The head coach of the NFL's Buffalo Bills, Marv Levy, used to rally his team with a speech which ended like this — “Where else would you rather be, than right here, right now?” And that phrase rang though my head as the Herts Raptors' epic game against Tonbridge came to a climax on Sunday evening. Bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, two out. Tying run on third base, winning run on second. It had been an extraordinary game, lasting over five hours, and the day had waned from blazing sunshine to long shadows. Moments like this are why we play sports.
But it was to end in heartbreak. Tonbridge held on to take the game 31-30.
No matter how high the score, or how long the game, when it ultimately comes down to such a fine winning margin you can't help but wonder “what if”. I know that our fearless leader, Ken — who fate dealt the final out — had plenty of them going through his head on Sunday night. But three quickly leapt into my own, showing how easy they are to find: what if I had swung away in the final inning, rather than taking the walk? What if, as third base coach, I had earlier helped keep my runner out of a double play when we had a man on third and nobody out? And what if I had caught a bloop which went over my shoulder as Phil tried to close out the top of the ninth?
I don't know the answers, of course, but I can have a good guess. Question 1 — very little would have been different (and he only threw me one strike anyway). Question 2 — very little would have been different (sometimes the ball just goes where you least want it to). And Question 3? You guessed it. Very little would have ben different (and I couldn't have caught it, otherwise I would have done so in real life instead of just in my head). A baseball game is a collection of tiny incidents and tiny confrontations which make up a rich whole. If you deconstruct it, it's just not the same any more.
I personally contributed little to the game, to be honest, I was an enthralled passenger as much as anything. But at least I broke my duck at the plate, getting my first hits of the season. Actually, my best “hit” wasn't a “hit” at all. It was a line drive which crashed into the trees just foul down the third base line. You don't score anything for how many leaves and branches you take out, and at the end of the day it's just another strike. But I did get a couple in the right place later, and my batting average jumped dramatically from .000 to .286. Impressive, eh? I am still taking solace from my .583 OBP. But who's counting. I would've had another walk in my first plate appearance if I had kept my bat out of the way of a pitch behind my head! I haven't done that since my rookie season.
There were enormous positives for the team. Our three pitchers, all first-timers this season, battled fantastically and even threw up zeroes on the scoreboard. Simon was a rock at first base. And of course the players scored thirty runs, three times their previous best. Where would they rather be? Right now, they'd probably rather be celebrating a win. But — failing that — I hope they are happy to have been part of both history and drama.