fandom and youth. He was happy to see me that night. “Get in there and get some quotes,” he said to me.
Juan Nieves is a name I’ll never forget.
But, as much as I was “there,” c’mon who’s fooling whom?
That’s kind of a “cheapie” to show up late like that, so I never really considered that one whole.
But the coup de grace isn’t showing up late for a no-hitter, but instead walking OUT of a no hitter unwittingly.
On Labor Day 2001, I was in San Diego on assignment for Sporting News Radio chasing Tony Gwynn before his retirement and doing my holiday show live from Jack Murphy Stadium. You know: baseball, Labor Day, hanging out and doing an hour-long one-on-one sitdown with a future Hall of Famer that I’ve become friends with, a national sports radio show broadcast to about 300 cities for the holiday.
(Incidentally, I BEGGED my son, Barry, to come on this trip — which included a stopover in Birmingham, Alabama to see Lynyrd Skynyrd and an Alabama-UCLA football game at Tuscaloosa– but he declined. He was a very strange kid in high school!)
But for me, it was the kind of fun and the kind of trip that I had only dreamed about every day of my life as a kid.
And I was living this dream. I was getting sent to sunny San Diego for a Labor Day holiday, all expenses paid, to sit around and get visits from all of the coaches and players, and then I got to sit and watch a ballgame. And they even fed me!
I went for a few innings the Sunday afternoon before Labor Day to do a piece with Curt Schilling on the field because the Diamondbacks were in town. Seven weeks later they stunned the Yankees in Game 7 to win the World Series and he would be the biggest star in baseball for a few months of that offseason.
I left the D-backs game early on Sunday because it was my goal to actually sit and WATCH the whole game the next night — Labor Day night — maybe with my cousin Laresa, or her parents Tommy or Roxy or even my Aunt Jane, if she was feeling up to it.
But much like my disconnect with my son earlier that spring (and my wife and I feeling that way just two weeks ago and nearly missed ANOTHER no hitter), no one in my San Diego family was feeling up to a freaky 6 p.m. West Coast start on a holiday (it was an ESPN2 game), so I worked all morning — my show was live from 11 to 3 PST — and planned on just hanging at the ballpark for the game before my 11 p.m. flight back to Baltimore through Chicago.
I did the show from the mezzanine area (they call it the “plaza” at The Murph) and Bruce Bochy, Kevin Towers and several Padres players came on the show with me, as did a few of the visiting Cards’ players.
It was a very unique show, even by my national radio standards. It was the only show I ever did from an actual ballpark, except for something like the All Star Game. Even for the World Series, we’d base the show in a bar, mostly Mickey Mantle’s on Central Park South in New York.
But this was the one, it went very well and the show was over and none of my family was coming to the game.
Since sitting at the game alone wasn’t a fun plan, during batting practice, I got a wild hair to call United and see if I could get an earlier flight back to BWI. Mine was scheduled to leave at 11 p.m. and would transfer in the middle of the night in Chicago and I wouldn’t get home until 9 a.m. I was on the air from my home/studio (I had built a full service studio in the middle bedroom of my home in White Marsh…every day we did a show for more than 200 cities across the country, including New York, Boston, Los Angeles and Chicago from a bedroom!) at 2 p.m. so a little more sleep before the show would be nice, I thought.
United had just the tonic. Pay $75 for the change of flight (the BIGGEST ripoff in the world I’d say…no wonder people hate these airlines and their practices) and they could re-route me through Los Angeles, but the flight would leave earlier, around 8:30 so I could shuttle up to LAX for a 10:30 nonstop to BWI. I would land around 6 a.m., instead of 9. Three more hours of sleep, a much more rested me and I wasn’t paying the $75 (it was a work expense) so what did I care — what wasn’t to like?
“Book it,” I told the reservations girl.
I sat behind home plate at The Murph, struck up a conversation with a very pretty employee of the Padres, who actually worked for Larry Lucchino, and I was going to put in the best three innings of baseball I could and then rush to the airport and get out of California.
At the end of the three innings, my new friend said she was up for walking me to my car out in the parking lot and she’d come back and watch the rest of the game.
After three innings I glanced up to see that Cardinals pitcher Bud Smith hadn’t surrendered a hit (and, knowing my twisted little baseball mind, you KNOW that I thought about that, right!).
I KNEW that he hadn’t given up a hit, but what were the chances, right?
I said my parking lot goodbyes, headed to the airport, then to LAX, then onto my on-time flight to LAX and stepped onto my Park N’ Ride shuttle at BWI. It was 6 a.m.
A complimentary edition of the USA Today is a feature the shuttle folks have and I groggily picked up a Tuesday morning edition as I stepped onto the bus.
“SMITH THROWS NO HITTER IN SAN DIEGO” is the first headline I see on the upper right corner, complete with a color