The Chicago cubs, engaged in a taut three-way National League wild card race, sat riveted to the out-of-town game playing on the television monitors hanging from the ceiling of their Coors Field clubhouse in Denver last Saturday. And the boys from Toms River, N.J., weren't even playing the New York Mets or the San Francisco Giants. The Little League World Series telecast provided a delicious moment of inverted reality: big leaguers looking up to Little Leaguers. When a Japanese boy belted a home run and bounced around the bases, Cubs first baseman Mark Grace called to a teammate, "Sammy, that's going to be you when you hit Number 62!"
After a weekend in which Sammy Sosa turned Coors Field into his own Williamsport—an opposite-field laser on Friday and a 484-foot blast off the leftfield scoreboard on Sunday—he trailed Mark McGwire (page 32) by one dinger, and on Monday night he tied Big Mac at 55. It would have seemed absurd on May 25 to suggest that Sosa would be McGwire's foil in this end game, having spotted him 14 homers. But Sosa has prospered while drafting behind McGwire's huge popularity and Most-Likely-to-Succeed status.
"The attention's nothing like it's been for Mark," says Cubs third baseman Gary Gaetti, the Forrest Gump of the Home Run Chase, having played four months with McGwire's St. Louis Cardinals before joining the Cubs. With Sosa, teams don't open their gates for batting practice. The flashbulbs don't pop with every pitch. Fans don't boo pitchers for every ball out of the strike zone. Sosa has yet to appear in an interview room, while McGwire is tied with Mike McCurry for the national lead; the crowd of reporters covering the Cubs is still small enough for him to take care of everyone in front of his locker. The Chicago Tribune—the newspaper run by the company that owns the Cubs—sent only one writer to Denver. Sosa encourages such restraint with his clever I'm-not-worthy mantra.
"This is Mark McGwire's show," Sosa said, continuing his noncampaign even after temporarily catching Big Mac at 54 on Sunday. "I'm not going to steal his show. He's the man. He's like my idol. I think he's going to come back and take the lead. That's what I want him to do."
Even Sosa had to chuckle at that, having stretched his magnanimity to comical lengths. Still, his coyness adds fun to what has been a remarkably uplifting Home Run Chase, one only the media and the memorabilia grubs can possibly pollute. You would think it impossible to hit 54 home runs quietly. Yet here's Sosa, having tiptoed to the doorstep of history. He's the one with the wink and the smile. He looks just like a Little Leaguer.