One warm, clear thought came to Luis Gonzalez as he floated joyfully around the bases last Saturday night upon hitting a home run in his first World Series game, a game he didn't reach until he was 34 years old and had played 11 full major league seasons: backyard Wiffle ball. It occurred to Gonzalez, the Arizona Diamondbacks leftfielder, that he had done this before, though as a kid in Tampa he had used a plastic bat and his imagination to hit his Series home run.
To the New York Yankees the World Series may seem like air or water, just another staple of life. The Diamondbacks, however, a team loaded with aging players who needed patience and Celebrex to finally reach the Fall Classic, remind us that the World Series is as precious as a boy's dream. The World Series is a sugarplum.
'Twas the night before Game 1 when Gonzalez, nestled in his bed in his Scotts-dale house, awoke and looked at his digital clock, certain he'd been asleep for two hours or more. The clock mocked him. Only 10 minutes had passed since he last had checked. "It was like that all night," Gonzalez said after Game 1. "Not because it was a matter of being nervous. It was a matter of being excited. I wound up getting only a couple of hours of sleep."
A wired Gonzalez reported to Bank One Ballpark at 10:30 a.m.—nearly seven hours before the first pitch. First baseman Mark Grace had already been there for a half hour. "Had to," Grace said later that day. He explained that he had been so jumpy, "my old lady kicked me out of the house." Gonzalez and Grace were two of nine Diamondbacks who had spent at least 10 years in the big leagues without getting to the World Series.
Grace is 37, stocks Celebrex (an arthritis pain reliever) in his locker and spent 13 years on rock-pile duty with the Chicago Cubs before signing with the Diamond-backs as a free agent last December. He normally spends October playing golf in Arizona with former big leaguers like Vince Coleman, Chili Davis and Bob Melvin, who are happy to have his company. ("They know I write big checks after the 18th hole," Grace said.) On Saturday night he stood on the third base line and felt the hair on his arms stand up and a chill shoot through his body as Jewel sang The Star-Spangled Banner to the accompaniment of fireworks.
" 'The rockets' red glare'—that's when it really hit me," Grace said. "I thought, You know what? This is pretty damn exciting. This is pretty damn cool. It was a better feeling than I ever, ever imagined."
The 97th World Series, which started later in the year than any other, will go down as one worth waiting for. It wasn't only that you'd have to go all the way back to the third World Series, in 1906, to find more brilliant pitching over the first two games or a Fall Classic than that provided on Saturday and Sunday by righthander Curt Schilling and lefthander Randy Johnson, the Diamondbacks' version of Drysdale and Koufax. It was also because almost everywhere you turned, another wrinkled Arizona elder who had seemingly driven up in an Airstream was fulfilling a lifelong dream.
The Yankees may have had a 58-to-1 edge in world championship rings owned by players on the Series' rosters (second baseman Craig Counsell, who homered in Game 1, had the Diamondbacks' lone ring, won as a member of the 1997 Florida Marlins), but Arizona, with 9-1 and 4-0 victories, ended the weekend with a two-games-to-none lead. (Games 3, 4 and, if necessary, 5 were scheduled for Yankee Stadium on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.) The Diamondbacks accomplished their weekend sweep using only one player younger than 31—outfielder Danny Bautista, 29, who drove in Game 2's first run with a second-inning double.
No moment better captured what the World Series meant to the National League champions than when righthander Mike Morgan entered to pitch the eighth inning of Game 1. Morgan, 42, is so old that he and Warren Spahn have a common teammate, Rico Carty. (No, not at the same time.) "I want to be the white Satchel Paige," says Morgan, who made his major league debut in 1978, one week after graduating from high school. Paige was also 42 when he appeared in his first World Series, in 1948.
Morgan typically spends his Octobers running a hunting expedition company outside Ogden, Utah. Last Saturday, though, Doc, Cal, E-man, Z-man and the rest of his Lost Creek Outfitters brigade kept an empty bunk for him on the Green River and watched on a borrowed TV hooked up to a generator as Morgan inherited a 9-1 lead from Schilling. Morgan hurried excitedly through his warmup pitches, only to have home plate umpire Steve Rippley tell him play would be held up until a typical World Series extra-long batch of between-innings TV commercials had run its course. With time on his hands Morgan peered into the stands behind home plate.