Monday, June 17, 2013

Monday Morning Stories With Mookie - Episode 73

The Time Mookie Saw The Real Last Game That Was The
Basis Of The Movie: “The Final Season”

Have you seen/heard about the baseball movie called “The Final Season” that came out a few years ago?  If you haven’t -  according to Wikipedia - It is a “feel-good” story about a small town baseball team whose school is going to be consolidated with a nearby school district because their school has small enrollment and is financially unsustainable.  The biggest trouble with this is that it will be the end of the school's immensely successful and storied baseball program (they had won 19 state championships).  Naturally, the focus of the story shows how the team overcomes all odds, and ends up making a historic run at their 20th state championship during their “final season.” 

Needless to say, heart strings are pulled and sentimentality probably overflows.

Why (you may wonder) am I paraphrasing the film summary from Wikipedia instead of giving my own observations about it?  Well, this is because I never saw the movie.  The reason I have never felt the need to see the movie is simple:  It was because I was actually there in real-life to see their real last game.  I will even go as far to say I also played a VERRRY small part in their last season as well.

How so?  Here we go.

The year (1991) that the real team featured in the movie made their improbable run at their last state championship - happened to be the same year my own baseball team happened to make a charge to the state tournament as well.  As I have mentioned in a previous Monday Morning Stories With Mookie, that was also the season where my band of no-talent cohorts and I rode the bench and endured endless bus rides that entire summer.  While our playing time was quite minimal, I dare-say that yours truly gave the finest season-long exhibition in “courtesy running” that had ever (or will ever) been seen in my school’s history.  I stole and slid into so many bases that summer that my knees were more tore up than your Mom’s are after a Saturday Night.  WOOOO! THAT MANY!

During our grind of daily ball games that led us to the state tournament, we eventually crossed paths with the historic team from Norway, Iowa (in which the film is based on) for an afternoon double-header at their field.  In looking back, I remember thinking - even then - that it was kind of a big deal for us to be playing Norway.  We already knew they were a WAY good team, and we already knew about the whole deal with this being Norway’s “final season.”  We knew the team had nothing to lose and were probably going to give us everything they had.

If you have never been to Norway, Iowa - let me fill you in…..There is nothing there.  Seriously.  It is the definition of small-town-middle-America:  It currently has a population between 500-600 people - 98% of which are white, and takes up a whole .45 square miles (POINT FOUR FIVE!).  Having said that, we knew that when we stepped onto Norway’s simple baseball field that they would be ready to play.  As we were the visiting team and first at bat, we showed them that we also meant business by ROCKING Norway in the 1st inning with 14 RUNS.  Yep. Fourteen.  Who got to courtesy run? Yep…I did.  In fact, I got to run (and score) twice during that first inning since we almost batted through the entire order twice.  When Norway finally got us out and we had 14 runs on the board, I had visions of actually getting to play in this game since we were so far ahead already.  Well that vision came to an abrupt halt pretty quick.  Why?  Because Norway teed up on our pitchers in the bottom of the 1st inning and came back at us for FIFTEEN RUNS.  This was something I had never seen before -  a baseball game with a score that rivaled a football game (15-14) and it was only the end of the 1st inning.  Somehow, the rest of the game was minimal scoring affair, and other than an occasional courtesy run opportunity…I did not get to take a position in the field OR step to the plate in that first game.  In the end of that high scoring first game,  Norway edged us out by a run or two.  Certainly not the picture I envisioned at the beginning of the game, but at least I got to participate a little bit with my charity base running.

Then we played the second game of the double-header.  Unfortunately, except for the key fact we WON the game - the second game is not memorable to me in any way, shape or form.  I do not recall the score, nor do I remember if I terrorized the base paths.  I’d like to think that I contributed in some way to our victory during our last game against the legendary Norway team,  but odds are good I probably didn’t.  In fact, I would bet sure money that I probably spent the entire game screwing off and doing the “Go Ask Mookie About His Dad’s Wedding Ring” trick with “Rick (*).  If anything, Hollywood should hit me up about making a movie about that joke.  That joke is legendary in itself.....But I digress.  At least we won the game.

Fast-forward several weeks, and my team found itself in the opening round of the State Tournament.  We had gone most of the summer being ranked #1 in the state for division 3A, and this was the first time my high school had sent a team to State in years, so it was pretty cool to be a part of it.  We even got a team send-off from the community and police escort to the city limits when we left for the tournament.  In the end though, all of the hype and all of the #1 rankings were all for naught - we lost in epic fashion during the first round game to the team that eventually won the 3A championship.  While I will always remember this game because I stole 2nd base during my courtesy run opportunity - and had my name announced on the radio for doing so – I will also remember the let-down feeling everyone had after we lost.  We knew we were the better team, but our display on the field definitely said otherwise.  We stunk it up big time and truly beat ourselves with errors and poor batting.  I’ve heard people say that sometimes the pain of losing during a tournament is eased a bit when you find out that the team you lost to ends up being the eventual champions (as was the case here).  To those people I say "Shut the eff up.  Losing sucks."

Now because our school had such high hopes for us and thought we’d make it past the 1st round, instead of sending us home - they stupidly set us up in a hotel that night.  Since we did not have to get rest for a game the next day, you can imagine the shenanigans and juvenile behavior we all engaged in the rest of the night.  Most of us stayed up the entire night drinking DANGEROUS quantities of Mountain Dew, prank-calling each other’s rooms, and tormenting the “less-intelligent” people on the team.  Quality fun.  God, I still remember sneaking out of the hotel at 3AM with one of my teammates and going across the street to the gas station to buy two more cases of Mountain Dew.  If it is possible to become intoxicated on Mountain Dew, it's safe to say we did.

When the coaches “woke up” everyone at 8:30 for breakfast, you can probably imagine what they found was pretty harsh.  They found players who looked, smelled, and felt like shit, and saw that most of rooms were destroyed with food containers and piles of Mountain Dew cans.  Unfortunately for us, the coaches told us that we were NOT going home right away as we hoped – but instead we were going BACK to the ball diamond that day and watching the finals of the tournament.  Oh. My. God.  The main reason for this was that Norway (who was a division 1A team) had improbably won their first round game and were in the finals for (what you obviously know now) what would be the last time.  I don’t know if it was set up this way on purpose to build up the hype/tension or what, but the Norway game was the last one that day.  This meant we had to sit there ALL GODDAMNED DAY in the sweltering sun with caffeine hangovers and watch several games before we even got to see Norway’s last attempted run at greatness.  Finally after what felt like the longest afternoon EVER, the game started. 

I will not bore you with the details of the game (or “ruin” the end of the movie if you haven’t seen it) - but I will tell you that it had everything - It had drama, it had tension, and it even had a legitimate heart-attack (although I hear the one portrayed in the movie is not factually correct).  It was one I am glad to say I witnessed in person, even though my caffeine-addled brain thought otherwise at the time.

In looking back at it all, I’m surprised that it took as long as it did for Hollywood to give this whole story the attention it deserved.  It was the kind of improbable situation and story that script writers LIVE for and wish they could write.  Having said that….Again…It’s also probably why I’ve never seen the movie.  The real thing is always better, and I'd hate for the move to muck up that memory.

Plus...seriously.....Hollywood....give me a call about making a movie based on the “Go Ask Mookie About His Dad’s Wedding Ring” story.  It would make some phat cash.

(*) – Names changed to protect the guilty/innocent.

Miss a previous Monday Morning Story?  Click HERE to catch up!!!

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