Thursday, October 6, 2011

this week's column, about Bartman and tears

This week's column from the St. Clair Times takes a very strange turn: starting out being about crying fits, and ending with the story of Steve Bartman. You figure it out. As always, feel free to complain here, or by finding me on Twitter.
Fan’s infamous pain still brings tears to the eyes

I find I’m crying a lot more these days. Probably because of the fact that my head is constantly stopped up.

Thing is, it’s not always over things that seem worth the effort. It’s one thing to cry during the finale of “Les Miserables” — at least, until I flipped out and started threatening the girl two seats down from me who wouldn’t stop checking her cell phone DURING THE SHOW WITH ALL THE LIGHTS IN THE BUILDING OUT — but quite another to cry over an ESPN documentary.

Last week, the Worldwide Leader premiered a new documentary entitled “Catching Hell,” which centered around poor Steve Bartman, the fan who had the misfortune of sitting on the front row the night someone in the Great Beyond decided to toy with the emotions of Chicago Cubs fans.

In case you forgot, here’s the basic story: The Cubs, were leading the Florida Marlins 3-0 in the top of the eighth inning of Game 6 of the National League Championship Series, and were up 3-2 in the series overall. They were five outs away from advancing to the World Series for the first time since 1945. Wrigley Field, one of America’s last real authentic sports venues, was in the midst of a celebration.

Then, with a runner on second base, Marlins second baseman Luis Castillo hit a fly ball that sliced away from the left field line. Cubs left fielder Moises Alou ran toward the bleachers, intent on catching the ball. He leapt up, his glove reaching into the stands.

He never caught it, though — a group of fans in the area where the ball was landing came between his glove and the ball. The baseball smacked off the hands of Bartman, a Little League coach on the front row, and rolled away to another guy sitting two seats away.

It’s important to note a couple things at this point: Just about every fan in the section reached for the ball; it was in the stands, where fans have as much right to the ball as a fielder; it’s unclear whether Alou would’ve caught it under any circumstances.

In any case, the ball wasn’t caught. Castillo drew a walk. And the Marlins poured it on.

By the time the inning ended, Florida led 8-3. They won the game, then won the series the following night in front of a deflated fan base.

Very few people remember that now. All they remember is poor Steve Bartman, sitting there (apparently alone, although the documentary points out that his two friends were sitting next to him) with his headphones on, undoubtedly listening to a radio feed describing what had just happened. Fans screamed and threw things at him; eventually he was escorted out by security.

The saddest part: Bartman didn’t seem fazed by the (unwarranted) anger of his fellow Cub fans. Mostly he seemed upset because he thought he’d cost his team a shot at the World Series. Fans who were seated near him even say he asked, “Did I do anything wrong?” like someone who’d accidentally struck a jaywalking pedestrian.

Of course, Bartman didn’t cost his team a thing. The Cubs lost because pitcher Mark Prior melted down, and because shortstop Alex Gonzalez dropped an easy double play, and because the team couldn’t rise to the occasion in Game 7.

The historical aftermath, of course, doesn’t remember any of that. All it remembers is a heartbroken Bartman, who faded into obscurity because he didn’t want to live in infamy as the guy who cost his favorite team the chance of a lifetime.

So yeah, I got a little choked up, revisiting that story. It happens, I guess.

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