Posted by: Mike Cornelius | October 17, 2019

The Sound Of Joy, Loud And Clear Through The Ether

It was getting late, the tail end of a disappointing day. It had been many hours since the early morning departure from New Hampshire, the beginning of a four hour drive along the familiar route across New England and down to the Connecticut suburbs of Gotham. The trip that began on I-95 just outside downtown Portsmouth wandered off the great highway that connects the principal cities of the East Coast onto several of its Interstate brethren. I-495, the outermost of the two circumferential roads around Boston; I-90, which at the start of its 3,000 mile east-west journey from one ocean to another is better known locally as the Mass Pike; then I-84 and I-91, from Massachusetts southwest to Hartford, then due south to New Haven. Together these roads bisecting the heart of southern New England form a more direct line to New York City than simply staying on I-95, which hugs the coastline. But in New Haven the two paths come back together, so the drive to Stamford ended with twenty miles on the same highway on which it began.

After checking into a local hotel for the overnight stay, the journey continued by train, the Metro North commuter rail providing the easiest and fastest way to traverse the final thirty miles to the south Bronx, home to Yankee Stadium. There the home team faced off against the Houston Astros in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series.

The Yankees were dominant in the first game of the series, played three nights earlier in Houston. But after winning that contest by a score of 7-0, New York’s offense went quiet in Game 2. Despite the 3-2, 11-inning loss, Yankees fans were optimistic after the split on the road. But those bright hopes faded with the late afternoon’s setting sun once player introductions were completed and the game began. The Astros scored one in the 1st and another in the 2nd on solo home runs by Jose Altuve and Josh Reddick, while on the mound Gerrit Cole allowed plenty of Yankees to reach base, but none to cross the plate. When Houston stretched its lead to 4-0 in the 7th, the once boisterous crowd grew quiet.

The eventual 4-1 loss, coming on the heels of the overtime defeat at Minute Maid Park, did not doom New York’s postseason hopes, but it certainly made the road to a 28th title considerably more difficult. That knowledge dampened the spirits of fans leaving the Stadium, and a couple hours spent in the constant swirl of Midtown failed to lift them. The visit ended abruptly with a sudden realization of the time, followed by a mad dash across town and down into the bowels of Grand Central, to track 105, just in time to catch the 10:44.

The sprint was worth it since this train is scheduled to reach Stamford considerably earlier than the next available option. Still the 10:44 was a local, meaning there would be more than a dozen stops along the way. Contemplating the late hour and the ride ahead as the cars emerged above ground at 90th Street, it seemed that checking on the night’s second game, the potentially decisive matchup between the Washington Nationals and St. Louis Cardinals, was as good a way as any to pass the time.

A glance at a phone that is likely smarter than its owner showed the Nationals comfortably ahead. But then a closer look focused the mind and stirred even a Yankees fan out of his post-loss lethargy. As important as the 7-4 score was the game’s progress. In Washington they had played 8 innings. Quickly an app was loaded. The first screen displayed the box score, that eternally helpful summary of every Great Game contest ever played. The Nats plated seven runs in their first at-bat, an outburst that surely sent the packed house at Nationals Park into a state of delirium. In a deep hole after just one inning, the Cardinals did their best to chip away, scoring one in the 4th and three more in the 5th. What the basic numbers on the screen didn’t reveal was that after two quick outs St. Louis had loaded the bases in the 8th, generating untold anxiety in the crowd. But veteran Matt Carpenter, sent up to pinch hit, sent a grounder to second that was monetarily bobbled before being corralled by Brian Dozier, whose ensuing throw to first retired the side and ended the threat.

Fingers stabbed icons on the screen, and after a moment the voices of Charlie Slowes and Dave Jageler are heard. The pair comprise Washington’s broadcast team on 106.7 The Fan, home station for the Nationals radio network. Decades from the days of and on a device infinitely more complex than the old hand-held transistor receivers, a fan is once again listening to a ballgame in real time. In the age of GameDay and Statcast and myriad other high-tech tools that instantly transmit game information, radio remains the means by which millions of fans follow the exploits of their favorite team. Nats fans who do so are intimately familiar with the voices of Slowes and Jageler. The former began his career in St. Louis, tutored by the likes of Jack Buck and Bob Costas. He has been calling Nationals games since the franchise relocated from Montreal in 2004. Jageler joined Slowes in the booth the following season. Together they have seen Washington go from a perpetual loser to a frequent contender, and they have called the heartbreaking plays of multiple postseason series that ended in defeat.

As the 9th inning begins it is immediately clear from the timbre of their voices that the two announcers are as excited as the nearly 44,000 fans in the stands. The roars from those fans becomes a steady backdrop, even as the words from Slowes and Jageler come faster and faster, threatening to tumble over one another. Kolten Wang flies to left for the first out, then Matt Wieters pops out to catcher Yan Gomes.

Now the Nationals are on the brink of ending years of playoff heartbreak. In the radio booth, his voice steadily rising to a shout, Slowes has the call as Tommy Edman bats against Daniel Hudson. “Two out, nobody on here in the top of the 9th inning! Nationals Park in a frenzy! The Nationals are one out away from a first ever trip to play for baseball’s World Championship! Here’s the kick! Now the pitch! Fastball is hit in the air to left center field! Robles calling for it! He’s under it, waiting! And he makes the catch! He makes the catch! Bang, zoom go the fireworks! The National League championship winning ‘Curly-W’ is in the books! And for the first time since 1933, we’ll have a World Series in the nation’s capital!”

The 10:44 rolls on, the miles and stations remaining to Stamford steadily dwindling. Other passengers give no thought to the celebration that is starting as Washington players storm the field a couple hundred miles down the I-95 corridor. But in the first car, one fan has captured the moment, the excitement, and the pure joy, as if he too were in the stands at Nationals Park. The long day is not so disappointing after all. Not when a fan is reminded of why our heroes play, and why we watch and listen.

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