Patricia Maris, Roger's widow, and her six children, ages 33 to 41, flew to St. Louis on Sunday, four days before what would have been Roger's 64th birthday. On the way there her heart started to flutter. She wound up in a hospital instead of at the ballpark but was doing well enough that her kids went to Busch Stadium. There they saw McGwire face 17 more pitches on Sunday-he lost balls numbered 5, 6 and 7 on fouls, including a line drive that missed the foul pole by about 15 feet—but no home runs. The stage was not yet set for number 60.
That night, on the eve of a two-game set with Sosa and the Cubs, McGwire ate dinner with his family, including his father, John, who would turn 61 the next day. "Wouldn't it be something?" Mark said, as they talked about the possibility of tying the record on his father's birthday.
"If I could do 61," John said, "you could do 61."
One key person was still missing, however. McGwire's 10-year-old son, Matthew, arrived at Busch Stadium from California on Monday, 14 minutes before the first pitch. He raced to the clubhouse, donned his batboy uniform and hustled to the Cardinals' dugout, getting there after the Cubs had batted. Mark was reaching into the bat rack to get his bat just as Matt got there. He smiled at his son and said, "I love you." Then he bent and kissed him.
At 1:21 p.m., McGwire stepped into the batter's box and one minute later propelled a pitch from 38-year-old righthander Mike Morgan into the history books. The ball, number 8, flew dangerously close to the leftfield foul pole, but McGwire threw his arms up in celebration even before the ball banged off the club-level facade. The man knows his homers, having hit 448 of them. The 37-year chasing of Maris was over.
Some Cubs congratulated McGwire as he ran around the bases. Sosa clapped his glove in rightfield. McGwire touched home plate and pointed to his father in the stands behind the backstop. "Happy birthday, Dad!" he yelled.
"Last year I gave him a card," Mark said with a laugh after the game. "Now you tell me, is all that fate, or what? The man upstairs has a plan for me, I guess."
The ball has magical power.
Number 61 fell into the hands of Mike Davidson, 28, of St. Louis. "In my hands it felt like a million bucks," Davidson said later. But like the fans who caught McGwire's previous five home runs, he chose to turn it over to McGwire rather than sell it. The spell of 62 has made Good Samaritans of would-be opportunists. Is that magic? You decide.
McGwire made real the fabled numbers of 60 and 61, the only man to do so in his lifetime. From here on out every baseball thrown his way is a record waiting to happen. Every baseball glows.