I’ve been lucky. I’ve covered a lot of baseball over the last fifteen years. Got to go to a couple of All Star Games. Was in attendance at a couple of World Series. But, there’s something special about watching a no-hitter. To me, there’s nothing like it. To watch someone completely shut down an opposing team for nine innings – not allowing a single, solitary hit – has got to be one of the toughest things to do in sports.
I’m one of the lucky ones. Most people never get to see that kind of performance. I got to see not one, but two no hitters in person. The fist was the one that Dwight ‘Doc’ Gooden threw against the Seattle Mariners on May 14th, 1996. What stands out about that one for me is a couple of things. It was the first time I appeared on a New York City radio station (I did updates and a game wrap for 1010 WINS that night). The other thing that stood out was the fact that Gooden was really a shell of the pitcher he was in the mid-1980’s with the New York Mets.
That Gooden wouldn’t just have thrown a no-hitter. The Doc Gooden of 1984 and 1985 would have thrown a perfect game and probably struck out fifteen batters. The Doc Gooden on the mound for the Yankees that May night thirteen years ago actually struggled with his command. If you don’t believe me, just check the boxscore. Gooden struck out just five batters that night while walking six. His pitch count was an ugly 134. It was a no-hitter, and a great moment, but it wasn’t the kind of dominance you expect when you watch a no-no.
I witnessed that kind of dominance three years later, when David Cone threw a perfect game against the Montreal Expos on July 18th, 1999. Coney – another former Met (George Steinbrenner liked to collect former Mets in the 1990’s) – was dominant from the very first pitch. I remember joking to someone in the press box on that Sunday afternoon that Cone could throw a perfect game after the first inning. Sure, the Expos back then had Vladimir Guerrero, Jose Vidro, and Rondell White, but they didn’t have anything else. Cone was a man against boys that day. That’s the kind of dominance you expect to see when a pitcher throws a no-hitter or perfect game.
The kind of dominance we saw from San Francisco Giants starter Jonathan Sanchez Friday night when he no-hit the San Diego Padres.
Sanchez’ gem had everything you expect to see in a no-hitter. A great defensive play (Aaron Rowand’s ninth inning catch of Edgar Gonzalez’ drive to deep centerfield. Plenty of run support (the weak hitting Giants actually had eight runs). And a pretty cool storyline that made Sanchez’ gem special.
His father was in the stands. Just like he was when Sanchez was a kid in his native Puerto Rico.
It was just the second time that Sigfredo Sanchez had watched his son pitch a big league game. The other time was three years ago, when Sanchez came out of the bullpen against the Mets in New York.
This was the man that taught him how to pitch. This was a man that is still involved in the game – he is a pitching coach for a Double A Puerto Rican team.
On Friday, he wasn’t a coach or a teacher. He was just a proud father. And Sanchez – who would not have been considered a likely candidate to throw a no-hitter considering his career track record (let alone what happened this year, when he was demoted from the rotation to the bullpen) – looked like a kid who wanted to make his father proud. That was evident when television cameras captured the two of them hugging in the dugout.
It was a moment many of us can relate to. Let’s face it. We all played one sport or another as a kid. Even if we weren’t the best player on the team, we all participated. We all had out parents sitting in the stands watching us, cheering us on. We all wanted to do well with our parents watching us. Heck, some of us were coached by our parents!
I played Little League as a kid. My father was my team’s coach. I wasn’t the best player on the team (I know, a shocker right there). But, I busted my hump and worked my way up the ladder – to the point where I was one of the better players on the team. My father helped me as a kid, and I know he was proud of what I was able to accomplish.
Granted, the stage most of us played on as kids could never compare to the stage Sanchez was on this past Friday night. But look at the shot of Sanchez and his father hugging after the game Friday night. That was you. That was me. That was all of us.
Not many major leaguers get to do that at that stage of the game. I’d say that 99% of the players ply their trade far away from their families. What we saw Friday night was one of the best moments of the year so far. Call me a sap if you want. I’m perfectly fine with that.
You can take your steroids scandals, your divas, and most everything else and stuff ’em. I’ll take what happened Friday night every single time.