Baseball, Dad, Son and the 2016 World Series
The 2016 World Series is now in the books, both the box score archives of Major League Baseball and the historical record books. As a dad I learned an important life lesson. The lesson was taught to me by my son, Coley Harvey. This lesson adds more meaning to the 2016 World Series to me, than it could possibly add to the average Cub or Indian fan’s appreciation for the history that was made this week.
With that said, the play of the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians in American Baseball’s World Series this year was full of memories; and not just memories of the play on the field.
For me this has to be the most memorable World Series I have had the pleasure of witnessing. I’ve seen most of them since the mid 1950s. I missed a few in the mid 1970s as I lamented the fact that a career in major league baseball was likely not in my future. Other than that brief period, I have been glued to the television set in October and lately into November to see the crowning of the undisputed champions of baseball.
During the 1996 World Series, I actually sat above the third base dugout in the now demolished Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. Somewhere,I still have my ticket stub and box score of game four played between my hometown team the Atlanta Braves and my favorite team during childhood, the New York Yankees.
Attending a World Series game was a dream come true. I first dreamed of attending baseball’s season finale in 1955 when I sat at the feet of my granddad, Charlie Harvey, a Middle Georgia farmer, who had taken time away from the chores of farm life to escape into the world of baseball for a couple of hours. We watched the 1955 World Series on a black and white television set. My granddad sat in his favorite rocking chair, a gift from his brother-in-law Joseph, who had hand-woven it for him.
While we watched the game, my grandmother, Puella Harvey, caught a couple of chickens from the yard, and fried them to a golden crisp. She served the chicken with collard greens, piping hot cornbread, fried okra, sweet southern ice tea and some teacakes.
Other men in the Crawford County, Georgia community, some of whom my grandad hired to help him harvest various crops, dropped by to watch the World Series on one of the few television sets in a Negro household in the area in the mid 1950s.
The men would share stories about the baseball players they had seen, like Jackie Robinson, Satchel Page, Monte Irvin, Josh Gibson or Roy Campanella; but usually, they would start their story with the caveat, “I heard that so and so could out run a baseball…”
I learned a great deal about baseball folklore and a few tips on how the game should be played from listening to these men gathered around that tiny black and white television set.
Through baseball, I bonded with granddad. He taught me how to catch hard hit ground balls, how to anticipate where the batter would likely hit the ball based on the position of his feet, his hands and his body language as he approached home plate. One college baseball teammate once said of me as a college player, “We didn’t know how good Harvey really was, because he made everything look easy.”
I played that way because Charlie Harvey drilled into me that when a player makes a spectacular play it is only because he was out of position. “Anticipate where the ball is going to be hit and be in that spot before the pitcher pitches the ball,” he would exhort.
The 1996 World Series, in addition to being the first time I had attended a World Series, gave me an opportunity to bond with Coley. I had been given two tickets to the game by my friend, the late Gary Holmes, an Atlanta lobbyist, who always made sure I had the hottest concert, basketball or baseball tickets in town.
I took my son to the game. He had school the following morning, but I thought the experience would be worth it in the long run, even if he was too sleepy to attend school the next day.
A Braves victory in game four would have put the Braves up three games to one with one more game to play in Atlanta. Game five was slated to be the last game ever played in Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.
The next year, courtesy of the ’96 Olympic Games, the Braves would move into Turner Field. At the start of game four, former Atlanta Braves players walked out onto the field for the last time wearing their uniforms.
The last former Braves’ player to walk onto the field was Hall of Famer Henry Aaron. He was dressed in a nice suit and not wearing his familiar jersey bearing the number 44. Had he done so, he would have brought the house down.
The Braves lost game four in ten innings 8-6. However, the memorable and teachable moment came in the bottom of the second inning. The inning started with the game tied 0-0.
Fred McGriff led the second inning off with a home run. Javier Lopez and Andruw Jones drew walks. Jermaine Dye hit a fly ball to right field. Lopez tagged up and raced to third base. Jeff Blauser beat out a bunt down the first base line. Lopez scored and Andruw Jones moved to second base.
With one out, the Braves were on the verge of blowing the game wide open in the second inning. Braves starting pitcher Dennis Neagle sauntered to the plate. The Yankee infield called time out and gathered around the mound. They did not want the game to get out of hand.
Perhaps, everyone in the ball park, except probably me, thought the Yankees were stalling for time to get a pitcher warmed up so early in the game. The home plate umpire broke up their discussion, then Yankee manager, Joe Torre walked out to the mound.
As Torre walked towards the mound, I took a peek into the Yankee bullpen and discovered that they did not have a pitcher warming up.
I nudged Coley and said “they are out there setting up a play, keep your eyes open.” While Torre met with his infielders and pitcher, Neagle stood at home plate.
It did not appear that he had received any additional instructions from his coaching staff. When play resumed, Neagle laid down a bunt on the third base side. The Yankees, as it turned out, were not discussing whether it was time to replace Kenny Rogers on the mound, they were setting up the wheel play.
Charlie Hayes charged in from his third base position, Derek Jeter moved from his shortstop post over to cover third base and Mariano Duncan moved over to cover first base.
Hayes fielded the ball almost the split second it left Neagle’s bat. He fired a strike to first base and nailed Neagle for the second out. The runners moved up to third and second.
However, I believe that had Neagle bunted the ball to the right side of the infield, he would have been safe. I believe if Braves Manager Bobby Cox had gone over this situation with Neagle before he bunted the ball to third base, they could have had the bases loaded with only one out.
This is important because Marquis Grissom followed Neagle’s out with a double to center, which drove in two runs. Mark Lemke ended the inning by grounding out to Jeter. What began as a promising second inning for the Braves ended with only four runs scored. The Braves would need those runs they did not get by extending the inning with a successful at bat by Neagle before the night was over.
In the top of the eighth, catcher Jim Leyritz hit his infamous shot into the left center field bleachers knotting the game at 6-6. It stayed tied until the Yankees scored two runs in the 10th inning. The Braves went quietly in the bottom half of the inning. The Yankees had come to Atlanta and tied the series two games apiece.
The next night, New York went on to win the last game ever played in Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. After the series moved back to Yankee Stadium for game six, they won their first World Series Championship since 1978. That was the year of Reggie Jackson’s record setting, three pitches, three swings and three homers to win that series against the Dodgers and to earn him the nickname of “Mr. October.”
The lesson life lesson I imparted to Coley on that night, was to pay attention to your surroundings, as your adversary reveals as much about their intentions by what they are not doing as they do by the actions they take. Also, you can never get enough runs in a sporting event, or enough money, or job offers. In short never leave runs on the bases or money on the table. Don’t let up until the adversary proves they are up for the challenge. Keep trying until you have exhausted all options.
I have often said, most of the great feel good moments in my life have occurred on a baseball diamond. The exception being the day I got married, the day I passed the Georgia Bar and the day my son was born.
But this year, unlike any other fall classic, the World Series created the best lasting memories I have ever had. This year Coley returned the favor and treated me to game seven. It was the most exciting game seven in the annals of World Series play.
In doing so, he reminded me of the life lesson on perseverance that I had taught him many years ago. It all came about when the Chicago Cubs tied the series at three games apiece on Tuesday, November 1. Coley called and invited me to share the experience of game seven with him in Cleveland.
Hastily, we managed to get a stand-by airline ticket to Cleveland, Ohio after a change of planes in Baltimore, Maryland.
As fate would have it, in Baltimore, I was bumped from my flight to Cleveland by a revenue generating passenger who had secured a ticket to the game overnight.
I was about to throw the towel in and head back home on the next flight out of Baltimore to Atlanta. Then Coley said, “Don’t turn around. You started out to attend game seven of the World Series, come on. Don’t stop now. See if you can get a flight to Pittsburgh, rent a car and drive to Cleveland.”
I checked with reservations, they had a flight leaving Baltimore for Pittsburgh at 3:30. The flight would arrive at 4:30. I called my childhood friend, J. T. Thomas, former cornerback for the Pittsburgh Steelers and asked him how long it would take to drive from Pittsburgh to Cleveland. “It’s a good two-hour drive,” he said.
I booked the flight and called ahead for a rental car.
The game was scheduled to start at 8:08 pm. I checked into my hotel in Cleveland around 7:30 pm. I freshened up and walked four blocks to the plaza at Progressive Field.
Coley met me at the Bob Feller statue with a broad grin and bear hug. He was happy to witness this historical game with the man who had introduced him to baseball. He handed me a scorecard because he knew I like to keep score of the games that I attend in person. I was too excited to keep score on this night. I feigned it for a couple of batters; then gave up trying to record the history that was being made that night. I stayed in the moment and let the history enfold me.
We walked around the plaza for a couple of innings taking in the flavor of the crowd. I was overjoyed to see people stop Coley and tell him what a good job he was doing covering sports for ESPN. One pastor from California who flew in for the game, told Coley how proud he was to see him report the news. He told Coley that he was a role model to the young men in his church. Several Cubs and Indian fans asked to take pictures with him.
A few stopped me to shake my hand, surely they thought I had to be some celebrity being followed around by an ESPN reporter. Coley had to be walking on cloud nine because I was about to leave the stratosphere as I soaked up the excitement surrounding game seven.
We walked over to the ESPN bus, where I watched this historic game on the big screen television with ESPN Baseball Analyst Tim Kurkjian and a host of Sportscenter celebs.
Kurkjian as knowledgeable about baseball as anyone I have ever met, had learned the nuance of baseball from his dad like Coley had learned from dad; and like I had learned from my granddad.
Had Coley not remained me of a life lesson I taught him about never giving up back in the 1990s, I would have missed this historic night. I would have missed the Cubs reversing the curse after 108 years, the most exciting seventh game ever played in World Series history and an opportunity to share another great moment in the life and times of baseball, and in the life of a dad and a son.
Harold Michael Harvey is an American novelist and essayist, the author of Paper puzzle and Justice in the Round; and the host of Beyond the Law with Harold Michael Harvey. He can be contacted at haroldmichaelharvey.com.