I remember playing in a pennant race in 1998. The stands were buzzing; the atmosphere in the locker room was very exciting. With a long summer behind you, those feelings of being tired and worn out seam to not matter anymore. It becomes very easy to forget the aches and pains that you put your body through, because you have to suck it all up for the betterment of the team. Every pitch, every swing, every little play seems to be magnified to the fullest.
Long grueling road trips seem much easier to deal with because the anticipation of the game. Going on the road is usually a rough thing, but the road seems to knit the team closer together as you have that “us” against the world mentality.
I will never forget the run our team made in the 1998 Northwest League playoffs. Our manager gave us some motivation during our playoff run, vowing to have his hair dyed blonde if we won our division. We see-sawed between first and second for the final month and it all came down to the final game of the regular season. We had a packed house at the stadium, easily the biggest crowd of the season.
A tradition at our home ballpark was to pass a collection bucket around the stands so fans could donate money to the home team player that hit a homerun during the game. The stadium staff would then come in the clubhouse after the game and present the money to the player. With that being said, the game was tied in the late innings, and our 3rd baseman hit a homerun to put us in the lead. Now for a normal size crowd, a player would receive $200-$400 for hitting a homerun. On this night, the player received over $1000 for his go ahead homerun. Now this is even more exciting for that player, considering that was more than half of a month’s pay at the time.
We eventually won the game and won the division. I remember sprinting to the mound after the final out and being near the bottom of the dog pile. I nearly died that day, but it was a great and terrible feeling all the same. With music blaring and champagne being sprayed all over the locker room after the game, our manager kept his word and dyed his hair blonde right in the clubhouse. It was one of the most enjoyable nights in my baseball career. The satisfaction of a team fighting “tooth and nail” over an entire summer, ultimately to make the playoffs was awesome. We would eventually be eliminated in the playoffs, but the memories of winning a division title will last forever. Pennant races are what make baseball the greatest sport in the world.