A week ago Sunday we all were captivated by the Jazz and Bulls in Game 6 of the NBA Finals. We screamed, we yelled, we cried, we cheered, we complained, we supported and we hurt. It was sports at its apex. It had it all - the national spotlight, the big NBC intro, the greatest names in the game, the hoopla.
More than 1,000 credentialed media representing hundreds of countries and more languages than you knew existed were on hand to cover the game. There was nothing more a sports fan could ask for. Emotional peaks and valleys, claims of conspiracy, frivolous lawsuits, and overall joy and despair all wrapped into one event.The absolute ultimate in sports.
A week removed from 19,911 crazed NBA fans in the Delta Center, I sat on the lawn of Central Park in New York City and watched the Phillies and Blue Jays play a carefree game of baseball.
This was a bunch of six- and seven-year-old boys and girls playing Sunday baseball. There was no NBC opening along the lines of "little Tommy and the Blue Jays get ready to renew their rivalry with little Johnny and the hated Phillies, next on NBC live from Central Park."
No Bob Costas, no scoreboard, no corporate suites, no sponsorships on the backstop, no lock-outs, no Sportscenter, no highlight reels, and most importantly no breaking up of the Bulls.
Instead, this was sports in its purest form. Sports before we all molded it into some other dynamic.
All the cliches were prevalent, and how true they were. Fathers and sons spending a Sunday on the ballfield. The Phillies and the Blue Jays decked out in their team jerseys. Of course, half the kids wore different hats, their socks slumped to their ankles, and nobody's pants fit quite right. One boy played with his pants on backwards, the pocket in the front, and clueless of his digression.
As the players sprinted to their positions, such as rover and pitcher's assistant and second second baseman, their shirts hung untucked over their baseball pants. Had they been tucked in, the jerseys would have lost their numbers below the belt line. Every offensive player wore a helmet atop a cap because otherwise it would flip off after three steps.
The innings didn't consist of three outs; instead, they were marked by each team getting to bat its full batting order. This was fortunate because the routine third-to-first throw was non-existent and outs were hard to come by, even though a tyupical play featured four players surrounding second base, all hoping to get the throw from short right field and tag out the oncoming runner. Usually, the ball found a way to trickle through all four and the runner quickly proceeded to third, inviting another wild throw.
Fathers pitched, and the children, with all their imitation batting stances, swung away at nicely placed, looping underhand pitches. Each turn through the batting order took just enough time to allow the parents to manipulate the score and get the game back into a tie.
It was a worry-less game, filled with the giggles of children. After an inning or two it was time to stop for snacks, a break that served to solve all sorts of problems.
Before the final inning, one child exhorted his team with, "Come on Phillies, let's have the best inning the Phillies have ever had." Despite that, the Phillies weren't able to avoid another parent-manipulated tie.
"Yes, we tied again!" screamed a member of the Phillies. "That's three straight!"
When the Phillies and Blue Jays finished their romp in the park, it was time for the Marlins and Dodgers. Ironically, considering the state of the current Marlins, those teams didn't have enough players show up. Cancel the game? No way. The Marlins and Dodgers combined teams, the dads continued to pitch, and the game meandered on, heading for another tie.
Simultaneous to the epic battles of the Blue Jays and Philles and Dodgers/Marlins, another game took place across the Central Park lawn. Just a boy and his dad, playing catch for an hour.
It was the ultimate in sports, and it wasn't bad for Father's Day, either.