THE RAUCOUS YELLING started the moment my head hit the pillow. It was 1:30 a.m. Game five of the 2011 World Series—a 4–2 Texas Rangers win over the St. Louis Cardinals—had ended about two hours earlier, and a 3:45 a.m. wakeup call for a 6 a.m. flight loomed. A couple of hours’ sleep at the hotel plus a couple more on the plane and I figured I’d be fine for work the next day. But the couple in the next room had reached breaking point. “You ruined my life!” the woman bellowed at one point in a raspy southern drawl that the paper-thin walls seemed to somehow amplify. With their relentless fighting forcing me to pull an unwanted all-nighter, I could relate.
Travel for work the way I do—I’ve visited 28 of the 30 big-league parks, with Coors Field in Denver set to become No. 29 in June—and experiences like this become regular occurrences. Occasionally, though, they’re tied in memory to something truly special. That fight, and the sleepless night, became linked in my mind to the epic game six between the Cardinals and Rangers two days later—the third-best sporting event I’ve had the privilege of covering.1
I was still fighting exhaustion in the lead-up, but it quickly went away as one of the greatest post-season games of all time played out in front of me. The Rangers were a strike away from their first World Series title when David Freese’s two-run triple sailed just past the outstretched glove of Nelson Cruz to force extra innings. The hobbled Josh Hamilton’s two-run homer in the 10th restored the Texas lead, but the Cardinals tied the game again, this time on a two-out, two-strike single from Lance Berkman.
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In the 11th, after Freese pummelled a 3-2 fastball from Mark Lowe over the wall in centre, forcing game seven, Busch Stadium literally shook. I remember tracking the ball, set against the St. Louis skyline with the Gateway Arch off in the distance, looking down at the euphoric fans, and then dropping my eyes to my computer screen. The Rangers-win-the-World-Series story I wrote is still stored on my laptop.
That crazy chain of events reminded me of my experience covering the 2006 World Baseball Classic. Canada opened the tournament with an 11–8 victory over South Africa, narrowly avoiding a hugely embarrassing loss to, essentially, a group of beer-leaguers with a four-run rally in the top of the ninth. Still, the Classic was new, the emotional roller coaster really seized the players, and you could sense the mixture of relief and exhilaration they felt afterwards at picturesque Scottsdale Stadium, the spring training home of the San Francisco Giants.
A couple of hours afterwards, Blue Jays radio broadcaster Mike Wilner and I walked to my rental car. We loaded up our stuff, I put the key in the ignition and felt my heart sink when I twisted it and nothing happened. The rental company told me to leave the car where it was and to find a cab. At 2 a.m., 12 hours before the first pitch between Canada and the United States, one finally arrived. The next morning, I arrived sleepily at Chase Field in Phoenix and witnessed one of Canadian baseball’s finest hours.
Things didn’t look good with southpaw Dontrelle Willis starting for the States against Canada’s lefty-laden lineup, but Willis was ambushed. Led by Adam Stern’s three hits—including an inside-the-park home run—and four RBI, the Canadians jumped out to an 8–0 lead and held on for an 8–6 win. Adam Loewen, who had never pitched above single-A to that point, escaped a bases-loaded jam in the first by inducing a Chipper Jones double play and threw 3.2 shutout innings. The cavernous outfield loomed large in the eighth, when Chase Utley mashed a Scott Mathieson heater to centre with two on, only to watch Stern make a leaping catch by the 407-foot sign. I remember thinking “rewrite” as soon as Utley made contact, only to be shocked at how big the field played. The crowd of 16,993 sank, save for a few hundred noisy hosers.
Wilner and I were among the five Canadian media members in the press box, and the reaction of the American media as the upset went down was priceless. The Canadian players were beyond giddy, obviously, and the previous night’s pain was a small price to pay for the thrill of documenting the moment.
Unfortunately, mishaps on the road rarely lead to such a worthy payoff.
Over the previous two seasons alone, I’ve been caught in a flash flood in Houston; had a Baltimore hotel give away my room and ship me to Annapolis, Md., at 1 a.m.; run out of gas on the highway en route to Detroit; landed in Tampa to realize I’d forgotten to pack underwear; locked my keys in a rental car in Phoenix; and been trapped in Chicago when a derecho storm shut down O’Hare. Nothing out of the ordinary followed. But on those special occasions when the strain and drudgery of travel give way to baseball at its finest and most memorable, it’s hard not to be thankful for every crazy moment of life on the road.
This story originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of Sportsnet magazine.