Ghosts of Game Times Past: All-Star Manny Machado
…Continued from the previous post.
Ordinarily, I might have chalked up Mo Martin’s win at the Women’s British Open to being one of those inexplicable, yet wonderfully inspirational stories that make sports the ultimate reality show. After all, other than the great memories it brought up, her victory really had nothing to do with me. But then, just two weeks later, the ghosts of Game Times past got personal, causing me to commit the cardinal sin of baseball fandom: I doomed my team to failure, simply by envisioning exactly how it would take place.
It’s been 12 years since my favorite team, the Anaheim Angels (sorry, but they will simply never be the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to me) won the World Series in their one and only appearance in the October Classic. In nearly every spring that followed, they’ve looked poised to win it again. In fact, sometimes they’ve appeared very nearly unbeatable—on paper. But then they play the season and invariably disappoint.
This year I wasn’t falling for it. My spring training expectation levels were at a nadir not seen since…well, since that magical 2002 campaign. Which is why this season has been one big, satisfying joyride. Heading into the final third of the schedule, the Angels had not only performed like a playoff team, they’d actually become a delight to watch as they gelled into a fun-loving, cohesive unit right before my eyes. Truth be told, I have a hard time remembering the last time I’ve felt it necessary to yell at my television during a Halos game.
Yes, I’d gotten cocky. So much so that in the 12th inning of a game in Baltimore, I pulled the rookie-est of all fan moves. With the Orioles’ Manny Machado at the plate I said—out loud, mind you—“Wouldn’t it be ironic if Machado hits one out?”
Two pitches later, he did just that. Walk-off home run. Drive home safely. And it was all my fault.
But hear me out! I do have a viable excuse to offer.
Travel with me back to a picture-perfect autumn Sunday in 2010, smack in the middle of the “It’s Game Time Somewhere” Tour. I was luxuriating in the grandstand at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen, Maryland, watching the homestanding Aberdeen IronBirds close out the baseball season against the Connecticut Tigers. This was a NY-Penn League game, pitting two Class A minor-league teams against each other in a game that meant virtually nothing. But the stands were full, and nobody was in a hurry to go home—least of all the two teams. Tied 4–4 after nine innings, they played into the 10th… and the 11th… and the 12th. In the top of the 13th inning, Connecticut scored two runs, and fans began trickling toward the exits. But I chose to hang around because it had become a gorgeous evening, and…because I had no other specific place I had to be.
The first two IronBird batters in the bottom of the 13th struck out, prompting even me to start collecting my belongings. I paused, though, as the next batter was hit by a pitch and trotted down to first base. Then, a lengthy at-bat resulted in a bloop single to right. Still alive. Up to the plate came a kid that the Baltimore Orioles had drafted out of a Miami high school just a couple of months prior and assigned to Aberdeen—three levels below the Bigs. I’d noticed him earlier in the game, when it jumped out at me that this was a man, albeit a very young man, playing against boys. Sure enough, he hammered out a triple, implausibly tying up the game once again. But not for long. The next batter singled to left field, and after 13 innings and nearly four hours of season-prolonging baseball, the IronBirds celebrated a walk-off victory as if it’d been Game Seven of the World Series.
The kid that tripled to tie the game and then scored the winning run? Guy by the name of Manny Machado. Here’s the picture to prove it.
It didn’t surprise me at all when, less than two years later, the Orioles brought Machado all the way up to the majors, where in just his second game he hit two home runs. The next year he was an All-Star third baseman and Platinum Gold Glove winner. So, given recent events, with the game on the line against my Angels and Machado coming to the plate, how could my mind not wander back to that idyllic fall day in Maryland when I’d first laid eyes on him?
Yes, I know. I could’ve refrained from saying his name out loud, thus costing the Halos a win. I’ll give you that much. Like I said—it was a rookie fan mistake. And I’m normally better than that.
But…Mo Martin…Manny Machado…either there’s something really bizarre going on involving the letter “M” (now that I think about it, I’ve always had a thing for Marilyn Monroe), or the cosmos is trying to tell me something.
To be continued…