It was a cool October night in 1992. I was just a 12 year old kid sitting in my living room and watching television with my dad, and even though I didn't know it at the time, I was falling in love with the game of baseball.
The game on the television screen was Game 7 of the NLCS. The Pirates had a 2-0 lead going into the bottom of the 9th inning, and it looked like the Pirates were going to seal the deal and advance to the World Series. The Braves weren't ready to say die, however, and managed to score their first run and load the bases against Pirates' starter Doug Drabek (who, in my humble opinion, should have never pitched the 9th inning). Pirates manager Jim Leyland brought in Stan Belinda to pitch, and after getting Brian Hunter to pop out, the Braves were down to their final out.
With the bases loaded and 2 outs, Braves manager Bobby Cox sent little-used Francisco Cabrera to the plate to pinch hit. "How little-used?", you might ask...well, this was his 11th at bat of the season (he was called up the majors in August of that year). Needless to say it was the most important at-bat of his career.
Before I finish the Cabrera at-bat I must set the stage for you. The runner at 3rd was David Justice, and the runner at 2nd was Sid Bream. Now, you may not be familiar with Braves baseball players from the early 90's, but Sid Bream is possibly the slowest person to ever play the game of baseball. I mean, the dude couldn't outrun molasses in Antarctica. He was that slow. Now, back to the story...
Belinda threw two balls out of the strike zone to Cabrera, and then Cabrera laced a ball foul into the seats. With a 2-1 count and the two most important base runners of the Braves season on 2nd and 3rd (the runner at 1st was irrelevant), Francisco Cabrera took the 2-1 pitch and punched it into left field to score Justice, and somehow - Sid Bream scored as well to seal the victory and advance the Braves to their 2nd consecutive World Series.
(Fun fact: the left fielder for the Pirates who was unable to throw out the slowest person to ever play baseball was our good friend Barry Bonds. Perhaps his failure to throw out Bream is the reason he started taking steroids.)
While this seems exciting without any dramatic play-by-play calls and what-not, the moment was even more memorable because of Skip Caray. Caray was the Braves play-by-play man who was calling this game for the Braves Radio Network. Now, for some reason I remember hearing Skip call this game, even though Sean McDonough was the play-by-play man for the national tv broadcast. Maybe I've just heard Skip's call so many times throughout my life that I'm remembering something that didn't actually happen, but for some reason I remember hearing Skip call the Cabrera play that won the game for Atlanta. Either way, that moment in Braves history is the reason I fell in love with the game of baseball as a 12 year old kid, and it's the reason I'm a Braves fan - and baseball fan - today, 20 years after that event sparked my love for the game.
Anyway, back to Skip Caray. To Braves fans, he was "our guy". He made us want to tune into the game. Even if the Braves were losing 9-0 in the 3rd inning, we wanted to keep watching because we never knew what he was going to say or do on the air. He was our Vin Scully, Ernie Harwell, Harry Kalas, and Jack Buck. He was Braves baseball, through and through; and he's directly responsible for some of the greatest memories of my childhood as I watched the Braves play every night on TBS.
I'm sure by now you're wondering why I'm talking about Skip Caray when I could be talking about other things, notably the NFL Hall of Fame ceremony and the first game of the Pre-Season. Well, I would be talking about those things, but this past Saturday was the 4 year anniversary of Skip's untimely death and I felt the need to remember the times where he made me one of the happiest kids on the face of the earth by giving me constant entertainment during those long hot summers of my childhood.
I can't help but think of how fragile this crazy thing called life is, and I can't help but look back and realize just how much of an impact Skip Caray had on my life when he graced my living room for all those years. I've missed him every time I've turned on the tv to watch the Braves since he passed away, and even though his son Chip now graces the play-by-play booth for the Braves; it's just not the same. While Skip Caray is no longer with us, my love for baseball presses on, and it's because of him that I'm the huge fan of the game I am today.
And, in case you were curious, you can watch the video below to hear the call by Skip that is directly responsible for my love of the game. Note: if Bud Selig weren't a dick hole, you would be able to watch the play happen. Instead, you get to watch a picture slideshow.
That's all I've got this week. If you have any thoughts you'd like to share - perhaps thoughts of when you became such a huge fan of your favorite sport - please share them in the comments.
Until next Monday...