Sunday, December 11, 2005

The Greatest Batting Practice Ever

In April of '86 a friend and I followed the A's up to Seattle for a 3-game series against the Mariners. We arrived before the gates opened and bought bleacher tickets. We rushed in to join BP in progress and stood with some youngsters in the front row of the left field bleachers. I brought my glove, of course. The A's came up to the cage and as is customary, the scrubs and bench players were scheduled first. With the DH, the AL teams don't include their pitchers in this first category.

Then the big boppers stepped in. Now, 1986 was a crossover year in A's baseball. It was Dave Kingman's last year and also Jose Canseco's rookie year. And these two were paired in the cage... in the Kingdome, a.k.a. homerdome. First, Kingman. Knowing what an incredible BP this guy put on, I ran back about 15 rows up the steps. Not knowing what an incredible BP this guy put on, none of the Mariner fans did the same. His nickname being "Kong", I yelled out in a loud voice, "Koooooooooooooooong!"

If you've never been to the Kingdome, good for you, unless you're a ballpark tour fanatic. Since it was indoors and since the M's had no fans, and since even fewer than no fans showed up that early, it was dead quiet in there. There was a feeling I got that the fans dared not say anything above a soft word, lest the entire stadium hear, and with echo and reverb. They were inhibited by the roof. In future posts I'll tell stories about how a vocal visiting loudmouth used this to make an interesting series.

So, the entire stadium heard me yell Kong. Its echo didn't stop until the third inning. I also waved my arms wildly over my head as if to say, "hit it here." All the other fans looked at me like I was some kind of loonie. He took a couple half bunt swings, then let go. His first real swing ended up about 10 rows over my head. I yelled, "Kong" again. Another shot 10 rows behind me. The fans reacted like it was Christmas morning. Soon they ran up behind me because they figured out that was the only way to get a ball. But Kingman was only warming up.

Kingman out, Canseco in. Boom. Shot to center field. Boom, right center. Boom left. Four hundred feet, boom, four hundred fifty. Canseco out, Kingman in. Monster bomb, thirty rows deep. Then he bacame tired of the lower deck. He then started launching some Howitzer shots into the upper deck. Boom, upper deck 400 ft. 450 ft. 475 ft. Repeat. Suddenly the fans couldn't get any more balls. They started running upstairs. Kingman out, Canseco in. Right center, center. Fans ran to the other field. Both out, Lansford and Murphy in. Warning track, alley, alley, woo-hoo 2nd row HR. Them out, bombers in. Kong hit several upper deck shots that came just a few rows shy of the back wall of the stadium that cleared the speakers that hung from the roof, and Canseco hit one that easily cleared 500 ft. The fans were stunned.

I did bag a ball that day, but it was a Dwayne Murphy BP ground rule double. It was easily the best BP I've ever seen. The greatest BP in history is attributed to Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig before game 1 of the 1927 World Series. The '27 Yanks are widely recognized as the greatest team ever. The Pittsburgh Pirates, who never saw these legends play because there was neither TV nor interleague play, lined up before the game to watch. Bomb after bomb landed in the bleachers. They were so shell-shocked at what they saw that it is said of them that they lost the World Series before it ever started. They were swept in four games. Man, I wish I were there.

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