Today is the 25th anniversary of one of the best days of my life up to this point. Of course, every Cub fan knows that June 23, 1984 was The Sandberg Game, but it also happened to be my twelfth birthday. My present that year was to go to the game on my birthday with my Dad.
I had moved to Western New York the previous summer, so I was down to seeing maybe one Cubs game per year, and June 23rd was my one game of the 1984 season.
When you are twelve years old, the innocence and naivety in which you a view a game is not something that can be duplicated later in life. Age and experience will cause you to learn that most things are not too good to be true, heroes are flawed, and cheering for the Cubs will inevitably bring pain and suffering. But at twelve, you believe in things. You are beyond optimism in your sureness that your heroes will reward your love.
I don't know how I would have viewed the events that transpired on that sunny day in June if I had been older. I may have been more pissed about Steve Trout getting hammered for seven runs in less than 2 innings. It may have struck home more with me that Willie McGee was absolutely tearing the Cubs apart all day. The entrance of Bruce Sutter, former Cub and dominant reliever might have filled me with more dread. I may have hated Lee Smith for giving up those two runs in the 10th after Sandberg had heroically brought the Cubs all the way back to tie it in the 9th.
I just don't know how I would have viewed those events if they happened today.
At that point, I don't think I realized that the Cubs were down 7-1 in the second inning. I knew they were behind, and I may have even known the exact score, but when you are twelve, a six-run lead doesn't matter as much to your psyche. You believe that the Cubs could come back, and they sure did. Sandberg was 3 for 4 with four RBIs as they fought back to make it 9-8 after the sixth inning, but that is the way the game stayed until the ninth inning.
I was old enough to have remembered when the Cubs traded Bruce Sutter for Leon Durham and Ken Reitz, so I knew how good Sutter was when he entered the game. I also knew that Ryne Sandberg was leading off the ninth inning. I believed that Ryne Sandberg could tie the game, even when the rest of the world may have only been wishing and hoping.
My dad and I were sitting down the third base line in the Upper Deck Box seats, probably right above the bullpen, so we had an excellent view of the trajectory of the ball hit by Sandberg in the ninth. We knew it was gone before it cleared the infield.
I watch the videos of that day and see the footage of the people in the stands going crazy, and I don't think it comes close to capturing the joy and bedlam in the stands as that ball hit the back rows of the bleachers.
This was a team that had SUCKED for the entirety of my baseball viewing life at that point. 1969 was but a mere fairy tale to me of days long past and glories all but forgotten. The 1984 team was the first team that had really exhibited any real signs of life and potential to me.
I believed in that team because I knew that Ron Cey, Larry Bowa, and Gary Matthews had played for World Series teams. These were guys whose baseball cards you actually wanted. Plus we had picked up another player whose name I knew only by baseball card collecting, but knew he was an excellent pitcher, Rick Sutcliffe. Harry Caray told me how great Jody Davis was, and the impending greatness of our new Daily Double, Dernier and Sandberg.
Cubs fans were seeing their hopes that the relatively new ownership of the Tribune would be restoring the Cubs to prominence in the National League. The weight of the blown 1969 season and one crap team after another since were starting to fall away as the city fell in love with the Cubs. The Sandberg homerun was supposed to be the moment when the Cubs would stand up to Whitey Herzog's Cardinals and shove them around for awhile.
But, the Cardinals would not go away easily and there was Wille McGee in the middle of a two run inning that seemed to sap away all of the joy within moments. The Cubs were reverting back to form.
The Cubs came to bat in the tenth and I realized that Sandberg was due up fourth in the inning. I began to believe that all the Cubs needed to do was get a runner on base so Sandberg could come to the plate again. I remember asking my dad if he thought that Sandberg could come through again. I don't remember his exact words, but it was something to the effect of, "Let's hope he gets a chance."
It didn't look good when Sutter retired the first two batters in rather easy fashion. But then, Bobby Dernier managed a walk to keep the game alive and bring Ryno to the plate.
There are so many times in any baseball fans life where you try to will a homerun from your hero. Baseball being a game of failure, you walk away from the vast majority of those times sorely disappointed. That day, I didn't know if I was being a fool for believing Sandberg could hit another game-tying homerun off of one of the pre-eminent closers in the National League, but I also didn't care. I was SURE he could do it.
I was not alone in my beliefs that day, as the crowd seemed to sense that something special was about to happen.
When I said before that Wrigley erupted into bedlam after the first homerun, the second homerun caused the stadium to almost convulse and be torn apart by the sheer volume of the sound that erupted as soon as the ball launched off of Ryno's bat.
I may eventually witness a Cubs World Series moment that will eclipse Sandberg's heroics that day, but nothing I have seen since comes close. I saw the Cubs beat the Brewers last year after being down 6-2 with two outs in the ninth. I saw Eric Karros launch a pinch homerun to take away Roger Clemen's 300th win. I was at the 1998 tie-breaker game. I saw the Cubs clinch the division last year. I've seen numerous epic battles with the White Sox, Brewers, and Cardinals.
I still get chills when I see replays of the Sandberg Game. I still can't believe I was there. Thanks, Dad.
Check out Chuck's post on Chuck-to-Chuck for a video of the 9th and 10th innings of the Sandberg Game.