Dude! You're young, you've got nearly 50 jacks, you finally smell a pennant race. This is a season you'll never forget.

September 29, 1996|By Kevin Cowherd | Kevin Cowherd,Sun Staff

It was like coming this close to your dreams and then watching them brush past you like a stranger in a crowd. At the time, you don't think much of it. You know, we just don't recognize the most significant moments of our lives while they're happening. Back then, I thought there'd be other days. I didn't realize that was the only day.

-- Moonlight Graham in the movie "Field of Dreams," explaining what it was like to play one inning for the 1922 New York Giants without coming to bat.

It's 11: 25 on a sweltering Monday night, and a shimmering haze hangs over the streets as you stroll into Boccaccio's in Little Italy. You're dressed like the homeboy version of Johnny Cash: off-black T-shirt, baggy black Nike shorts, black Nike shoes. But the manager greets you like you're the pope, and the bartender sings out "Nice game tonight!" and a busboy punches another and whispers, "It's Brady Anderson, man!"

Dude, you say to yourself, this has all the makings of a significant moment.

With you is your girlfriend, Ingrid, who is, by anyone's standards, a real neck-snapper. Ingrid is 25. Ingrid is a model from Belgium. Ingrid has the kind of silky, exotic voice that leaves waiters smiling and nodding and eventually backing up into the tray stand as they turn to leave.

The maitre d' leads the two of you to your table, which isn't hard to find since you're the only customers and they're keeping the joint open just for you.

A waiter materializes. You get down to business and order a salad, the veal la piccata and a dish of pasta so thin you could floss with it. Ingrid orders the prosciutto e melone in that sing-song voice, and you wonder if they'll get this one in the kitchen, since the waiter appears to be smiling and nodding and scribbling on the sleeve of his shirt.

Sitting there in the dim, air-conditioned coolness, sipping bottled water that's been icing in a champagne bucket, you feel the tension drain from your body.

Big win tonight. Orioles 5-4 over Detroit. You got a hit, scored a run, did something to help the team. With nearly 50 home runs -- you never hit more than 21 jacks in your life -- and more than 100 RBIs and runs scored, you sense you're gliding through a magical season. Dude, you're taking aim at the club's single-season home-run record of 49 held by Frank Robinson, a gen-u-ine Hall of Famer. You're in the midst of the most intoxicating and significant moments of your career.

"When I'm done playing, I don't expect restaurants to stay open 25 minutes later for me," is what you tell people. "I'm totally prepared for that. But I want to make the most of it while I am playing."

You're not a man beset by many fears, but what does scare the hell out of you is what happened to Moonlight Graham in "Field of Dreams."

How many times have you seen that movie? A hundred? Two hundred? At one point this summer, you watched it every day for seven straight days, which is why you can recite Moonlight Graham's wistful soliloquy about dreams the way other ballplayers recite the incentive clauses in their contracts.

"What was it like?" Ray Kinsella asks Moonlight Graham about playing only one inning in the major leagues.

The old man sits wearily at his desk and an ineffable sadness settles about him as he describes the moment, how fleeting it was, how he didn't drink it in, never fully appreciated it until it was too late to get it back.

Dude, you think, what a tragedy! Guy gets this close to The Show -- this close! -- and now all he has are memories as musty as the doilies at your grandma's house.

This is not going to happen to you -- you decided that a long time ago. You're going to enjoy it all, the game, the celebrity, Ingrid, the late nights at Boccaccio's.

You're 32 years old. You're in your ninth season with the Orioles and finally getting to smell a pennant race. And every night, someone hits a switch and that jewel of a stadium down by the water lights up, and every bit of cosmic energy in this town is focused on you and your team and what your team does.

Maybe the moment floated by Moonlight Graham, the poor bastard.

But, dude, that isn't gonna happen to you.

Metting Ingrid

How you started going out with Ingrid is like a "Seinfeld" episode. In fact, you wouldn't mind seeing it made into a sitcom someday, because maybe it's some sort of metaphor for how you go about your life.

The media make it seem like you're this laid-back California surfer type. Or because of the sideburns, they think you're this Luke Perry wannabe, or one of these Muscle Beach lunkheads because of all the weight-lifting you do. But the truth is, there's an intensity about you that fairly crackles on occasion, and it sure crackled when you first laid eyes on Ingrid.

This is three years ago, OK? The Orioles are in New York to play the Yankees. After a game, you take a cab to this friend's apartment, where, it turns out, she has a few friends visiting.

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