The Bucky Dent Game

Aquarian Weekly 10/1/01 REALITY CHECK


The week these words hit the newsstands it will be the eve of the twenty-fifth anniversary of what has now come to be known in the circle of baseball freaks as the “Bucky Dent Game”. It was 10/2/78, and I had just turned sixteen. I was a rabid fan of the New York Yankees. Insanely so. I have not been a fan of anything, save for sex and money, since. Realizing that now puts a perspective on the little absurdities of life and how the human capacity for memory maximizes the details of their impact, regardless of peripheral import.

And that is what is great about sports, really. Not all that other stuff you read and hear about like heroics or riches or drama or bloodletting. It’s about being a kid and remembering exactly where you were sitting and what – at the precise moment of a life filled with zillions of moments – you were thinking at 6:11 pm or thereabouts on the second day of October a quarter of a century ago. Sports has a way of crystallizing life, freezing it, making snapshots of otherwise lonely, boring fall afternoons.

In all corners of New England he would no longer be Russell, Earl or Bucky, but the infamous, Bucky “fucking” Dent. Another of the Bambino’s imps from Hades sent to torture the bastion of the Lord.

But this isn’t really a commentary on baseball or memory, but on the strange things which make up the minutest actualities of our lives, good or ill, and what chooses to remain in that eight percent of gray matter housed inside our skulls. Rattled every once in a blue moon by music or scents or a name from the bygone days or maybe a book or a film or a teacher or a lover that changed your world.

I spend a great deal of space in this column every week or so poking fun at things people claim they care about like social issues and world politics and national spats and whatever the hell the supposed intelligentsia or monosyllabic radio callers masturbate about incessantly. But it all comes and goes, and is most likely to run through our eight percent to reprocess any way we’d like anyway. So what’s the point?

Still, making the monumental personal is as old as dirt, but it isn’t any better than turning the seemingly inconsequential into seminal moments of elation. It’s what F. Scott Fitzgerald called the “high white note”. Everyone has them. Think about yours, right now; some ancillary event that attached itself to you for some odd reason and would not let go. Ever.

I had one on October 2, 1978.

Watching a baseball game might not always fit into that category, but sometimes it does. A bike ride. A sunset. An aria. A swim. A smile. Kids. Girls. Debates. Great paragraphs from people who know how to formulate them.

I can close my eyes and relive the feeling of that Monday afternoon way back then. The Yankees were 14 games behind the Boston Red Sox in July. Two months later they were three games ahead. One week later they were in a dead heat. Ninety-nine wins each. Both teams met on the ancient Beantown stage in the autumnal shadows of Fenway Park to decide six months of a season and sixty years of curse and rancor.

I had nothing to do with much of it. I had only been on the planet less than two decades, spent one decade living in an apartment ten minutes from Yankee Stadium, and for some reason I saw enough reason to attach some part of my psyche, my hopes, and my breathless sense of being to a baseball game. During it, the damn thing seemed almost apocalyptic, a madness borne of these moments that stick, despite their otherwise innocuousness.

Innocuousness for a sixteen year-old kid sitting in his living room in Freehold, NJ, but not for one, Russell Earl “Bucky” Dent, whose life changed that day. He was a light hitting poster-boy shortstop who had nearly quit the game a year earlier in a fit of frustrated anger, the kind young men sometimes wrestle with.

In the seventh inning, with 162 games and sixty years on the line, Mr. Dent hit his third or fourth home run of the 1978 season barely clearing a mythical thirty-seven foot monolith called the Green Monster to erase a two-run deficit and allow the Yankees to win the game 5-4. In all corners of New England he would no longer be Russell, Earl or Bucky, but the infamous, Bucky “fucking” Dent. Another of the Bambino’s imps from Hades sent to torture the bastion of the Lord.

Hold it. I’m there right now.

Suffice to say, I tried putting these thoughts about satellite emotions attached to sporting events into what was to be my first book about six times in fifteen years. I talked to nearly everyone living who played on both teams, and have had drinks with at least ten people who were in the place that day. I’d dissected the tar out of it, and it was a labor of love for a while, but alas, for millions of reasons, I never finished that book. Since, three others sort of got in the way.

A veteran of the business, and arguably the finest sportswriter this country has produced, helped and inspired me to finish that damn thing. His name is Roger Kahn, who wrote the quintessential baseball book called “The Boys of Summer” when I was nine or ten years old. I read it in the fateful summer of 1978. In the early 90s’ he became a friend and a mentor, while I was making my way around major league parks as a professional. I even ran into him during one of the World Series I covered, and felt I’d let him down somehow.

Well, this past summer Roger picked me up and released his gazillionth book called “October Men” about the game and the summer and that magical autumn late afternoon. His publisher sent me a copy. I read it twice. It is more than I could have done, naturally, and I’m happy for it. The story is deeper than I can go here, but Roger more than managed to hit its “high white note” with a sting worthy of an aging wordsmith viper.

I’ve covered elections, sporting events, wrote songs and poetry and ran madly and strongly with jewel friends and passing ghosts and fell in love with the coolest woman on the planet. I have wrestled with the big boys and toiled in the back alleys, and no matter where I may be at any point, I still recall this “high white note”.

So, on this anniversary of small miracles and stolen moments, close those peepers and gather up yours.

Be my guest.

Otherwise, what’s the point?

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