Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Hit Parade

It was not a good day for the University of Delaware Football Team on Saturday, as Towson torched them to a tune of 49-35 at home on Tubby’s Tundra. But even the most hardcore Delaware fan, as they were stewing in their seat, had to be somewhat impressed by the performance of Towson quarterback Sean Schaefer. The twenty year old from Dunkirk, Maryland was brilliant. What a moment it must have been for him to walk off that field after carving apart the Delaware defense like a Thanksgiving turkey, and then watching as 22,000 left the table disappointed as if denied any white meat.

Watching Schaefer I had two thoughts. First, that since my own athletic prowess seemed to peak around the tenth grade that I do not have too many of my own experiences to compare what he must have felt like to. Second, I have been fortunate to witness either as a spectator or as a broadcaster some incredible moments, achievements, and games.

So what follows is a partial list of some of the greatest sports moments that I have ever witnessed either as a participant, a spectator, or as a broadcaster.

Mets-Braves, Shea Stadium, September 21, 2001.

This was the first sporting event of any kind in New York City after 9-11. My friend Adam who is also a long-suffering Mets fan and I trekked up to New York in the afternoon for this Friday Night game. I had bought tickets on EBay that day. It was a last minute decision to go, but both of us felt like we just had to be in the house that night. We trained into Manhattan and went down to a pub on 18th Street which was about as far downtown as you could get at that point before catching the famous Number Seven Train out to Shea. I will never forget the glazed look on some of the people walking the streets and sitting at the bar where we had lunch.

The feeling at Shea before the game was eerie. At first people weren’t sure how to react. Was it okay to cheer? Was it okay to boo while the World Trade Center site was still smoldering? You knew it was not a normal night in Queens when Met fans actually cheered Chipper “Larry, Larry” Jones as he saluted them with a doff of the cap.

It was a close game. The Braves were up 2-1 as the Mets came up to bat in the bottom of the eighth inning. Braves manager Bobby Cox went to his bullpen and brought in the hard throwing Steve Karsay. The first batter up was Matt Laughton who struck out on a 101 mph fastball. The next hitter, Edgardo Alfonso, walked which brought up Mike Piazza.

Karsay had gone to a 1-2 count on both previous hitters using the exact same pitch sequence: fastball, fastball, and curve before throwing a blazing 100+ mph heater on 1-2. As Karsay showed the same sequence to Piazza, I turned to Adam just prior to what I knew would be a 1-2 fastball and said, “Watch this,” as I felt like I knew exactly what was about to happen.

As Karsay released the pitch, time seemed to slow down. The exploding sound as the bat hit the ball resonated throughout the stadium. The crowd watched in silence as the ball traveled farther and more majestically than any I have ever seen waiting as it disappeared deep into the New York City night before erupting into the loudest and most incredibly emotional ovation I have ever felt. The sound was deafening as 55,000 people leaped, screamed, and cheered. What a moment for Piazza and the city I thought as I hugged everyone around me.

The Mets would win 3-2 and afterward Chipper Jones, confirming the surreal nature of the evening, would concede that he was happy that the Mets won. Sports made a difference that night as it helped ever so slightly the healing process for some while providing a brief distraction from reality for others. I was proud to be there.

Drexel-Delaware, January 27, 1999.

The Hen Hoopsters were off to one of their best starts ever after winning their first eight games of the season but had come across a rough stretch losing two in a row and then three out of five including a one-point loss at Vermont and a two-point loss at Hofstra. I was the PA announcer at the Bob Carpenter Center that night as Coach Bill Herrion brought his dreaded Drexel Dragons to town led by “Joey, Joey” Linderman: the Dragon that Delaware fans loved to hate the most.

Kestutis Marciulonis is one of my all-time favorite Delaware athletes. He was a PA announcer’s dream. He was the perfect storm: His name is long and drawn out; he shot the long ball; and he had a great sense of the “moment” hitting big shots at big times.

“That’s a THREEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!! KA-STU-TIS MARSHHHH-A-LON-ISSS!!!!,” I loved to spout over the Bob’s loudspeakers.

And on this night, he was playing with a chip on his shoulder because he had to sit out the previous two games while the NCAA investigated his amateur status.

Properly exonerated, Marciulonis came off Mike Brey’s bench and scored a career high 33 points as John Gordon hit a three point shot in the last seconds of regulation for Delaware to send the game into overtime where the Hens would win 99-91.

The Bob was rocking hard that night as an incredible game was elevated even higher because it was against an archrival, and it would help propel the Hens to a thirteen game winning streak including another win over Drexel in the America East Conference Championship game. The streak would finally end in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at the hands of Tennessee ending one of Delaware’s best seasons ever with a record of 26-5.

Tower Hill JV Baseball Circa Spring 1981.

I don’t remember whom we were playing, but for the purpose of this exercise let’s just say it was Friends who is to Tower Hill what Drexel is to Delaware. I also do not remember the exact circumstance, but let’s say it was the bottom of the ninth inning with the game on the line. I do remember that the bases were loaded and there were no outs as Tower Hill was trying to hold on to a slim one-run lead.

I was catching. Dean Eliason was pitching and Mike Morris was playing first base. The batter hit the ball back to Eliason who threw it me. I tagged home for the first out and threw it to Morris who tagged first for the second out. The runner on second never stopped running and was coming home hard. Morris threw it back to me. The ball arrived at the same moment the base runner did and a collision ensued. When the dust settled it was a garden-variety 1-2-3-2 triple play to end the game. Pretty cool, eh?

Phillies-Padres, Veterans Stadium, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, July 2, 1993.

I was the radio producer. After six hours of rain delays, game one finally ended at 1:10am. Amazingly game two started at 1:35am (curfew anyone?), and of course went into extra innings and did not end until pitcher Mitch Williams drove in Pete Incaviglia with a hit off Padre closer Trevor Hoffman at 4:40 in the morning. Harry Kalas who always understands the “moment” called it on the radio, “the Phils win it in the tenth on base hit by Mitchy Poooo!”

After producing a full post-game show (an edict from Scott Graham who in retrospect was correct, but at the time…), I finally left the Vet at 5:45am. Not quite “done” my day yet, I had to go to another radio station in Wilmington to do my only shift of the week, which was Saturday mornings from 6:00am to 11:00am. And from there right back out to the Vet for Saturday Night’s game.

A couple of days later the Phillies and Dodgers would play for six hours and ten minutes at the Vet in the midst of a July Philadelphia heat wave. This time Mitchy Poo would blow the save in top of the ninth, Poo indeed, before Lenny Dykstra would drive in Jim Eisenreich with the winning run in the bottom of the twentieth inning.

I will never forget the shot of Dodger broadcaster Vin Skully on the Phanavision screen doing play-by-play shirtless from his booth on the hot, late summer night. (Mike Corey don’t get any ideas!)

Broad Street Run, May 4, 2003.

A simple ten-mile run straight down Broad Street in Philadelphia made a bit more complicated by the fact that I was watching G-Love and Special Sauce until 5:30am the night before at Tipitina’s in New Orleans. Despite the “extra curricular” activities, I only missed my goal of one hour and forty minutes, which would be a ten minute per mile pace, by forty-three seconds. A small price to pay for the fun that is New Orleans!

This might be my personal crowning athletic achievement if it were not for the ping-pong round robin at Roommate Reunion Weekend, Dewey Beach, Delaware, Summer, 2006; but that my friends is another story for another time!

Delaware Football.

I started broadcasting the UD games in 1999, and during that time, I can easily pick my two favorites. The game at the Naval Academy on October 25, 2003, and then a couple of weeks later the triple overtime game vs. Massachusetts on November 15, 2003 .

What I remember most about the UMass game, other than the post-game recap that might be the longest on record, is some of the incredible individual performances that took place on the field, but also the amazing team cohesiveness that each squad demonstrated in one of the most physically and mentally grueling games I have ever seen. Delaware would eventually persevere 51-45 in 3OT.

A few weeks prior, it was a beautiful Fall day in Annapolis and the game had a perfect start for Coach Paul Johnson’s Middies on Navy’s Homecoming. Navy scored two touchdowns before Delaware could even register a first down scoring first on a ten-play drive and then, after a Delaware three and out, airing it out on one 66-yard play-action pass play from Craig Candeto to Eric Roberts.

It was desperation time for Delaware on their next possession facing a potential drive killing fourth and two from their own forty yard-line. Needing a spark, Delaware head coach KC Keeler called for a fake punt. Sean Blieler, the upback in the formation, took the direct snap and ripped off a twenty-four yard run extending the drive. After a collective exhale, Delaware realized that they could play with Navy, and finished the drive with a touchdown and would go on to win 21-17 after Dave Camburn knocked down a Navy pass in the end zone on the last play of the game.

Those were great times for the Delaware Football team and hopefully better times lay ahead when it is not opponents like Sean Schaefer who inspire the reflections but Delaware’s own.

Bill Komissaroff

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