As a senior, Banister was given a token spot on his high school baseball team, and he continued to play ball at Lee College in Baytown, Texas, a year later. One afternoon that season he was steamrollered by a runner attempting to score. Banister's neck was broken. "I remember thinking I died," he says. "I couldn't feel anything." He lay paralyzed for 10 days with three crushed vertebrae. His parents were told he might not live through the first night in the hospital. Banister lived not only to walk again, but also to squat: By 1986, he was catching in the minors.
"About a year ago," Banister said last Friday night in the Astrodome, 45 miles up Interstate 45 from his hometown, "I told my wife that if I could get just one at bat in the big leagues, it would have all been worth it."
On July 23, the day the Pirates called him up to replace injured catcher Don (Sluggo) Slaught, Banister pinch-hit for Drabek in the seventh inning against Atlanta. He singled sharply to the hole between shortstop and third. "It took me forever to get to first base," says Banister. "So many things went through my mind. Little League. High school. Hospital beds. I really couldn't hear the crowd. When I got to first, Tommy Sandt was telling me how many outs there were, but I couldn't hear him. I was waiting for someone to shake me, to wake me."
The next morning, Banister was returned to Triple A Buffalo, so far batting 1,000 for his big league career. Even the Pirates conceded that, in Banister's 96 hours with the team, he somehow came off as more impressive than the superstars he had left behind, perhaps for good.
"We're just baseball people, baseball fans," said Donnelly as he watched the Cubs and the Braves play on a clubhouse TV set in the Astrodome. "We sit here and watch a game. Then we play our own game. We go back to the hotel and watch another game. We don't think we're a big deal." This member of baseball's best team paused while various Pirates offered their impersonations of Harry Caray. Donnelly shook his head. "Because," he concluded, "we're not a big deal."