One day in late October 1997, my father called me with such a question: If he could get tickets to the World Series, would I fly down to Florida?
Naturally, if he could get tickets to the World Series, I would crawl to Florida, if necessary.
The Marlins have been one of my second tier teams since my parents surprised me with a ticket to their historic debut game in 1993. Things got exciting when owner H. Wayne Huizenga opened his checkbook for some key players, though I disagree with the notion that he purchased the pennant like the Yankees try to do each season.
He certainly added some key studs, like pitchers Kevin Brown and Al Leiter, and outfielder Moises Alou. But other players — Jeff Conine, Charles Johnson, Rob Nen — either came through the system or had been with the team a while. And Cuban refugee Livan Hernandez was the toast of the town.
So it was with great excitement that I watched the Fish advance through the playoffs and make it to the World Series in 1997, playing the Cleveland Indians.
And I was practically doing cartwheels when he called to say he was able to get us tickets. Attending any Series game is a dream come true. And to see a Series game with a team I like, well, that's just over the top.
Dad amazingly snagged tickets for Game 6, which made things a little tricky. Of course I was rooting for the Fish to win, but they had to lose a couple games purely for my selfish reasons.
And sure enough, the team traded victories with the Indians for the first four games, and took Game Five in Ohio, setting up a potential clincher with me in the stands.
Dad spoils me, and so does my wife, who let me run off on this baseball adventure while she stayed home with the six-month-old and five-year-old kids, not an easy task.
Attending a World Series game is a once-in-a-lifetime event, so you have to do some planning, right down to the outfit. I packed my Marlins vest jersey with teal undershirt, though I was torn over wearing the original teal cap from the inaugural year, or the black cap with the official World Series patch that the team would be wearing on the field. Such things are important.
We got to the stadium before the gates opened, as planned, so we could hunt for programs and other essential souvenirs and get them back to the car so we wouldn’t have to lug them around in the backpack the whole game. This decision turned out to be a good one, as you’ll soon see.
I was a little excited to go to a World Series game.
And the atmosphere outside Joe Robbie Stadium was absolutely crackling. There were salsa bands, tailgating — a teal party wherever you looked. There was a smattering of Indians fans. I saw guys with their faces painted like Chief Wahoo. I’m not a fan of the Wahoo logo, but you have to salute freaks in facepaint who obviously paid attention in art class.
The weather in South Florida was 80 degrees and perfect — a sharp contrast to the games in Cleveland, which were complete with snow flurries and 15-degree temperatures.
We went inside as soon as the gates opened, and twisted up the circular ramp to our level, where we encountered the first moral dilemma of the day.
Draped over a trash can was a large vinyl banner with the Marlins and Coke logos and the words "Congratulations Marlins." It’s the kind of advertising thing you see hanging around stadiums. But this one wasn’t hanging up, and there did not appear to be any employees around who were in the act of hanging such things up.
Our questions: Was this garbage? If we took it, would it be stealing?
We were debating this when a guy walked up and said, "If you’re not taking that, I am."
Our response? "In the backpack!" We quickly rolled it up and got it to fit -- barely. Sometimes -- but not often -- it’s better to act first and fast and worry about the messy moral questions later.
And the banner looks very nice decorating my baseball room, along with the newspaper rack cards, subway signs and other baseball-related advertising that posed similar moral dilemmas over the years.
This decision we can blame on an empty stomach, so we chased down some arepas, the local treat that tastes even better at a ballgame — especially a World Series game.
Our seats were awesome, in the second row by the Marlins bullpen out in rightfield. Settling in, it seemed both like every other ballgame I’ve attended and yet something entirely different. It looked the same, but there was a collective electricity moving through the stands — especially since it was among the largest World Series crowds ever. The Marlins opened up upper deck football seats that are normally covered and unsold, boosting attendance to 67,000.
I thought things were breaking in the Fish’s favor. Ace Kevin Brown would battle an undistinguished young pitcher, Chad Ogea, a 26-year-old who posted an 8-9 record and unimpressive 4.99 ERA during the season.
And this is why baseball is a glorious game. October has a way of making heroes out of the players who aren’t supposed to be.
Indians third-baseman Matt Williams started the second inning with a single, and Jim Thome and Marquis Grissom walked, loading bases. Up stepped pitcher Ogea.
Keep in mind that as an American League pitcher, Ogea didn’t get to bat much, only in some interleague games that season. Easy prey for a stud like Brown. You would think.
Ogea fouled off four pitches, and he shouldn’t have been able to make contact. Then he lined a single past Jeff Conine, scoring Thome.
It was his first ever Major League hit, and became first Indians pitcher to drive in a run since Steve Dunning homered on Sept. 1972, a year before the AL introduced the DH.
And he wasn’t done. In the fifth, Ogea smacked a double between Conine and the bag, and later scored on Ramirez's fly for a 4-0 lead. He was the first pitcher with two hits and two RBI in a series game since Tiger -- and future ex-Met — Mickey Lolich in 1968.
That sucked the air out of the crowd; it wasn’t the kind of World Series history fans were hoping to see. But history nonetheless. I was still a very happy camper.
Some players have years of success and others get fleeting moments of glory. Game Six was Ogea’s career moment. He finshed with a 37-35 career record with a 4.88 ERA over six years.
I flew back to Michigan the next day, excited and exhausted, and got home in time to hang my banner and catch Game Seven on the television. The folks at the stadium that night — were they rooting for the team to lose my game? — got to see the Fish celebrate after beating the Indians in a 10-inning thriller.
The scoreboard told the tale of Game Six -- and the first five games, too.