Rick Bacon is the sports columnist for The Citizen-Pollinator of West Waterville, Missouri. He won an APSE award in 1987 for his column, "Batting Around." This is his first column for Deadspin.
Nearly five hours before David Freese hit the ball over the centerfield fence, and Busch Stadium roared like the lions in Busch Gardens do, the capacity crowd did the same for another David. This David, like Freese, meant a great deal to his home fans in St. Louis. This pale, evidently meek David, like Freese, had come out of nowhere to prove his doubters wrong and slay Goliath on the World Series stage.
But this David's World Series heroism came in 2006.
Or at least we thought it did. David Eckstein threw out the first pitch last night, and the Cardinals won.
It might seem unlikely that the tosser of a first pitch would affect the outcome of a game.
But there has to be something to it.
Former Cardinal champions Bob Gibson, Bruce Sutter, and Adam Wainwright threw the openers together in Game 1. The Cardinals won. Some Ohio man who won a contest threw out St. Louis's first pitch in Game 2. Cards lose. Basketball player Dirk Nowitzki, who has spent most of his career falling short of a title, threw out the first pitch in Game 3, and Texas lost. Meanwhile, President George W. Bush, winner of four consecutive large elections, threw out the first pitch of Game 4, which Texas won. Game 5, it was Roger Staubach who threw out the first ball in Texas. He's one of the top five quarterbacks ever to play the game. Could it really be a coincidence that the Rangers won again that night?
Which brings us back to David Eckstein, the plucky shortstop whose arm resembles his namesake's, in its springy, slingshot-like force. People used to rag on that arm. They said it wasn't strong enough for him to make it as a Major League shortstop. They told him to look at Rafael Furcal. Now there was an arm.
It's no coincidence that Furcal has struggled in the clutch, in the moments when Eckstein used to thrive. Furcal has batted .120 in his first World Series. Eckstein played in two of them, and he hit .333. In 2006 he won the series Most Valuable Player award. What was that about his weak arm not being able to measure up to Furcal's, again?
When he threw out that ball, an hour later, Eckstein's ball loafed toward the plate, arcing too high. It didn't have the zip of Neftali Feliz's ninth-inning fastball.
But unlike Feliz's fastball, no one hit it. Eckstein popped Yadier Molina's mitt.
Eckstein's arm might not sizzle like Feliz's, but that's for the best. Feliz is 6-foot-3, and Eckstein is 5-foot-7. That means his arm, however outstretched, is closer to his heart, which still beats unlike that of any player in this game.
I asked the feisty shortstop, who last played for the Padres in 2010 and hit a respectable .267 while leading a young, contending team, whether he'd think about making a comeback. We'll see, he told me.
But, when the ninth, 10th, and 11nth innings came last night, I saw an unmistakable figure hopping in a Busch Stadium suite. The little guy just wins.