Bottom of the 33rd: Hope, Redemption, and Baseball's Longest Game

Excerpted from the book by Dan Barry
By DAN BARRY  |  July 20, 2011

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"I hope you're still with us," the broadcaster Bob Drew says to the night, a note of desperation in his voice. "And if you are still with us, drop a postcard or letter to the Rochester Red Wings, Post Office Box — no post office box — the Rochester Red Wings, 500 Norton Street, Rochester, New York 14621.

"Tell us that you were listening on this historic night, as the Red Wings and the Pawtucket Red Sox break a record for the longest game ever played in the International League. As happened here last night into this morning, on this Easter morning, as we are going into the bottom of the twenty-fourth inning. You let us know that you stayed with us all the way through by sending us a postcard or a letter and we'll send you two tickets to a future Red Wing game. Just for sticking with us."

Who, exactly, is sticking with them? Who, exactly, cares that this game is now the longest in International League history, surpassing some Rochester-Jersey City contest back in 1950?

Here is another question: Is this even a baseball game anymore? Maybe it has morphed into some kind of extravagant form of performance art, in which the failure to reach climax is the point; in which the repetition of scoreless innings signals the meaninglessness of existence. Then again, maybe the performance is intended to convey the opposite message: That this is all a celebration of mystery, a divine reminder that the human condition is too complex and unpredictable, so enjoy this party while you can. Shake off the chill by dancing to "The Candy Man" and "Thank God I'm a Country Boy," two of the songs looping over and over on the stadium's sound system. Take a sip of the champagne that one of the fans has smuggled back into the stadium, along with a few chocolate Easter eggs. Treat yourself to whatever you want from the only concession stand still open, courtesy of the house.

The game's halo glow is now attracting the strays of the night, from an insomniac walking his dog to a couple of cops tired of patrolling Pawtucket in its slumber. Somewhere in the stadium's bowels, a man suddenly appears beside Joe Morgan, the ejected but ever-present Pawtucket manager, who is peering through that private window of his behind the backstop. Drawn like a moth to the ballpark's brightness, the stranger has entered through the unguarded doors of the stadium with an ease that would impress none of the neighborhood kids, who routinely break into McCoy to collect the old baseballs on the roof. He has walked through a second set of unlocked doors and down a narrow hall, past rakes and bags of lime, to identify himself to Morgan as a doctor at Memorial Hospital, fresh from having delivered a baby, and he has a question: What's going on here?

Morgan explains that a baseball game is being played — a game now in the twenty-something inning. The doctor does not believe him. So Morgan steps aside and invites the man to see for himself.

Yep. A baseball game.

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The two men take turns sharing the view through Morgan's magical portal.

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