June 29th

On Thursday, June 29th, 1905, Archibald Graham entered a game for the New York Giants in the top of the ninth and his team at bat against the Brooklyn Dodgers, but the inning ended with him in the on deck circle. He played the field in the bottom half of the inning, but never returned to the major leagues and became a historical footnote famously recounted in the movie “Field of Dreams”.

If you are a baseball fan, you know that movie. Ray Kinsella goes in search of recluse author, Terrance Mann, really JD Salinger but he threatened to sue, and then runs into Moonlight Graham before meeting his long dead father. It’s a wonderful movie and it always makes me cry at the end when he plays catch with the younger version of his Dad.

My Dad died on June 29th, 1999, and I live about a five minute walk from the remnants of the ballpark in Brooklyn where Moonlight Graham made his only appearance in the bigs. It’s a Con Edison lot, but there is a wall that remains from the ballpark, abandoned over 100 years ago when the Dodgers moved to Ebbets Field. I go there every June 29th to remember the ghost of Moonlight and dream of one more catch with my Dad.

Yesterday was a perfect day for baseball here in New York. As I watched the early evening sun gather around the ruins of Washington Park, I could picture Moonlight out in right field, sprinting after anything that came close to him. I could picture my Dad, an Englishman who thought baseball was the most boring thing ever but a father who wanted to bond with his son, making me learn to hit lefty and exhorting me to keep my glove up higher and be ready for the ball.

So I was more excited than usual to watch last night’s game. Baseball was swirling in my mind and I was really excited to see Dustin Fowler’s big league debut. He was playing right and hitting sixth. But, the weather in Chicago was terrible, and the game didn’t start until almost 11pm here in NYC.

The Yankees looked to have a great inning on their hands in the top of the first. Brett Gardner singled, Aaron Judge walked, and then Didi got a run home thanks to an error. 1-0 good guys, and they were threatening to do much more. But Sanchez hit into a double play and Ellsbury flew out to left, so the inning ended with Fowler in the on deck circle.

Almost seven years ago, I was walking my daughter to school on a beautiful October morning. As we got to the middle of the street, I realized the car heading towards us wasn’t going to stop in time. I pushed my daughter forward, and turned to scream, “STOP” at the car. I remember feeling the impact on my left leg, pounding on the hood while I yelled, and being knocked back. Amazingly, I was ok, I walked over to my sobbing daughter, scooped her up and sat down next to a chain link fence while people and cops swarmed around us to make sure we were ok. A short while later, an ambulance came and the EMTs convinced me to go to the hospital and get checked out. A neighbor took my six-year old, and I took a ride. It was only about an hour later, after sitting in a wheelchair and then being asked to walk to x-ray, that I realized something was wrong. I tried to stand but couldn’t. The diagnosis was a tibial plateau fracture, the x-ray technician told me I was lucky, usually that injury included damage to the patella tendon, but since I was standing initially, my patella must be ok.

Luis Cessa was on the mound and he got two quick outs, a strikeout and an infield grounder. His first pitch to Abreu was a 96-mph fastball that Abreu was late on, fouling it away. Abreu watched a similar offering go down the pipe, for strike two. Having no reason to change things, Cessa went back to the fastball for his third pitch.

Fowler was racing as the ball flew towards right. Abreu was late on this one too, so the ball was tailing towards the stands. Fowler had a chance, but it was going to take everything he had. At the very last second, he realized that an impact with the stands was imminent and he tried to put his left hand out to absorb the impact.

He was going too fast at this point, and his right knee took the brunt of the collision. He almost went completely over the railing and into the stands, but quickly righted himself, grimaced and tried to walk. A step, a grimace, and then a hop. Something was clearly wrong. He tried one more step, but crumpled to the ground. You could see the security guy waive at the dugout for help and Girardi race out of the dugout with the Yankee trainer, Steve Donahue.

Donahue went to examine the knee and placed his hands just below Fowler’s kneecap. Fowler’ expression never changed, he was probably in shock, but Joe Girardi put his hand up to his face to stop the tears. Donahue signaled frantically for the cart to come out as Fowler’ teammates circled around him thinking of what to say.

I watched it all in horror. Seeing the hop he took and the way he collapsed, I figured it was the tendon. I cursed the baseball gods and history. I cried for Fowler, Moonlight, and myself. And I went to bed thankful that I won’t have to face another June 29th for 364 more days.