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April 2 2007

I'm ready to tell you my secret now.  Here goes.  For everything I love about baseball, my favorite thing isn't what Chase Utley hits against lefties when he's ahead of the count or Brett Myers' numbers at night with runners on first and second.  It's that despite all we think we know, what happens next is always just out of reach.  It leaves us with nothing to do but watch.

It seems like all the numbers we have at our fingertips should count for something.  And they do.  But if what you want to know is what happens next it's not enough.  It's not close.  I would have had to guess a lot of times who was going to lead the NL in batting average last year before I got to Freddy Sanchez.  Or that "58" would be the answer to a question about how many home runs Ryan Howard would hit.  Or that the Cardinals would win the World Series after playing about .500 during the regular season.  I didn't see any of it coming.

It occurred to me recently how many of my baseball memories are about things I never saw at all.

The first game I ever went to in the mid-seventies.  I sat with my dad near the top of Veterans Stadium and the game was a blur.  I needed glasses but nobody knew it yet.  Late in the game, somebody, I  think now it must have been Greg Luzinski or Bob Boone, hit a grand  slam.  I certainly never saw the ball.  When the crowd erupted nobody had to explain to me that something big had happened.  But somebody had to explain what it was.

The last game I saw in person was game seven of the NLCS last year in New York.  My friend and I sat way up in obscured vision seats along the first base line where we could see about three-quarters of the field and a huge overhang where you'd expect left field to be.  As it  happened, the quarter or so of the field we couldn't see turned out  to be important.

Oliver Perez and Jeff Suppan battled in a brilliant pitcher's duel until the top of the sixth when, with the score tied at 1-1, Scott Rolen hit a bullet out to left that Endy Chavez pulled back to turn a two-run homer into a double-play.  Three innings later there was nothing Chavez could do as Yadier Molina hit the two-run homer that would send the Cards to the World Series.

Never saw it.  If it hadn't been for the crowd we wouldn't have known it happened until we saw Molina round the bases. 

We didn't have to wait, though.  Despite the fact that I didn't care in the Mets or the Cardinals won, it was probably the best baseball game I've ever seen.  More than anything else, what I remember was the way the electricity that had built for nine innings turned to stunned silence with one swing of the bat.  If you asked every person watching that game in person or following it on television or radio I don't think you could find a soul that would tell you they thought Yadier Molina was about to go yard.  And there's is no way to reproduce the moment when he did.  Go out and get the same 56,000 people and pay them anything you want to recreate the energy they did that night and they can't do it.

We're a little rough on our adjectives these days.  When I leave my family in the morning to drive to work it's hard to avoid the ads for everyday things positioned to be extraordinary.  Coffee that's out of this world or a new car that offers a driving experience that's life-changing.  It leaves us unarmed when we need to describe the things that truly are fantastic.  We're going to need new words for a lot of things.  Baseball is one of them.

The 2007 Phillies are good.  For weeks now people, including myself, have been guessing just how many games they were going to win this year.  But it's a joke.  The number of variables that are going to impact what happens in the next 162 games is close to infinite.  Not only don't we know we values to plug in for them, we don't know what they are.  One thing I can promise, though, is that before it's over, the 2007 Phillies' season is going to create some moments that were worth waiting for.  And even if you don't see them coming, even if you don't see them at all, you'll know it when it happens.

In 2006, Chase Utley hit 300/512/450 in 60 at-bats against lefties when he was ahead in the count.  With runners on first and second at night, opponents hit 258/303/387 against Myers.

See you at the yard.

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