Here’s a story about former Texas Rangers’ great Rusty Greer, a walk-off home run, and how baseball can make memories.
This is a story about a home run, but it’s also a story about falling in love with baseball. The home run happened during a regular season game in a year the Texas Rangers didn’t make the playoffs, so you could say the game didn’t really matter. But that’s the thing about sports in general and baseball in particular – there are a thousand little moments in every game and any of them could suddenly become very important. It’s how I can remember a home run Rusty Greer hit more than twenty years ago on a random night in June.
There’s something about home runs. The ball comes off the bat with a zip and an angle and you know there’s a chance. You can tell right away, even watching on TV.
There’s something about being in the ballpark when someone hits a home run. The ball comes off the bat with an unmistakable sound, a crack like nothing else. The air in the stadium turns into a collective gasp, the crowd taking a deep breath, ready to scream if the ball clears the fence. And when it does, the game of baseball is at its purest. One swing, a run produced, maybe more.
On a late June day, many years ago, I was at a Rangers game. They were playing the Twins. This was when Kirby Puckett still played. I was just a boy, and my best friend came to the game with me. It was a good game, but in the bottom of the ninth, with two outs, the Rangers trailed 5-4. A runner was on second base, I can’t remember who, but I do remember Rusty Greer stepping to the plate.
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Maybe you’re old enough to remember the Texas Rangers’ famed left fielder. He was an undersized redhead who manned the outfield for Texas in the late ’90s. If you’re not old enough, trust me on this: you would’ve loved him. Greer could hit, hit with power sometimes, and his defense… well, think of a smaller Josh Hamilton.
He would run through a wall (literally) for his team. He made plenty of diving catches, but his most important was probably the one that saved Kenny Rogers’ perfect game in 1994. Greer quickly became a cult hero for baseball fans in North Texas.
I loved Rusty Greer because he was undersized, an underdog, and scrappy. So was I.
Our seats were in right field foul territory that night. I remember hoping Greer would get a single and tie the game. I remember hoping Greer would hit a home run and end the game. Baseball is a game that makes you hope, which means it often breaks your heart. I wondered how I would feel after Greer took his cuts.
There’s something about a walk-off home run. The finality, the joy, the exuberance – if your team wins. The finality, the air leaving the stadium, the sinking feeling – if your team loses. But if that ball clears the fence and ends the game, it’s worth a hundred losses. It is, I swear.
When Greer connected with that pitch, the bat made that sound, and the ball had that zip. The crowd stood to its feet. I remember Puckett watching the ball fly into center field, over the fence, and into the bleachers, with his head lowering right after the ball landed. My best friend and I jumped into each other’s arms, embracing, screaming, two kids in love with baseball, two kids who just witnessed a walk-off home run!
We left our seats after Rusty Greer rounded the based and we raced down to the section behind home plate. There, Greer was giving a radio interview. We were waiting while watching him talk about the home run he had just hit; we hoped to get an autograph afterwards. Sadly, Greer was hustled into the clubhouse after his interview ended. We settled for an autograph from Rangers’ President Tom Schieffer.
Baseball can be slow sometimes. It can be a game full of small, dull moments. But here’s the thing about those small, dull moments – they lead to the big moments, the moments that mean something. They lead to the memories that last a lifetime, and that’s baseball’s magic. One swing of a bat can turn a regular game into something special, something bigger than just a game.