Maddux gets the call

Greg Maddux was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame on Wednesday. He’ll be inducted this July. He was, bar none, my favorite baseball player of all time.

As someone who has consumed baseball via television for most of his life – indeed, that’s how a kid in West Virginia found the Braves in the first place – I only got to see Maddux pitch in person one time. And he wasn’t even with the Braves anymore.

It happened in 2006. Maddux had just been traded by the Cubs to the Dodgers and was pitching for them against the Reds in Cincinnati. I was there with a group of summer clerks from my law firm.

The game meant nothing to either team. Maddux was past his prime. It rained in the middle and I had too much to drink and felt crappy the next morning.  Yet it was easily the best experience I’ve ever had in a ballpark.

Below is a near-contemporaneous account of that game I typed out in an email to my friend Ethan on my old Palm Treo on the bus back up to Columbus. Yes, I was drunk, so yes, I have edited it a bit for clarity. But this is basically what I sent him.

I’ve reproduced this on various blogs over the past few years but, in honor of Maddux making the Hall of Fame, it’s worth revisiting again.

From: Craig
To: Ethan
Date: Friday, August 4, 2006 at 12:31 AM
Re: Maddux

So we took all of our summer clerks down to Cincinnati tonight for the Reds-Dodgers game. We’re on the way back in the big custom bus now. Fabulous night. Maddux gets traded to L.A. last weekend. Tonight is his first start for them. The stars align, and I get to see my favorite player tonight. I buy a Dodgers hat and wear it down just to support Maddux, and, I’ll admit, to be a bit annoying to Reds fans.

Maddux has a huge fork in his back. He is done. Kinda hard to watch him the last year or two, but I still root. I expect little or nothing from him.

Game starts. He gives up an early walk and I think it will be a long night. Then he starts throwing bullets. One. Two. Three. Five innings of no-hit ball. It’s 1994 all over again. Sixth inning starts. Long fly … caught. Another … caught. Lightening in a bottle. Third batter comes up and he mows him down too. I’m alone in a ballpark screaming at the top of my lungs. No-hitter in effect. I know it won’t last. Even in his prime Maddux never threw a no hitter because he’s around the plate too much. He can’t not throw strikes, even when he doesn’t have his best stuff. He gets hit. That’s what he does. Still, I think how nice it would be to not see him give up a hit.

As the top of the seventh begins, the skies open up and a deluge falls on Great American Ballpark. Lightning. Thunder. The Dodgers bat, and the half inning ends just as the umps call for a delay and the tarp comes out. Forty minutes. I know that there is no chance that Maddux is coming out for the bottom of the 7th. He’s 40. His arm will be tight. He’s a Hall of Famer already. He doesn’t need the no-no to make him happy. They got him for the stretch run and they need to save his arm. Still, part of me hopes. 

The game resumes with some kid I’ve never heard of on the mound. He gives up a hit to the first batter. Never send a boy to do a man’s job.

Dodgers win 3-0. Maddux gets the win. I get to see him pitch like he was in his prime again, and got to see him leave before anyone remembered he didn’t have it anymore.

Here’s the box score.

I was almost too old for heroes when Maddux came up in the late 80s. I was definitely too old for heroes by the time he retired over 20 years later. I’ll never consider an athlete to be a hero again.

Thanks for making it in just under the wire, Greg.

Craig Calcaterra

Craig is the national baseball writer for NBCSports.com. He writes about things other than sports at Craigcalcaterra.com. He lives in New Albany, Ohio with his wife, two kids, and many cats.

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