At the very end of my baseball career, I was finally given the chance to be a Cardinal.
Not a St. Louis Cardinal...a Greenwich Cardinal.
Growing up in Greenwich, CT, it was always one of my most ardent dreams to pitch for the Greenwich High School Cardinals, and thereby have the chance to play with all of the baseball friends and teammates I grew up with.
That dream was dashed when my parents decided to send me off to Canterbury School, a private boarding school 60 miles to the north of Greenwich.
However, one summer while home from Boston College, I received a phone call from a good friend and fellow pitcher, Douggie D’Andrea. With great excitement, he invited me to pitch for the Greenwich team in the Stamford Twilight League (a semi-pro league made popular by Stamford baseball icon Bobby Valentine).
Douggie told me that our shortstop would be our friend Tim Teufel, then an All-American at Clemson (who would go on to win a World Championship as the 2nd baseman of the New York Mets) and that Tim’s dad was going to coach us.
To put on the Greenwich white and cardinal red uniform was a dream come true.
In my first game, we won 15-8. I was rusty and gave up 5 runs, but hey we won.
In my second game, we lost 6-4. I gave up a bases loaded triple late in the game and my pitching record dropped to 1-1.
In my third game, I had found a groove, but with game tied 2-2 in the seventh inning, with the bases loaded, a ground ball went right through Tim Teufel’s legs at shortstop and we lost 4-2. I was now 1-2, and suddenly found myself sitting on the bench game after game.
I finally summoned up the nerve to ask Coach Teufel if he was going to pitch me again. He told me that I would be pitching the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader.
Not only did this feel great to know that I would get another chance to prove myself, but my dad had been coming to all of the games and I knew how happy he would be to see me play again.
That Saturday we won the 1st game and as I was warming up for game two, Junior Carino, one of the best players we grew up with, pulled up in a Trans Am with his glove and spikes in the passenger seat and suddenly, even though he wasn’t on the team, my teammates were asking Coach T if Junior could play. Coach T said yes and when he asked Junior which position he wanted to play, Junior said he wanted to pitch.
The next thing i knew, Junior was now in uniform and warming up. Coach T came over and told me that I was being scratched in favor of Junior, that it would help in the long run to add another pitcher to the staff.
So---in a fit of indignant, prideful rage, I stormed off the field and when I got to the parking lot I was ripping off my jersey on the way to my car. When all of a sudden, my dad came out of nowhere and said he totally understood my reaction, but grabbed me by the shoulders and pleaded with me, “Hey, pal, just go to one more game. If they don’t pitch you, then ok you can walk away. But, you owe it to your love of the game and your teammates to go to one more game.”
Now---I already knew that the next game was Monday night up in Wilton versus the 1st place team and our ace, Dee Dee Pasquarelli, was scheduled to pitch.
Dee Dee Pasquarelli had never missed a baseball game in his life.
But my dad convinced me to swallow my pride, put my jersey back on and go sit on the bench---and then go to one more game---the one in Wilton.
Incredibly, when I got to the game Coach T told me that Dee Dee, now working for the Greenwich Oil company, could not make the game because he had to attend to an emergency call at work. “You’re pitching,” Coach T said.
With my smiling dad sitting in a beach chair to the left of the third base line, I pitched one of the best games of my life. Up 2-1 in the ninth inning, with men on 1st and 2nd and 2 outs the game ended on a ground ball to shortstop that Tim Teufel cleanly fielded and flipped to 2nd base for the win.
Coach T was bear hugging me after the game and said I would pitch again versus Westport on Saturday.
We won Saturday’s game 11-0 and Douggie D’Andrea was the only one who thought I had thrown a no-hitter, because he ran over to the Westport coach who was keeping score and asked and the coach said they had no hits.
It was the only no-hitter I ever threw.
In the playoffs a week later, I pitched 7 scoreless innings and Dee Dee Pasquarelli pitched a scoreless 8th and 9th and we beat Stamford 1-0.
Two nights later we lost to Wilton in the semi-finals. And that was it---the end of the season and the end of my baseball career, and I retired as a Greenwich Cardinal!
One more game.
Think about that.
Think about that---as a mantra for life.
How many times do we give up on something or someone we love out of precipitous, rageful, indignant pride or hasty reactions to perplexing twists of fate?
Living here in Patriots’ Nation, my friends ask me all the time, “How can you keep being an Arizona Cardinals’ fan?” They laugh in my face! And quite honestly, most Pats’ fans have no idea how good they have it. They get indignant and pissed off if the Pats lose one game. It actually gets disgusting.
Like so many of you, I know how easy it is to be skeptical to the point of being cynical about the Cardinals ever amounting to anything worth the kind of devotion we have shown them all of these years.
But, my dad and my love for a 19th century American poet have given me the hope and the resilience to keep going to one more game.
Emily Dickinson wrote and believed that “Hope is the thing with feathers, that perches in the soul.”
Here is the entire poem:
“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -
And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -
I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.
She is so right---Hope never asks “a crumb” of us. It is always perched in our souls, that is---if we choose to listen to it. Paradoxically, the bird’s song is “sweetest” in the midst of the most calamitous storms, because like that perch, it gives us at least something to cling and hold on to.
Emily Dickinson also wrote the paradox: “Success is counted sweetest by those who ne’er succeed.”
In other words---if and when the Arizona Cardinals break the longest standing championship drought in American professional sports---we, who have been deprived of the feeling of success for so long---are ripe as ever to count that moment as the sweetest of all.
Every day, I try to remember the pure ecstasy I felt when Adrian Wilson, with tears in his eyes, amidst the cascading swirls of red, white and black confetti, was hoisting the Halas Trophy toward the University of Phoenix rafters.
As we know---the next game for the Cardinals, Super Bowl XLIII, was a heartbreaker.
Since then, our favorite team has had one decent chance to get back to the Super Bowl, yet the Cardinals laid one of the stinkiest primetime eggs imaginable, getting trounced at Carolina to the tune of 49-15.
And since that stinker four years ago, it’s been a steady plunge to the bottom of the NFL standings.
But---thanks to you dad and to the perspicacity of Miss Dickinson---I am going to keep going to one more Cardinals’ game.
This year especially, I have vowed to bring with me with the same sense of hope that I felt when Larry Fitzgerald snatched the slant pass from Kurt Warner and bolted 64 yards straight through the Steelers’ secondary to the end zone with 2:37 left.
Yes, that was THE play that shocked the world and put the Cardinals ahead 23-20.
Therefore, for those of you who are understandably cynical about ever seeing the Cardinals in another Super Bowl---
Let’s understand was cynicism really is. If you keep saying to yourself “what’s the use, nothing good is ever going happen, why even bother to care,” what are really doing? Isn’t cynicism merely a defense mechanism? Aren’t you just protecting yourself from getting disappointed and hurt again? It’s only natural. But---as a great optimistic friend of mine always says, “For 100% of the chances you don’t take, nothing will ever happen.”
Some argue that “no I am being realistic, the Cardinals have the worst roster in the NFL, they are terrible.” But---that’s not necessarily true---the only thing that is right now--is a perception.
Six months ago, who among us ever fostered a perception that the St. Louis Blues could be the 2019 NHL Champions? Who ever thought that the addition of one star player in Kawhi Leonard could help turn the Toronto Raptors into NBA Champions?
Thus, maybe you might be willing to heed some small advice from my old man, rest his dear soul---
Go to one more game...and keep going...and keep hoping...
Because, after all, “success is counted sweetest by those who ne’er succeed.”