Hunter Pence is a terrific rookie, doing great things for the Astros. As of this writing, he's scalding the yard at a .369 clip, with both power and speed. And at 6'4", 210 pounds, he's a strapping young specimen, too. He may be good and he may be big, but yesterday we learned what our friends across the pond have known since the 16th century: it takes twelve Pence to equal one Schilling.
I was driving in my car, listening to the radio broadcast, when I learned that Schill was through six, unscathed. I punched the accelerator, determined to make that all-important transition -- from XM Radio to DirectTV, that is -- before history beat me to it.
The adrenaline was flowing. Not only were the Sox winning ... Schill is also on my fantasy team! But most of all, with history on the line, it's where my true, genetically woven baseball fandom comes to the fore. Truth be told (get ready for some heresy), I don't really care much for Schilling. It's his politics - who Schill shills for -- and this sports blog is not the place to get into it. But when baseball history is unfolding, I'm a sucker for it, no matter who, or what he represents. [See, previous post endorsing McGwire for Hall-of-Fame].
I made it. Whew. Ninth inning. I pull my daughter away from Nickelodeon, force her to watch ["Why do I care again, Dad?"]. One out. I'm on my feet. Two out. I'm clapping, scaring the dog. And then ... damn you, Shannon Stewart! Thwarted by a guy with a girl's name. Oh the humanity.
The whole experience, watching No. 38 come so close, took me back 38 years ago, to my very first live ballgame. It was July 9, 1969. Shea Stadium. I was age seven, I knew little about the game, the indoctrination was just beginning. And this night fast-forwarded it.
My father had selected this day at the beginning of the season, for no other reason than to entertain an older cousin who was scheduled to visit from Virginia. He had no way of knowing.
You older folks remember. The Mets' "first crucial series" against the marauding Cubs (hard to believe, eh?). Budding young superstar Tom Seaver on the mound. Weather is perfect. And 59,083 - the largest crowd ever at Shea save for The Beatles - set out for the horseshoe in Queens. The L.I.E. is bumper-to-bumper. My father didn't anticipate this. I can still remember his frustration; my tender ears may have even heard their first expletives (there was no cable TV in those days, at least not in homes). And we don't get there until the second inning.
Seats? What seats? We had good ones - remember, these were bought at the beginning of the season - but I don't remember ever sitting in them. The fans stood for the whole thing. So I could see at least something, I spent a fair amount of that night atop my father's shoulders (that was fun). Four innings, five innings, six innings, and the Cubs were without a hit, without a baserunner. I recall my father attempting to explain to me what a perfect game was, and more importantly, imploring me to not misunderstand - that this may be my first game, but perfect games don't happen every day, I was seeing history in the making, here. But I also recall him explaining how you're not supposed to talk about it, because it's bad luck. I'm not sure how to reconcile those two memories, now. I was seven. Give me a break.
As the game wore on and the excitement in the stands grew palpable, I caught on; I got it; it clicked. And then, after the Cubs were retired in the eighth, something happened that was unforgettable, if not unforgivable. He'll probably cringe that I'm posting here on the internets. My father turned to us and said, "we're beating the traffic, let's go." And we went. You know, hindsight is 20-20. I wasn't at the wheel of that car on the way in. And I didn't have to chase after a whiny seven-year-old and a younger one both up way past their bedtimes, or perch the bigger one on my shoulders, or carry the souvenirs. Or stand up all night on an older set of legs and back. Or think about dealing with kids the next day after arriving home in the wee hours. I'm sure the decision made sense at that moment. To him. But it remains as unfathomable to me today as it did 38 years ago.
We were in the parking lot when puissant rookie Jimmy Qualls connected with one out in the ninth. A near-deafening groan erupted from inside the stadium. "There it goes," my father said. "Must be a hit." I resisted. "No way" (it couldn't be, right?). "Something else, for sure." And now Shannon Stewart. At least I saw this one.
Summer '69. Those were perilous times for America, as these are now. I was so unaware; I was just then awakening to baseball. But so much was going on. I always wanted to end a blog post like they ended the movie "All The President's Men." So please imagine a chattering teletex machine ...
July 16: Apollo 11 launches
July 18: Ted Kennedy drives Mary Jo Kopechne into the waters of Chappaquiddick
July 20: Neil Armstrong walks on the moon
July 25: Richard Nixon announces his "Vietnamization" plan
August 9: The Manson Gang goes on its rampage, slaughtering Sharon Tate and others
August 15: Woodstock begins
August 17: Hurricane Camille devastates the Mississippi coast
September 5: The My Lai massacre
September 24: The "Chicago Eight" trial begins
September 25: The Beatles release Abbey Road
October 9: The Weathermen lead the "Days of Rage" riots in Chicago
October 15: Massive anti-war demonstrations across the country
October 16: The Miracle Mets win the World Series ...
Two other things happened in '69 that are important to this blog.
26 days after Seaver was near perfect, in Compton, California, Troy Franklin O'Leary was born.
In November, ARPANET, the precursor to the internet, is created; and that's how I can share this with you, now.
 Just to be historically accurate, since 1971, the shilling has been the common name used for the new fivepence coin. I've stuck with the centuries-old but now obsolete demonination of twelve pence to a shilling.