A record producer friend once told me that Check Your Head, the Beastie Boys' 3rd album, was perfectly realized. That's stuck with me over the years, the idea of being able to achieve something that lives up to your ambition. In a 1978 Playboy Interview, Bob Dylan said: "The closest I ever got to the sound I hear in my mind was on individual bands in theBlonde on Blonde album. It's that thin, that wild mercury sound. It's metallic and bright gold, with whatever that conjures up."
I thought of this after reading Jeremy Collins' terrific story on SB Nation, "Thirteen Ways of Looking at Greg Maddux". As Tom Junod said on Twitter, "Every once in a while, a writer throws everything he's got into a story. This is one of those stories."
Heading into the final inning, Maddux had thrown just eighty-two pitches. The last three outs would require thirteen more, but not before Kenny Lofton slapped a two-seamer into left and scurried and stole his way around the bases until he scored. Neither Jason nor Maddux blinked.
With two out, Maddux got Baerga to foul out to Chipper and fireworks filled the brilliant October sky — cascading lights and drifting smoke. Maddux, immediately, demanded the ball. He was not smiling. He wanted the ball. Watching the replay now, it's an insight into Maddux's sense of history and timing. In the moment, I saw neither the fireworks nor Maddux. As soon as Chipper caught the ball, Jason wrapped me up in a hug and wouldn't let go. Eventually, he sat and exhaled. With the color gone from his face, the whole night seemed more like a boxing match than a baseball game.
The game was the longest of my life. Not officially — at two hours, thirty-seven minutes it was just average. But afterward, we sat in our seats in silence for a long time. We watched the fans flock out of the stadium and the Braves leave the field. We watched the grounds crew go to work on the Bermuda grass, streaked with paint and the divots of cleats. We were the last in our section to leave.
We walked out of Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, through the lots of beeping, jubilant car horns, past the mini-vans, past the pickup trucks, past the drunk, still screaming kids our own age, and into Jason's black Isuzu Rodeo. The same Rodeo we would climb into months later on March 20, 1996, headed to St. Simons Island on Georgia's Atlantic coast for spring break.
Jason and I kept our vow that winter quarter. We stayed sober forty days. We made sobriety what we had often made drinking before: a competitive sport. A game. We kept the streak going all the way up until the road trip to St. Simons.
Seventy-three days sober, on March 20, at a seaside bar, we "fell off the wagon." Technically, we flew out of the wagon — the black Isuzu Rodeo — and afterward I slid Jason's obituary into the desk drawer of my new single dorm room back at Young Harris College.
Sometimes, after I've read a good story I feel envious. After reading this piece, though, I felt elevated. It's clear that Collins spent a long time, years, figuring out how to tell this ambitious, strong and exact story.
It's worth your time.
[Photo Credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images]