10 years gone: Randy Johnson’s Perfect Game Revisited

20 May

2 days ago marked the 10th anniversary of the Randy Johnson’s perfect game in Atlanta. I happened to be in town the week the Diamondbacks were visiting the Braves. One of my good friends from high school moved there for grad school and having loads of student loan money to blow, I decided to pay him a visit.

Going to a game was always on the plate, but after looking up the schedule and seeing that Randy Johnson was pitching on the 18th. This changed things from being “maybe we’ll go to a Braves game while I’m in town.” to ” We are going to see Randy Johnson pitch tomorrow.” I’d seen randy Johnson pitch once before when Seattle had played Texas (back when Seattle had A-Rod,Griffey, Jay Buhner, and Edgar Martinez) and the Rangers had rocked him for 7 early inning runs. Johnson didn’t make it into the 4th inning I think. I was banking on Johnson having a better performance this time around.

We were able to score some great seats thanks to my buddy’s grandma. We helped her and her friend clean out a storage unit (an unfair that left us stinky, tired and sweaty–for some reason I think it didn’t go as smoothly as it should have) and we parlayed that windfall into seats behind home plate.

As excited as I was about the game, I was just as geeked up about the vast amount of tail at the ballpark. Georgia is renowned (and rightfully so) for the absurd number of hotties the state produces (rivaling only Texas) and the females provided a distraction for the first 3 innings. By the fifth inning, I noticed that the Big Unit hadn’t put anyone on base. I mentioned this to my buddy (who had thrown a no hitter in high school himself) and he shook me off. “Too early to be looking at that kind of stuff” he said.

By the 7th inning, he admitted that we might have something special brewing. By the 8th inning I was texting everyone who would give a damn about a regular season baseball game, and by the ninth inning the remaining spectators (you wouldn’t believe how many people left because the Braves were losing) were cheering every strike that Johnson threw. After the final out, there was a lot of clapping, and after the five minute on-field celebration, we all speechlessly filed out of the stadium–our faces stunned. We were buzzing on the ride home, wide eyed and mostly silent. We just kept saying to each other, “I can’t believe it!”

We went to a bar out in Buckhead and had drinks and listened to the jukebox. We even met a couple of guys who were at the game, which led to another round of “Can you believe it’s?”
That was ten years and two days ago. It may as well have been 20 years ago. My high school buddy is married with a kid now, and I haven’t watched an inning of baseball in almost 3 years. The last time I attended a baseball game was when I lived in Oakland. I fell asleep during the 3rd inning and it took me until the 5th inning to decide to call it a day.

I sometimes wonder if that game didn’t ruin me somehow. My interest in non playoff games wane the minute both teams register hits on the scoreboard. The game is way too slow. I prefer soccer and basketball to baseball and football now. I thought about going to a couple of games this summer, but I know it would be impossible for me to sit still that long. One of the things that stick out the most from that game is when I got back to Texas and told one of my buddies about seeing Randy Johnson pitch. He wasn’t very impressed. “You mean no one on the other team got a hit? Psst. Sounds boring to me.”

I thought about giving him a lecture on why seeing a good pitcher’s duel is way better than a slugfest, and how defense, pitching, and stolen bases got me just as excited as a towering home run. Instead I just laughed and shook my head. He didn’t understand and there was no way for me to make him. I might as well have been talking about some life altering acid trip from my late teens.

That was only 10 years ago, and the relevance of that experience diminishes with each passing year. Baseball’s popularity has only dwindled since then, and with each passing day, the story about “seeing a Randy Johnson perfect game” becomes less cooler to share. Someday there will come a point in my life where the people who know me will be shocked when they find out that I not only liked baseball, but grew up playing it. It’ll be like when someone tells you they study Latin in college. I myself can barely believe how Gung Ho I was about the game when I was a youth (collected baseball cards and everything).

“Why?” They’ll ask. And I’ll just shrug my shoulders. Perhaps I’ll even dredge up this story. And maybe they’ll feign interest for the first couple of sentences before I realize they are just humoring me. Then maybe I’ll just give up and say “you had to be there.”

But seriously, you should have been there.

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