General Sports

Better Days By Matt Waters

It really is incredible watch, bearing witness to such a colossal confluence of perfection, momentary as it can be. Length, distance, these are variables often misunderstood when attempting to define the home run’s meaning.

Indeed, it isn’t how far the dinger travels, it’s that moment, where 50,000 people can have their dreams made mutual, where the cascading tidal wave of sound, crashing with equal parts nuance and menace, can overwhelm every single thought that proceeded, and linger in every single second after.
The moment is pure with simple motive. It can’t be corrupted, touched by any human hand. It’s intangible, untouchable, flowing over empty seats in deserted stadiums, waiting patiently for our season to beckon its call once again.

 We allow the moment to interrupt our conscience, to forego common sense, to belie our natural instincts. It passes through us time and time again, reaffirming itself in reality, as we forget how to rationalize, reason, poke and prod on what should be clean.

It’s a sin to only believe in the moment, to pass up asking why in favor of belligerently wondering why not.

Years go by, we remain hypnotized. It takes a former superstar, now discarded, to awaken us from this disturbing lull.

When we open our eyes, it’s interpretation that is exposed as a liar, never vision.

The truth can hurt.

All along the moment was corrupting us.


   I’m young and naïve during the summer of 1998. Big Mac is blasting moon shots, remarkable, Herculean rips that conjure images of distant folk heroes, Super Human Gods worthy of legend.

 Sammy Sosa is making history, smiling the whole way, playing the best supporting actor the present could provide, another hulking Beast of a ballplayer who routinely deposited taters clear out of Wrigley Field, all with a simple flick of a wrist.

Ken Griffey Jr. sunk out of the spotlight, only able to muster a feeble 56 Jacks.

All spring and Summer Long, a dramatic, captivating assault on Roger Maris’ Single Season Home Run Record was waged, the mark eventually bludgeoned by two dynamic National League Sluggers, in a year where statistics considered impossible only a decade prior became mundanely ordinary.

All the while I watch and listen, to the feats of Mac, the successes of Sosa, focusing my most serious attention toward the Yankees, rampaging to a ridiculous 114 wins.

Future generations will recognize that team as the shining light in the 1998 Baseball Season, the furthest thing from a tidy supporting plot line.


But they were. Sosa and McGwire, this was the front-page news.

We buy in, each and every one of us, formulating alibis.

Sportswriters coo. Flowery, beautifully poetic pieces are formulated by the heavyweights. Mike Lupica writes a book. He isn’t alone.

Fans, road and home, cheer in delirious unison. Reviling the opposition becomes secondary to viewing history.

I talk Baseball with my Dad, with my brother. My father wistfully predicts that McGwire would slump eventually, and fall short of Roger’s illustrious record. He called Maris Roger. I remember that.

My brother is happy, having survived the awful Yankee teams of the early Eighties and Nineties, he is liberated, free to watch great Baseball every night. He insulates himself from the Home Run Record, intoning that the power surge pulsating over Baseball would create a new record almost every single year. In the end, he may have only been slightly mistaken. It’s better than being completely wrong.

I remember walking to the park, talking with a friend of mine, wishing that the ’99 Season would bring a safe return to normalcy with regards to Home Run numbers. All the attention on our pastime seems suffocating, the “it” factor disgusts us even if we aren’t fully aware of the notion. Was Baseball nothing more than another hot property, a fad, to be discussed and dissected and than forgotten, would the pack of wolves ever move on to something else?

” Hopefully Mac only hits 38 next season. Something like that sounds about right. “

” And Sosa?”

” Sosa? Forget about it.”


It’s amazing looking back on it. Nobody, absolutely nobody, mentioned the possibility of these players using steroids. Not even the most rogue of journalists, with nothing to lose, ever made such a seemingly obscene suggestion. We all heard nauseating, repeatedly reoccurring motives: It was either the terrible pitching, the talent dilution caused by expansion, or the simple difference of better nutrition intake practiced by our present day Goliaths.  

It allowed my father to wonder, could Mickey had broken the record if he had treated his body as a temple? What kind of numbers would Bobby Bonds had put up if he hadn’t suffered from the debilitating disease of Alcoholism?

Maybe these guys were just that good.


The Record falls while I vacation in Florida. In his exacting jubilance, Mark McGwire fails to touch first base after hitting a laser beam down the left field line; ironically, it barely clears the wall. Number 62.

He carries his son on his shoulders, an icon. He hugs the Maris family, your favorite Uncle after one too many at a Family Reunion. From the deepest pit of his soul, from the request of the better Angels of His Nature, he crashes his Post-Game Press Conference clutching Roger Maris’ bat, the one the Legend used when clubbing 61, gripping it with his huge hands, keeping a tight grasp of it within his heart forever.

Nothing could possibly relate our happiness for that man, at that particular moment. He’d done it. No questions asked.

Perfect Moment. Truth is beauty.


In the spirit of the Nineties, Sammy Sosa provided further saturation. It was a Wrigley Day Game, a true postcard kind of afternoon from the friendly confines, and The Gladiator rocketed two homers in consecutive at-bats, eclipsing 61. He was now free to set his own standard.


Number 70. It revealed the absurdity of the whole show, as if the puppeteer’s strings had been spotted at the grand finale of a fantastic mirage.

We celebrated even more, celebrated our favorite Cardinal, this gift from the Baseball Gods, ironed and delivered from most precious granite.


I’m older now, a cynic with a sense of humor. I don’t often think back too that summer of ’98, memories encased by flimsy, candy coated panels.

I’ve seen Jose Canseco, dismissed, a common con out for a buck, which might have been true, could be false. The transformation is almost immediate, a quick turn around indeed, all the scribes who panned him as a phony tossing out libelous claims now forego their previous opines in favor of silence. It’s a Sports Writers’ best friend. When they are wrong, they become very quiet about the subject that eluded their understanding. In this case, I haven’t read a negative word about Canseco in months. I wonder if he accepts their apology.  

I’ve seen Mark McGwire withered, aged, weeping in front of Congress. Just as the stats of 98 seemed beyond the possibility of reason for many, this image remains beyond comprehension in my eyes, present and future. A scar. We’re all exposed, all of us who expunged the season as soon as it became sullied, all of us who wouldn’t raise our hand in objection, all of us who see these men as cheaters still, not as ballplayers left unprotected by their own system. Some fault lies with them of course, but the equality of blame is not even close to being evenly distributed.

I’ve seen Sammy Sosa forget how to speak English on a moment’s notice, a man who played without fear, with joy and levity, now hiding behind his lawyer, paralyzed by mountains of rhetoric.  


We ignore it, the true fans among us, because the game will always survive, the residual, collateral damage mere rust on an everlasting monument. We devour the innings. Purchase the tickets. Addicted to the moment, unbeknownst to its controlling power.

We need to learn.

By mw2828

Matt Waters is a screenwriter currently living in New York. He has been writing about sports since age seventeen, about the time when it became painfully apparent that his athletic dreams would go unfulfilled, due to terrible luck and an obscene lack of talent. His favorite movie is “The Thin Red Line”. His favorite band is “Modest Mouse”. His favorite sport is baseball! With an exclamation point.

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