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Walk-Off Vacation

I'm going to Atlanta for the three Mets/Braves games this weekend as part of an unusually timed vacation, and I'm looking forward to the trip. The one thing that has me a little wary is that on all three occasions in which I've mixed major league baseball games and vacations, I've seen walk-offs. I would hope not to see one these next three days.

The first occurrence came on August 23, 1990 when my family visited Toronto on my first and only sojourn outside of the 50 states. A friend of my father's knew a season-ticket holder who provided us with two terrific seats in the SkyDome for a Blue Jays-Red Sox game during the heart of the AL East race between the two squads. We were 10 rows off the field, at most, behind the third base dugout, the perfect view from which to get an awesome photograph of Wade Boggs lining a single.

With no rooting interest for either team, my father and I cheered for ex-Met Mookie Wilson and our applause was rewarded. Wilson singled in the go-ahead run in the seventh inning, helping the Blue Jays to a two-run edge. Tom Henke gave the runs back in the eighth, allowing a two-run home run to Mike Greenwell. That set up a rather nifty finish.

With one out in the home ninth, Wilson singled. Wilson's speed worried Boston southpaw Joe Hesketh and a botched pickoff throw advanced him to third base. Tony Fernandez was intentionally walked, but Boston elected to have Jeff Gray pitch to Kelly Gruber. Gray induced a ground ball to third, but Boggs, realizing he couldn't turn a double play, threw home instead. Wilson's speed enabled him to beat both throw and tag, giving the Blue Jays a dramatic 4-3 victory. Amazingly, the Red Sox shut Toronto out in each of the next three games, which made the difference in a pennant race decided by two games.

It was 10 years before I mixed vacations and ballpark visits again and the natural place to do that was at the annual Society for American Baseball Research national convention in West Palm Beach, where among the outings was a couple of trips to Pro Player Stadium to see the Marlins and Cubs.

I had pretty good seats for this one, though it was quite by accident. During one of the research presentations, a librarian at the Baseball Hall of Fame bragged about a new acquisition- a copy of every Peanuts comic strip dealing with baseball. Those who know me well (or remember my Joe Shlabotnik reference in previous blog posts), know of my rather strong interest in Peanuts. The next day, we gathered for the bus ride to the ballpark. I didn't know anybody, so I took a seat by myself. A latecomer, not having many seats to choose from, sat next to me. It was the librarian who referenced the Peanuts collection.

We struck up a conversation in which I told him of my interest in visiting the library to comb through the collection. He seemed rather pleased. Suddenly, he got a rather devilish look on his face. My interest in the Hall of Fame library was about to have a rather nice payoff.

"Congratulations" he said, as I responded with a puzzling glance. "If you give me your ticket (for a seat in the upper deck), I'll give it to the bus driver. I'll give you one to sit with us in the Marlins owner's box. You're the winner of our extra ticket."

So it was from three rows off the field, first base side that I got to see Cliff Floyd's pinch-hit walk-off home run off Felix Heredia, one that gave the Marlins an 8-7 victory over the Cubs that day. Fun stuff.

My other baseball/vacation intermingling isn't worth discussing. On my flight from Philadelphia to San Francisco during the summer of 2001, I got a sinus infection. The hotel doctor overmedicated me, basically turning me into an insomniac. That may explain why I don't have a strong memory of what happened during the second of my three visits to see the Giants and Marlins at Pac Bell Park. The box score indicates that the Giants carried a 1-0 lead into the ninth inning, but Preston Wilson spoiled Russ Ortiz's gem by doubling home the tying run with two outs. The Giants escaped further damage, then won the game with two outs in the last of the ninth when Jeff Kent walked and John Vanderwal doubled him home.

What happened in my other two visits to Pac Bell stuck in my mind a little bit more. Some guy named Bonds managed three home runs, including a grand slam on the first night, and an eighth-inning game-winner (reminiscent of his Wagnerian blast on Wednesday), two afternoons later.

On the return trip home, I didn't get sick, but I might as well have. The wife of the gentleman sitting next to me informed us both that Eric Lindros had just been traded to the Rangers. "He's your problem now," this Flyers fan said with glee in her voice. I'm not really in the mood to discuss the foibles of the Rangers, either past or present.

Let's hope that this trip goes a little more smoothly than that one.

True Metcations know...Never to take thy name of a walk-off in vain...When Barry Bonds stepped to the plate against Billy Wagner on Wednesday night, I commented to my colleagues at work. "You have to pitch to him...He's basically Kirk Gibson'ing it up to home plate." As one colleague reminded me a few minutes later, we all know how Gibson vs Eckersley turned out...

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