Last night, June 3, 2008, was a historic night. No, I’m not talking about Barack Obama finally clinching the Democratic nomination, nor am I talking about the first night that Bill Hall was received with boos after his agent told the media that Hall wants out of Miltown. I’m talking about Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Randy Johnson taking sole possession of 2nd place in the all-time strikeout list.
Prior to the game, I was running an order to three elderly men who were sitting at the Home Plate Bar up on the Club Level. When I started heading back to my kitchen, the bartender called my name,
“Hey, what’s up, man?”
“Ya gonna see some history tonight.”
“The Big Unit’s going for second on the strikeout list.”
I had to pause to try and remember who held that nickname. Then I remembered that Johnson holds the label. I had forgotten that every time I hear that name, I always giggle like a 10-year-old because the name “Big Unit” has quite a few implications.
But more important than his sexplicit nickname is the stamp he’s already left on baseball. 10-time All-Star. Led the league in ERA four times. Led the MLB in strikeouts nine times. World Series co-MVP in 2001. His insane height, mustache, and crazy mullet. And of course, how can we forget perhaps the craziest and most unlikely pitch ever.
Anyway, after my memory was fully jogged, I ensured that I was out watching the entire bottom of the 1st so that I could see history be made. Knowing Rickie Weeks and Mike Cameron, I was sure to get my wish. After Weeks sat down from a ground out. Cameron approached and I quickly positioned myself from the 1st base line to home plate – I wanted the best view possible.
Sure enough, the 5-time Cy Young Winner threw smoke as he has for as long as I’ve been alive: 19 years. With two strikes, Johnson sent in his slider (which, based off my video game experiences in MLB ’99, is pretty wicked). Cameron couldn’t handle it and struck out swinging. And unlike most strikeouts for the Brewers, the hometown crowd cheered. The Jumbotron notified Miller Park of the history they just witnessed. My concern was the final result of the historic ball, so I stayed fixated on it.
The catcher Miguel Montero paused for a moment. I figured that Johnson would get a curtain call and some brief little ceremony would happen and Johnson would have some bench warmer hold onto it. Nope. Montero just threw it to the third baseman and the infielders past in around the horn like usual after a strikeout. And all I could think of was: wow, class act and humility. Apparently eventually the ball was given to a MLB official and it was authenticated and saved for either Johnson or Cooperstown.
What happened next was another spectacle of classiness and humility. The nearly 29,500 fans at Miller Park rose to their feet and honored Johnson’s amazing accomplishment. Then Johnson got Braun to fly out and Miller Park again rose to it’s feet as The Big Unit returned to the bench – he simply tipped his cap and disappeared into the dugout.
Unfortunately for the extremely fierce Johnson, the streaking Brewers eventually got ahold of Randy and took him for 4 runs, 6 hits, and the loss. When the Crew started really beating on Johnson, the D-backs pulled him and, again, Brewers Nation gave another standing ovation to the pitcher who moved past Roger Clemens* for the 2nd most strikeouts in a career with 4,680 (he had 8 Ks against the Cerveceros on Tuesday).
I take pride in both Randy Johnson and the Brewers fans for exhibiting exactly what makes baseball so transcendent. Miller Park’s reception wasn’t unnoticed by Johnson either:
“The one thing that I won’t forget in my career is the crowd. I really appreciate that. Walking off the mound to get a standing ovation like that as a visiting player, that meant alot. That’s pretty classy, and I won’t ever forget that.”
Let’s drink to that.