Regardless of where you were Tuesday evening – staring at your grill trying to invent the perfect combination of steak and hot dogs, say, or combating the bottom-left corner of the New York Times crossword puzzle – you probably paused and looked skyward for a moment. Perhaps the air smelled a little sharper, somehow, tinged with lilac, conjuring non-existent memories of ancient, pastoral hillsides. Perhaps the pain under your shoulder blades waned, or you noticed a shade of emerald in your vision that you needed to remember, to close your eyes and lock away. Somehow, though, life just felt right for a mere second, as if every atom were arranged perfectly, every effect the rightful output of its cause.
I promise you that it was not imagined. At that moment, out by Cunningham Ridge outside Kansas City, order was restored.
Inexplicably, the above video fails to include the moment when the scoreboard exploded in a hailstorm of crystal and jubilation, the waterfall frothed a deep merlot, and every stadium in the country stood frozen in humility and respect for his achievement. It was a scene cut directly from Bernard Malamud’s famous novel, The Assistant, when the dashing thief Frank Alpine stole Helen Bober away from her kindly, helpless grocer father. Except in this case, Wily Modesta Pena stole our hearts.
Even center fielder Melky Cabrera could do nothing except gaze, transfixed, in that inevitable achievement. Pena, cast out from baseball for his sins, returned a little older, a little wiser, a little more rotund. With a flick of the wrists he apologized, and we accepted. Sam Horn smiled softly to himself in his New York penthouse suite, and touched his glass of pinot gris to his lips. Calvin Pickering sighed and returned to his crops.
And while many furiously raced to their journals and charcoal sketchbooks to capture the spirit of the moment, as I did, there were some who doubted. They couldn’t believe that this could be he. And so, to prove his identity, Pena struck out twice and retired to the clubhouse, where a fattened calf lay waiting for him.
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