I have been fortunate enough to experience some incredible moments at Yankee Stadium, so it takes a lot to impress me. But after witnessing Josh Hamilton’s ungodly hitting display at the All-Star Game Home Run Derby last night from my usual perch behind home plate in the upper deck, impressed isn’t a strong enough word.
Yes, I know, the Home Run Derby is a hitting exhibition that means absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of things. And I know, it’s much easier to hit when you can pick and choose only the most perfect batting-practice “fastballs” in your hitting zone, as opposed to having to worry about balls and strikes, breaking balls and all of the other nuances of the game.
But no human being should be able to repeatedly hit a baseball 450 feet, with three of Hamilton’s rockets going more than 500 feet. I don’t care how gift-wrapped the situation was. It was absolutely incredible to watch.
I can generally track home runs very well from my seats, which I’ve had since the 1997 season. But I lost one of Hamilton’s 500-foot-drives against the white background of an ad on the back wall of the bleachers and, until told otherwise by someone with a radio, was positive it had gone completely out of Yankee Stadium. And with the display he put on, I wouldn’t have been shocked if he had accomplished that feat.
I almost feel sorry for Justin Morneau. He ended up winning the contest after Hamilton ran out of gas — the two finalists start the last round at 0-0, so the fact that Hamilton had more than twice as many homers as anyone else during the first two rounds didn’t help him. But last night’s Home Run Derby will disprove the sports cliché that no one remembers who finished second. In this case, no one will remember who finished first because everyone was dazzled by the runner-up.
And Hamilton’s life story — coming back from drug addiction that derailed his career for several seasons and nearly cost him his life — just added to everything.
Just so you know why I say I’m not easily impressed, here are some of the historical games I’ve been privileged enough to attend at Yankee Stadium:
• Game five of the 1978 World Series, when the Yankees won their third straight against the Los Angeles Dodgers after losing the first two contests in L.A., going on to win the series in six.
• Jim Abbott’s 1993 no-hitter against the Cleveland Indians — only in America can a guy with one hand end up pitching a no-hitter in the Major Leagues, even if he did end up with a career win-loss record under .500.
• Jim Leyritz’s game-winning homer in the bottom of the 15th inning in game two of the Divisional Series against the Seattle Mariners in 1995: It was the Yankees’ first playoff appearance since 1981. Who knew they’d drop three games in a row in Seattle, marking the end of Don Mattingly’s career?
• The sixth and final game of the 1996 World Series, in which the Yankees — after losing the first two games at home, then sweeping three in Atlanta, including another dramatic homer from Leyritz — beat the Atlanta Braves to win their first championship since 1978. Current Yankees manager Joe Girardi had the game’s huge hit — a triple. I cried like a baby when Charlie Hayes caught the popup to end the Series. I’m not ashamed.
• Game one of the 1998 World Series, when the heavily favored Yankees, down 5-2 going into the bottom of the seventh, erupted for seven runs — a three-run homer by Chuck Knoblauch, who cost the Yankees a game versus Cleveland in the American League Championship Series by letting a ball roll down the first-base line while arguing with the umpire, and a grand slam by Tino Martinez.
• Games one and two of the long-awaited Subway Series in 2000 against the Flushing Pond Scum New York Mets: Paul O’Neill’s walk in the bottom of the ninth in game one was as professional of an at-bat as I’ve ever seen, and Roger Clemens firing the bat handle at Mike Piazza was just plain funny.
• Games four and five of the 2001 World Series: Two nights in a row, down two runs in the bottom of the ninth with two outs, two two-run homers (Tino Martinez, Scott Brosius). Even though they lost the series to the Arizona Diamondbacks, wow.
• Game seven of the 2003 ALCS — otherwise known as when Aaron Boone became Aaron Fucking Boone.
So when I say I don’t get impressed easily, it’s not because I’m jaded — it’s because I’ve been really fortunate over the years to experience some great baseball moments.
Joe DiMaggio was quoted as saying, “I’d like to thank the good Lord for making me a Yankee.” Well, I’m not very religious, but I’d like to thank whatever power was responsible for making me a Yankee fan.
Josh Hamilton: Well done, sir!