MacArthur: A first-hand memory of Joe Carter 20 years ago

Scott MacArthur
10/23/2013 12:07:22 AM
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BOSTON - If you're a fan of the Toronto Blue Jays, no doubt you remember where you were 20 years ago tonight.

October 23, 1993. The SkyDome. Game Six of the World Series. The Blue Jays vs. the Phillies. Joe Carter vs. Mitch Williams. The home run. Tom Cheek's famous line, "Touch 'em all Joe, you'll never hit a bigger home run in your life!"

To this day, it remains the most recent postseason moment in Blue Jays history and oh was it special and memorable.

I had the good fortune of being there, of seeing that famous moment in person and of experiencing the bedlam as Carter rounded the bases, feet leaping and fists pumping.

I was sitting down the right field line, in foul territory. I know exactly where, by the way. Section 113B, Row 34, Seat 111. Before you think I'm crazy, I still have the ticket stub. I didn't actually memorize the seat.

I was 14 years old. We were fortunate, my entire family, because my dad, Jamie, had a position with the Stadium Corporation of Ontario, which operated the SkyDome. This afforded him the opportunity to get us tickets to games. We went often and many of us were there that night.

My paternal grandparents, both of whom have since passed, were there. They loved baseball. Let me be clear: They didn't like baseball. They loved baseball. They, along with my mom, Terry, were in box seats. My maternal grandparents, my grandmother has since passed, were somewhere else in the crowd.

My brother, Drew, then a 10-year-old, was sitting with me and so were two sets of aunts and uncles.

Here's what I remember about the ninth inning and the immediate aftermath.

Philadelphia turned to its closer, Mitch "Wild Thing" Williams, to save a game that, for most of the night, was in the Blue Jays' control.

Toronto, behind Dave Stewart, led 5-1 after six innings but the Phillies, keyed by a Lenny Dykstra two-run home run, put up a five-spot in the seventh to take the lead and deflate the partisan SkyDome crowd.

Rickey Henderson led off the inning with a walk. The crowd was on its feet, hooked on every pitch. Now, for reasons I cannot recall, 20 has always been my favourite number. I began to clap, along with the rest of the crowd, in between each pitch, except I would stop at 20. It became my routine for the remainder of the inning. Pitch is thrown, resulting play occurs, I clap 20 times. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Devon White flied out to left field on the ninth pitch of his at bat. One out. I'm still clapping 20 times in between each pitch.

Paul Molitor, the consummate pro, drove a base hit to centerfield on the third pitch of his at bat. Henderson advanced to second.

Joe Carter came up and, well, the rest is history.

I saw the home run swing. I saw the ball leave the bat. But I lost the ball's trajectory as it soared through the air. It was, for a home run, a relatively low line drive and I remember the ball disappearing in the backdrop of the white facade of the auxiliary press seating in left field.

So I waited for what obviously was a matter of mere seconds but for what felt like hours. Surely the ball was going to hook foul. Maybe it would careen off the wall for extra bases and at the very least Henderson would score the tying run. I remember thinking these thoughts in that brief nanosecond of time.

I watched for the reaction of the crowd down the left field line. When the folks in foul territory raised their arms in unison, followed quickly by almost everyone else in the stadium, I started screaming and jumping up and down. There were high fives. Random people were embracing. We were strangers but for the moment, we were all friends in this celebration.

Then there was the bunting lining the façade between the first and second decks. People began to reach up and pull it down. We all wanted a little piece of the cloth; our little piece of this historic moment. Guys were using the little scissors on their Swiss Army knives to cut out fragments. I didn't have a Swiss Army knife. What I did have, and man did it seem like a good idea at the time, were braces on my teeth. Remember, I was 14. Yes, I tried to tear a piece of the cloth with my braces and, yes, I was in the orthodontist's chair just days later as he reattached the tinsel to my bottom front teeth. Smart move, Scott. Smart move. Some guy was good enough to cut me a piece of the cloth. I still have it.

After the game those of us sitting in right field met up with our family who'd watched from box seats and other spots in the stadium. We laughed and relived the moment. We commented on the look of sheer joy on Carter's face as he bounced around the bases.

We knew that this was a cool time to be a Toronto sports fan. The Blue Jays were back to back World Series champions. The Maple Leafs, under Pat Burns, had taken us on quite a ride the previous spring and were in the process of starting 10-0 that season. And nobody was talking about it. Get that, nobody was talking about the Maple Leafs in Toronto. Can you imagine? The Argos were owned by McNall, Gretzky and Candy. We hadn't yet been introduced to the Raptors and their maddening sub-mediocrity. Major League Soccer was but a pipe dream. Toronto FC wasn't yet the pipe nightmare it would become.

Aside from the home run, I think what I remember most is being young, at that impressionable age when our fondest sports memories are created. Sure it's special when you're an adult and your favourite team wins but it isn't quite the same. You know too much about the world, how it works, and you become jaded, maybe cynical. You know most athletes aren't the superheroes you'd once envisioned them to be.

I remember my grandparents, three of whom are gone, and how we enjoyed that celebration together. My dad's folks used to buy tickets to games at Exhibition Stadium on sale at the Dominion grocery store, two-dollar bleacher seats for one dollar, and they often took me.

Carter's home run was the culmination of our committed fandom. The great payoff we experienced together.

There was nothing better. Maybe someday something else will happen on a baseball field that will top it.

But I doubt it.

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