Could you do it? Could you narrow down the best single day of your life?
I’m on the plus side of fifty, which means a) I have lived nearly 20,000 days, and b) I can only remember like 82 of them. I consider myself a very fortunate person, so whittling it down to the single Best Day of My Life was no easy task. The day my team won the little league championship? The day I was accepted into college? The day Jodi Mathison and I -– well, never mind that, the point is there have been a lot of great days in my life. I have been to the Eiffel Tower (though I may be the only person in history who needed directions to find it). I was there when all three of my children were born, but how could I pick one of those at the expense of the other two? The loss of future Christmas and birthday gifts alone made that unworkable. I once went to a dinner party where believe it or not no one really knew who Muhammad Ali was, except me, and when he left he wanted to hug me goodbye. And of course there were all those “little” days in between where nothing monumental or even memorable happened, but at the end of which as I fell asleep that night my last thought was “What a great day.”
But none of those factored in to The Best Day of My Life, aka 8/8/87. (FYI: when you try this at home, if you can’t remember the exact date, then it wasn’t the best day of your life. Keep thinking.)
Backstory: I grew up a serious baseball fan. (Actually I grew up a serious everything, except student.) It came from my mom’s side since she came from Brooklyn which meant once you were old enough to curse, you were a Dodgers fan. When the Dodgers bailed on NY, the Mets were born, and the former Dodgers fans did their best to become Mets fans and many (like my mom) succeeded. So she passed that to me and I became a bit of a stat geek before stat geeks were not only cool but running professional baseball teams. I was also somewhat of a baseball trivia expert, which conversely was much cooler then than it is now. Anyway, the Mets were my team, and I rooted for them from 1966 through the Miracle of ’69 and stayed with them through the “almost” of ’73 and beyond. I believed my love for them had no bounds, right up until I discovered the bounds: June 15, 1977 (which may actually be the WORST day of my life, but that as they say is another essay). That was baseball’s trading deadline, at which time the Mets shipped future Hall of Famer Tom Seaver, the face of the franchise, to Cincinnati. I was 19, and I was heartbroken. As breakups went it was ugly. I swore off -- “I will never have a favorite team again.” And I never have. This is a 35-year grudge we’re talking here. Okay, maybe not Hatfields and McCoys level, but definitely better than Lindsay Lohan vs. Hilary Duff.
So. What does a lifelong baseball fan do when he doesn’t have a favorite team anymore? It took some time, but over the years I adopted two favorite players. One, from the past, was the almighty Babe Ruth, the Bambino. He was all myth and legend, long dead, but that’s where myth and legend do best anyway. He was by all accounts a glutton for everything, uneducated and uncouth and un lots more things. I offset him with a present- day hero, a Mormon catcher-turned-outfielder named Dale Bryan Murphy. Dale was so straight, the rumors went, that while friendly he wouldn’t even put his arm around a woman while posing for a photo. He and his wife would have a bunch of kids, like 6 boys I believe. But like The Babe he was a star, a home run hitter. His game was actually more well-rounded than Ruth’s. He hit 30 HR and stole 30 bases in a season which still isn’t easy to do. And he was a Gold Glove outfielder which is expecially impressive considering it wasn’t his natural position.
Okay, so eventually I grow up, start a career, get married, have kids, buy a house, get mail, and one day I open it and there’s this catalogue from an organization called the Los Angeles Dodgers 65 Roses Club. It’s a charitable organization benefitting Cystic Fibrosis (it was called “65 Roses” because that’s how one of the afflicted kids pronounced “Cystic Fibrosis) and they are holding a fundraising auction, primarily consisting of Dodgers items such as signed baseballs, bats, caps, etc. But stuck in the back there’s this oddball lot – “MEET DALE MURPHY.” It turns out each MLB team had a “65 Roses” rep on it, and of course Dale Murphy would be the Atlanta guy. And I’m thinking this is Dodgers country, no one cares about Dale Murphy, I am going to win this cheap. So I bid. And I won.
Which leads us to 8/8/87.
Over the years I had had people I looked up to. Yeah, maybe you could say heroes. But I had never met any of them before. And I also wasn’t 9 anymore. I was nearly 30, and Dale was only a year older. But I have heard it said more than once that when some people meet their heroes they are disappointed. Maybe because they realized their idols were just people. That must suck.
It was a beautiful hot Sunday afternoon in Los Angeles. I look at the pics from that day and wonder “What was I thinking?” I am wearing a long-sleeved oxford shirt and long pants. But what do you wear to meet God? If not THE God, then at the very least A god. If it’s me, apparently it’s a long-sleeved oxford shirt and long pants.
The 65 Roses rep brought Dale to me on the field. We shook hands. He was big. He’s 6’5” and even at 6’ I felt very little. I asked him to sign a rookie card and a baseball for me which he of course did. I told him I had an old pair of his cleats and he actually remembered them – they were white and needed to be blue and he colored them himself! He asked about where I lived and what I did for a living. I told him I heard he played my favorite game – Strat-o-Matic baseball (this was still pre-fantasy baseball) – and told him he was a stalwart on my team. I told him though that he was more effective for me if he played center field than at his current position of right field, and I asked him if he could ask his manager, Joe Torre, to move him which would really help me out. And at that moment, Dale Murphy laughed. Not a chuckle, not a giggle, but a throw-back-your-head belly laugh. And folks, I can tell you this: I have been fortunate enough to earn money, to have beautiful and wonderful women in my life, even to win a couple of awards. But nothing could ever be sweeter than the moment you make your hero laugh.
We posed for pictures, said goodbye, and he walked off to warm up for the game. I joined my group and as we headed to our seats I heard “Bob!” I turned, and Dale was walking towards me. I walked over and he said “I just wanted to say thanks for supporting ’65 Roses.’” Dale Murphy. My hero. Thanking ME.
I rejoined my group. One asked “What did he say?” I replied, “He said he was going to hit a home run for me.” They laughed.
We watched the game. Dale didn’t hit a home run that day.
He hit two.
R.J. Colleary prays every day that he’ll never grow up. So far so good.