On April 18, 1981, the night before Easter that year, young David Craig attended a baseball game in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, at the invitation of his uncle, Dennis Craig, the home plate umpire. Little did he know that the Triple-A game between the Pawtucket Red Sox and the Rochester Red Wings would make baseball history as the longest professional baseball game ever played.
With a start time of 8:25 p.m., the game began as a regular pitching duel, scoreless for six innings. The Red Wings finally scored a run in the 7th; the Red Sox answered in the 9th. Next came another 11 scoreless innings (yes, you read that right). So then in the 21st inning, when the Red Wings scored, only to have Pawtucket’s Wade Boggs drive in the tying run in the bottom of the inning, no one was particularly happy about it (least of all Boggs). The players endured another 11 scoreless innings until league president Harold Cooper heard about it and demanded the suspension of play at the conclusion of the 32nd inning (at 4:07 a.m.!).
At this point, the crowd had dwindled from 1,740 to a mere 19 (excessively loyal) fans, each of whom received, for their devotion, season passes to the stadium. Not included in the count is David Craig, who by this time, was fast asleep. To the best of his uncle’s knowledge, David Craig has never since been to another baseball game.
And, as much as I love baseball, I can’t say I blame him.
I recently attended a game that had me questioning my own devotion to the sport. On Sunday, June 17th (Father’s Day), my family went to a game at Busch Stadium in St. Louis (a rare treat now that we live on the West Coast) between the Cardinals and the Kansas City Royals.
First, I should explain a little about my own relationship to Cardinal baseball. I am a fan by birth. More specifically, my maternal grandparents were fans. My father (originally just another frustrated Cubs follower) became a dedicated fan by marriage. My siblings are fans. My husband and most of his family are fans. And now the next generation (with the exception of one nephew, who hasn’t been alive long enough yet to fully grasp that the Cubs are never going to win) is made up of Cards fans. Cardinal baseball is entwined with some of my most precious memories of childhood and family.
I am not the person who is going to recite for you the names and stats of every player who has ever worn a Cardinals jersey, but I catch the games when I can and generally follow the team’s ups and downs. I celebrated their World’s Series victories in 1982, 2006, and 2011 and my heart broke those years when they were close enough to taste it, but were ultimately unsuccessful. I follow them closely enough to proudly proclaim that they have the most championship wins of any team in baseball (because the Yankees don’t count).
Still, I have to admit, I wasn’t really that upset to see them lose the Father’s Day game to Kansas City. With the exception of a couple of back-to-back homeruns by Cardinals Matt Holliday and Alan Craig in the 6th, it was a relatively boring game. The Cards were up by 1 in the top of the 9th; their closer Jason Motte was on fire, throwing fast balls the Royals couldn’t see, let alone hit. There were two outs, two strikes, and I was already packing up my kiddos (a little bored, though they had hung in pretty well for little guys) when disaster struck in the form of a solo shot homerun by Kansas City’s Billy Butler.
Inwardly I groaned, but I was fairly confident that the Cardinals would score to end the game. They didn’t. Instead it went on for 6 more innings. Each team had chances to win. Neither did. And the thing about extra inning baseball is that it’s rarely good, because nine innings of baseball is enough to tire most players out. After about 11 or so, the fatigue begins to show. And by 14(when there really should be another stretch because a sing-along might help lift everyone’s spirits), has caught a big case of the Please just let it ends.
The crowd thinned more and more after each half inning until it was pretty much just us and the Kansas City fans. The organist got stuck in a rut of weary charge riffs. And we debated. Even nearly left a couple of times, but you just don’t travel 2000 miles to go to a baseball game and not see it through to the end. By the time it was finally over, the game had lasted around 5 hours. When Kansas City’s Yunieski Bettencourt hit a 2-run homer the 15th, I am ashamed to admit, I was sort of hoping a little bit that the Cards wouldn’t recover (though I would have happily cheered for a three-run homer if one happened to come their way).
I am also a little ashamed to admit how truly upset I was that St. Louis swept the Royals in Kansas City the very next weekend, not, of course, because they won, but because they didn’t win when I was there to see it.
And I have to wonder just how long we would have stayed at the ballpark. Certainly (okay, probably) not 32 innings. The Pawtucket-Rochester game was continued, by the way. The next time the two teams were scheduled to play in Pawtucket, on June 23, in front of a sellout crowd of 5,746, play resumed. In one inning (just under 18 minutes of play), the Red Sox won it in the bottom of the 33rd inning. David Craig wasn’t there to see it.