Note: This is the first post in a recurring series called “I Was There,” about the most memorable live games I’ve witnessed over the years. Seeing as we can’t go to any live games at the moment, it’s nice to be able to look back — but I do hope this series will continue for a long time, and that I’m far from the only contributor to it.
Anyway, here’s a look at the first memorable game I ever attended — the perfect game thrown by the Montreal Expos’ Dennis Martinez against the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1991.
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My opportunity to witness baseball history presented itself because of persistence. You know, the kind of “Are we there yet?” persistence all annoying kids have, except in my case I was begging my parents to take me to a Dodger game instead of an amusement park.
I grew up in Southern California, a bit closer to Anaheim Stadium (now Angel Stadium of Anaheim) than Dodger Stadium, so all of the sporting events I attended as a kid were Angel games. But I was just slightly more of a Dodger fan — I guess I just loved that National League style of play a little bit more — and over the last couple seasons my desire had grown to check out the ballpark I had seen so often on TV.
It took until July of the 1991 season for my parents to relent — I could choose the game we would attend, as long as it was a day game. So of course, that meant Sunday, and the date I chose was July 28.
I picked that game in part because it was Photo Day, though I didn’t really know what that meant at the time — had I known that fans were allowed to go on the field to take pictures with players, I probably would’ve pressed to go earlier. But hey, I was going to see a game at Dodger Stadium, and that’s what mattered to me.
Keeping score of history
Even nearly 30 years later, there are snippets of Dennis Martinez’s perfect game I remember vividly. Where we sat, for example (in the reserve level, up the first-base line). What I ate (a Dodger Dog, of course). And the fact that I bought a program, scorecard and pencil so I could keep score of the game.
Yup, throughout my adolescence and into early adulthood, I always kept score when I attended ballgames. Not only did this prepare me for eventually becoming a sportswriter, it also enhanced the live baseball experience significantly for me. It forced me to pay attention to the game, which in turn allowed me to greater appreciate my surroundings and the fact that I was sitting in a major league ballpark!
And, believe it or not, keeping score can make you popular among the folks sitting nearby, as fans who allowed their mind to wander view you as an opportunity to catch up on what’s going on (at least, that was the case before smartphones). It was around the fourth or fifth inning that someone tapped me on the shoulder and asked, “There hasn’t been a baserunner yet, huh?”
The scoreboards, of course, reflected that there were no hits to that point — by either the Dodgers or the Expos — but all we had seen to that point were outs because not only was Martinez shutting down the Dodgers, his counterpart, Mike Morgan, was dealing too. An interesting footnote to the game was that Morgan himself was perfect until the sixth, when he gave up a hit and a walk, and that the two runs he would allow in the seventh were unearned thanks to two Dodger errors. Morgan also finished the game.
Once the Dodgers fell behind, pretty much the whole stadium started pulling for Martinez and the Expos, and I don’t know why that surprised me so much. I guess it was my naive adolescent sports-fan mind, but it was hard for me to grasp at first that fans would choose to pull for an opposing pitcher to make history over watching the home team win.
It started to sink in when I watched a fan tell the usher in our aisle, “I don’t care about winning. I just want to see this guy get the perfect game!” For whatever reason it didn’t hit me until that moment that seeing something as rare as a perfect game live was something to savor.
Rooting for the other guy
We all stood on our feet for the bottom of the ninth, of course. I stopped keeping score at this point; we all knew what was going on.
I remember that the first two Dodgers batters went quietly, but I seemed to recall that the last batter, pinch-hitter Chris Gwynn, nearly broke it up, causing an audible gasp in my section, before making the final out on a fly ball to center field. (Watching video of the game to jog my memory confirmed that on the game’s second-to-last pitch, he lined a ball just foul down the third-base line.)
I don’t remember going home that day thinking, wow, I witnessed baseball history and that’s something special. I don’t remember bragging about it to my friends over the ensuing days. Only with the passage of time and a much more refined appreciation of the game did I come to respect how lucky I was.
Yes, lucky. No one can predict when perfect games, four-homer games or other rare feats can happen. I have attended hundreds of baseball games, both for work and for pleasure, in the last 25-plus years, and have not seen even a no-hitter since.
I’ve met a handful of die-hard baseball fans who tell me they’d kill to be in the stands to witness something like that one day. I do eventually open up to those people about how, yeah, I saw Dennis Martinez’s perfect game, but I always feel a tad guilty. I know how random it is, but the fact that I’m still talking about it nearly 30 years later shows that I’m pretty proud of it nonetheless.