As I go through this year, I find myself hitting a lot of milestones that make me realize 1990 was a sort of weird temporal anomaly that set my life off into a trajectory that's continued for the last 30 years. I'd already posted about how on Labor Day of that year I tried stand up comedy for the first time and have been doing it ever since. And I mention this play from October 3rd, 1990 not because I'm a raging narcissist who thinks every aspect of my life is fascinating and you should all drop what you're doing in your own mundane existence to take a great big dive into the middle of Old Balls. But just because I think it speaks to something universal. At least among people who care about sports. About the profound and lasting effects a bunch of athletes chasing balls and pucks around can have on us.
I've spent the last 30 years acknowledging this truth to myself. It's not an exaggeration when I say I owe my entire adult life to this one improbable catch by Red Sox right fielder Tom Brunansky. And I can't bring myself to imagine how things would've turned out if he hadn't made it. I'll explain.
This was the last play of the last game of the 1990 Red Sox regular season. The league's then were still in a two-division alignment, with no Wild Card. The Sox went into Game 162 against the White Sox up one game in the AL East. Meaning that if they lost and Toronto won, they were looking at a playoff. Win and they were in the ALCS against Oakland. They took a 3-1 lead into the top of the 9th with Jeff Reardon on the mound, and he quickly got the first two outs. He got up 0-2 on Sammy Sosa, putting them one strike away which, four years after losing that World Series to the Mets (shameless plug), was still a phrase that made your Masshole PTSD kick in. Then Sosa singled. With the first pitch of the next at bat, Reardon hit Scott Fletcher, putting the tying run on base for Ozzie Guillen, and Rodney McCray was sent in to pinch run.
With two out, the runners would be off on contact, so anything to the gaps or down the line and McCray would likely tie the game. At least that was true of the right field line in Fenway, where a dozen or balls or more get past the fielder and roll around to the bullpen wall every year. Which is exactly what Guillen's diving, slicing, darting line drive looked like it was going to do: Get by Brunansky and keep going until we were tied and Guillen was the go ahead run at third. At the very least we'd be looking at the very real possibility of extra innings and God knows what. But he made the catch and the Sox were onto the postseason.
As you can see from the video, it wasn't clear that Brunansky even made the catch for a couple of seconds. He was so deep into the corner, Sean McDonough never saw it. As a matter of fact, TV viewers never saw the ball go into his glove until the local news showed this fan video:
Here's where the irony kicks in. That video (which I don't think got the expressed, written permission of Major League Baseball) was shot by comic Mike Donovan. I was new to stand up so I'd never met him. But I've worked with him maybe 100 times since then. In fact, a few months later he was one of the hosts of the WBCN Comedy Riot Competition I won a few months later. And if he'd hosted the night I was moving onto the Finals, it would've been a disaster for me because we did about three similar bits, including an impression of Sox manager Walpole Joe Morgan.
Donovan knew it was a catch because he filmed it from Section 24. I knew it was a catch because I saw it from Section 42. It happened right in front of me and the five Weymouth friends I was with, sitting in the last section of the bleachers next to grandstand Section 1.
And here where the effect on my future comes in. That was a Wednesday. On Saturday, I was at a bachelor party with that same group of guys plus a few more. We golfed at Hyannis Golf Course on Cape Cod. All we had were tee times, a rented van filled with imbeciles and a designated driver. Meaning no plans for afterwards. When we finished golf and a few rounds of beers, we had no idea what to do next. It shouldn't surprise you to know in my group, I'm not the leader/idea man type. I'm more the Beta comic relief, and leave the running things to stronger personalities and let them deal with the plans that fail. But this time I spoke up and suggested a combination sports bar and night club called Champions, that was up the road. The idea being that we could eat and pound a hundred more beers, but mostly watch Game 1 of Oakland at Boston, with Dave Stewart against Roger Clemens. Surprisingly, it was a unanimous "sounds good" and we were off.
The game was a disaster. Clemens came out with a 1-0 lead while five Red Sox relievers combined to give up 9 runs. Historically speaking this game and the A's subsequent sweep of the series was the middle of an incredible run where they Sox lost 13 straight postseason games over 13 years, a feat which will never be duplicated. Personally speaking the night was the best thing that would ever happen to me.
At some point after the game, a DJ appeared. The sports bar quickly pivoted into a dance club. But filled with normal people who had been there to watch baseball. So not regular club douchebags, but the kind of douchebags we can all relate to. At some point, my buddy Gerry was talking to a Cape girl who was there to watch the game with her girlfriend. Being the Top Gun Wingman that I pride myself on being, and finding myself somewhere in that sweet spot of drunkenness between "Witty and Charming" and "I'm 007," I did the good friend thing and entertained the girlfriend. For the rest of the night. If I do say so myself, even by my own lofty standards, I was on fire. Just striping captivating drives down the verbal fairway and hitting all the conversational greens in regulation. As the night came to a close, I suggested meeting up again, she gave me her last name and told me to look her up. You kids, Google "phone book" for more on how that used to work.
When we got back to the van, before all the catching up and the war stories began, my buddy Cliffy used my high school nickname when he predicted to the whole drunken lot of us, "Radar met his wife tonight."
Spoiler alert: He was right.
We were married three years later. In fact, 27 years and one week ago today. And here's the thought that has been breaking my brain ever since. If Tom Brunansky hadn't held onto that line drive right in front were I was sitting a few nights earlier, there might've not been a Red Sox ALCS game to watch. If he got a late break or it came out of his glove when it hit the ground or if Guillen had gotten under it more and put it into the seats, we likely would've ended up heading back over the bridge or in some dive bar or whatever. If I hadn't spoken up or someone vetoed my plan. If my friend hadn't been talking to her friend. Or, more likely, if I'd gone to my usual default setting of saying something stupid and regrettable. Or if two girlfriends from the Cape simply chose some quite place to have Cosmos instead of get accosted by a bunch of loud dopes from Weymouth Hills, 02190, my life would have turned out completely different. And in no scenario could it possibly have turned out as miraculously as it has. Married to a woman who is way out of my league, with two sons in college who are better men than I could've reasonably hoped for given half their DNA is from me and a career she encouraged me to pursue and that I'm blessed to have.
The whole "but for a few small events life would've turned out so differently" has been the premise of a lot of really terrible fiction in a million creative writing classes, but it's true. It happens. When a major part of your existence revolves around things complete out of your control because they happen on a diamond, a court, a field or a rink, they can set in motion moments that profoundly affect us. Good and bad.
I can't comprehend The Butterfly Effect of that F9 from 30 years ago, because I owe so much to it. So I'll try to explain it scientifically.
In quantum mechanics, there's something referred to as The Many Worlds Theory. Developed by Hugh Everett, it posits that when occurrences happen in mechanical systems such that they become entangled in ours, the world branches into two separate universes, both of which exist. And this happens constantly, creating different existences. Erwin Schrodinger mocked the idea in his famous cat example (you don't need me to explain it), but his own equation proves it mathematically. Everett's theory supports the idea that there is a universe where Schrodinger's cat is alive and another where it is dead and BOTH are real. And these entanglements happen an infinite number of times, causing an infinite number of universes, i.e. Many Worlds.
So our lives can be shaped by events we have no control over. The games we watch. The flights of balls. Pucks stopped. Tackles missed. Punches landed. Events with split our timelines off and splinter our existence into separate, but equally real realities. Somewhere in the multiverse are Jerrys who sat there and watched helplessly while Ozzie Guillen cleared the bases, went golfing that week, went home after and nothing came of it. And they are living lives of quiet desperation behind a dumpster somewhere. While this one is starting Year 31 of being with his still captivating Irish Rose. For which I'm eternally grateful.
And if I ever meet Tom Brunansky, I owe him all the beers. Thanks for the catch and for 30 unbelievably blessed years. Thanks for reading. I hope this reality turns out OK for you, too.