Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2010
By Chuck Garfien
It goes by way too fast.
How else can you describe 25 years passing by, and yet the sights, sounds, and smells from that day remain so present you could swear it all happened last week?
I was reminded of this when I woke up today and thought of Aug. 4, 1985, a date which as I get older speeds further and further behind in my life.
For White Sox fans, it is known as the day Tom Seaver won his 300th game. But for me, its something more. Not just because I was there to watch the game in person, but because of the man who was sitting there beside me.
Maybe he is again.
In the summer of 1985, I had braces on my teeth and baseball on my mind 23 hours a day. The other hour was likely spent thinking about girls, which at the time was a puzzling exercise in teenage futility.
So I mainly stuck with baseball. Its what I knew best.
The Sox in 1985 were a team on its last fumes. Still clinging to the success of 1983 when they won 99 games and the AL West title, players like Britt Burns, Julio Cruz, Rudy Law, Ron Kittle and Tom Paciorek remained on the roster. Two years later, all of them, including manager Tony La Russa, would be gone.
Such inevitable roster moves were of no concern to me back then, especially when my mother made an announcement in the Garfien household, telling me that my grandfather wanted to take me to New York City to watch the White Sox play the Yankees. It was the kind of bulletin that if my life was a TV channel, you would see running in bright red letters at the bottom of the screen:
Breaking News: Garfien headed to NYC to watch White Sox.
My grandfathers name was Joe Garfien. But to me and his eight other grandchildren, he was simply Papa Joe, a man who came to America in 1926. Or was it 1927? He and his mother left behind their home in Austria. Or was it Poland? The geography in Europe kept changing back then. So did Papas year of birth. Details of such trivial facts remained blurred for decades.
But not Papa Joes early memories of watching sports in Chicago.
He saw the great Babe Ruth play at Comiskey Park. He saw Carl Hubbell pitch at Wrigley Field. Name the athlete (Red Grange) or historical figure (Al Capone), Papa Joe saw them live and in the flesh. Now, we were both embarking on a journey together, sharing memories of our own on a special weekend between grandfather and grandson, and our common love for baseball.
Back in July when the trip was planned, we got two tickets for two games: Aug. 3 and Aug. 4. As the weekend drew closer, we became the beneficiaries of an extraordinary coincidence: Tom Seaver, the White Sox 40-year-old pitcher was in line to start on Sunday, Aug. 4, in search of his 300th career victory.
In Chicago, this was a big deal. But in New York, where the former Mets legend would try to make history inside enemy territory, Yankee Stadium, it was even bigger.
You got a sense of the enormity of the event during the Saturday game when a rabid Mets fan hung a massive 50-foot sign over the first-base upper-deck railing that said three simple words:
Tom is God.
Yankees fans were furious. You could hear their displeasure in the profanity-laced tirades that were coming from all angles around us.
But those jeers would soon be replaced with cheers. Don Mattingly, Ron Hassey and future Sox slugger Dan Pasqua all went deep off White Sox starter Bill Long (remember him? I dont). The Sox got pounded 8-4.
Papa Joe and I went back to our hotel disappointed, but looked forward to the Seaver game on Sunday, as well as the festivities planned for Saturday night.
On the plane ride to New York, my grandfather raved about us seeing the Rockettes, the famous dance company known for their sky-high leg kicks that could poke an eye out. But when we arrived at Radio City Music Hall for their show, something wasnt right.
Little kids were everywhere. Were talking 5- and 6-year-olds overdosed on candy, running through the aisles as if they were nervously awaiting the arrival of Big Bird and Kermit the Frog.
Suddenly, the curtain rose, and there they were: the Rockettes! They danced and kicked in perfect unison, much to Papa Joes delight. For five solid minutes they owned the place ... until they exited the stage, and never came back.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the Rockettes!
It turns out Papas favorite dancers were just the opening act. What everyone came to see that night was something different.
A two-hour Disney cartoon.
I think it was Bambi. I frankly dont remember. My grandfather was asleep by the opening credits. I was out soon after that.
But Sunday, as we headed back to Yankee Stadium for the Seaver game, we were wide awake. Our tickets were in the upper deck on the first-base side, close to where that Mets fan declared his religious love for Tom the day before.
Seaver might have been 40 years old at the time, but that season he was pitching in his prime. He came into the game with an 11-8 record and an ERA under 3.00. And from the very beginning, you knew this was going to be Seavers day, which just so happened to be Phil Rizzuto Day at Yankee Stadium.
So much for that.
Other than an RBI single by Ken Griffey Sr., the Yankees couldnt touch Seaver. At one point, the future Hall of Famer retired 10 batters in a row. The Yankees managed six hits for the game. All singles.
Seaver went the distance, striking out seven, ending the game with a Don Baylor fly-out to Reid Nichols in left.
Win No. 300 was his. This incredible moment between my grandfather and I was ours.
As you get older, you learn that life is rarely that perfect.
Papa Joe would live another 20 years. He passed away in May 2005, missing the White Sox winning the World Series by five months.
Somewhere in the Comcast SportsNet library lives a tape of the Seaver game. Somewhere in my mind lives the memories of a grandfather who always wanted the best for his grandson. I was lucky to have him.
Chuck Garfien hosts White Sox Pregame and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet with former Sox slugger Bill Melton. Follow Chuck @ChuckGarfien on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Sox news and views.