume.
At one point, Dad decides to go out to the front stoop, sit in its lone chair, and smoke a cigar. I follow him out with my iPhone, position it so we can both hear the broadcast, and sit on the steps. Elijah comes out a few minutes later—his tall, lanky, teenage form—and stands listening. Then Natalie comes out and plunks down cross-legged in the middle of the stoop. The Cards score a couple more runs, making it 6-3. Dad taps his cigar over the railing and says, “This really reminds me of Iowa. We used to tune in to KMOX late at night and listen to Jack Buck and Harry Caray.” He adds, “Shannon sounds tired. Not as excited as he used to. He’s getting old.”
The Cards pull within a run, 6-5, in the top of the eighth. There’s hope! It’s midnight, but we’re still listening to the iPhone, now having retreated from the chilly night into the living room. In the bottom of the eighth, with the Cards’ fireballing closer Jason Motte on the mound, the Nationals add a run, making the score 7-5.
Dad goes to bed. I go take my meds and put on my pajamas, brush my teeth. This thing seems dead now, with Nationals closer Drew Storen (2.37 ERA, 0.99 WHIP) coming to the mound in the top of the ninth. He’d handled us easily the night before, when we lost 2-1, and we assumed he could hold a two-run lead, even with the heart of the Cardinals order coming to bat.
As the eighth inning ends, I go to bed too. All the lights are out, my iPhone finally off. Elijah goes to bed but keeps his phone on, and I hear a whisper from the other room: “Grandpa, Beltrán just hit a double.” I turn my phone back on and launch the MLB At Bat app. “What are you doing, dad?” says sleepy Amelia, lying in a sleeping bag beside me. “Shh, baby,” I answer, “just three more outs. Go to sleep.”
I can’t even remember the passage of time—or anything at all—before the Cards’ scrappy second baseman, Daniel Descalso, a hero of the 2011 World Series, drives in two runs to improbably even the score at seven apiece. I yell out, “TIE GAME!!” Dad’s muffled voice from the other room, “They tied it??” Elijah and Dad appear in the living room, where Natalie and Amelia and I had been falling asleep in the darkness. I put my iPhone back in the center of the coffee table and we listen as Pete Kozma, rookie shortstop, drives in two more runs, giving the Cardinals a two-run advantage.
We’re giddy. It’s confusing in the darkness. Natalie’s hand shows up from the top bunk: “Gimme five, Dad!” I do. Jason Motte comes back out, now completely locked in, and quickly draws a fly ball, a strikeout, and a pop. Game over. We go to bed dazed, too tired to celebrate.
No conclusion to this, really. The Cardinals might lose to the Giants in the NLCS. Tomorrow’s another day. But what a night. If anything will stick with me it’s that Elijah, inveterately hopeful kid that he is, after everyone else had basically given up, kept his phone on and reported Beltrán’s double to my half-asleep dad. Need that boy to wake me up sometimes. I’m thankful for him.