PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti When David Ortiz hit his grand slam Sunday night, lightning struck. No. I mean it. Lightning struck. We were sitting on an open-air balcony at an orphanage in Haiti, huddled around a filthy computer screen, and when Ortiz rocketed that ball into the Boston bullpen, the skies lit up. And so did we.
“You gotta be kidding me!”
“The first pitch!?”
Many will remember where they were for the game. I will never forget. We had taken a crew of 23 volunteers – plumbers, carpenters, electricians, etc. – to aid in the reconstruction of the Have Faith Haiti Mission, run by a charity I helped start, A Hole in the Roof Foundation, and which is home to around three dozen kids, none of whom have any idea what baseball is.
Normally, we give up on the outside world. We have made these trips before (seven of them, thanks to Roger Penske and Pentastar Aviation, who donate the use of a plane). And since most of the time we are lucky to have electricity, we mostly stick to hammering, rolling paint and enjoying the kids.
But this time was different.
This time, one of us had a computer program called Slingbox, which lets you watch your home TV on your computer. And thanks to diesel-generator electricity and Randy, our resident genius on computer wiring, we got Internet, power and a picture.
We got…the game!
It was fuzzy, sure, and occasionally it just froze and went black and we had to start it again, but we hunkered in, sweat soaking our T-shirts, to watch our hometown baseball team go for a 2-0 ALCS lead.
It seemed like such good karma.
A night to remember
And for a while, it was. Max Scherzer was a hurricane. (Actually, you don’t want to say hurricane in Haiti.) As he mowed down batter after batter, the group of us watching – Mark, Jesse, Lou, Chris, Randy, Andy, Tom, Scott, Mike, Amy, Val, a few others – marveled at his control.
“Yes!’ we screamed with each swing and a miss. We passed around a bag of trail mix. We slumped in our folding chairs. A fan is a fan, no matter where the setting. We could have done a beer commercial, except there wasn’t any beer.
“Scherzer has this,” we said. When Detroit grabbed a 1-0 lead in the second, some wondered whether that wouldn’t be the final score.
As the innings passed, our group yawned and thinned. Most were exhausted from a hot day of painting walls, plumbing toilets or fixing generators. When Miguel Cabrera clocked a Clay Buchholz pitch over the wall, there was a surge of sleepy confidence.
“It’s Detroit’s night,” someone said.
“Once Miggy gets going,” someone added.
By the time that inning ended, the Tigers had a 5-0 lead, and a victory seemed as sure as a line at a Haitian bank. Many of us dragged off to sleep on air mattresses. There was much work to be done, a field to be cleared, a swing set to be cemented in.
“Good night… g’night… see ya in the morning.”
Soon there were only three of us left. Lou, the plumber, Randy, the electronics genius, and me. As the bottom of the eighth rolled around, I felt my head drooping. It was 5-1, Tigers.
I noticed a small lizard dart across the wall.
An ending to forget
And then it all came unraveled. With Scherzer done, one reliever after another couldn’t produce a simple out. Veras was pulled. Smyly was pulled. Alburquerque was pulled. The bases kept filling. Jim Leyland went to Joaquin Benoit…
And the computer crashed.
“What?” we screamed. We rebooted. We waited. The sky was black. I saw distant lightning.
“There!” The picture returned. Benoit on the mound. Ortiz stepped in. First-pitch fastball and –
“YOU GOTTA BE KIDDING ME!”
You know the rest. Even on a dirty laptop, in a Third World country, that stunk. The lightning flashed. The lizard disappeared. I knew it was over. An inning later, another reliever, Rick Porcello, faltered. On a wild throw, a wild pitch and a sliced single, the game was lost.
Lou, Randy and I rose, stunned and exhausted. We killed the lights and headed to the air mattresses. Deep down, I think we’d hoped the magic of watching from so far away would ensure an equally magical outcome. But a fan is a fan and a game is a game, no matter where, and as long as both exist, there will be heartbreak, even in a darkened orphanage on a stormy island night.