by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

DATELINE UNKNOWN — The crack of the bat was sweet and true — a solid hit, extra bases for sure — and as spectators rose in a collective “oooh,” Barry Bonds began to run.

He had not been much fun to that point, the only one of the 24 players at this outlaw World Series who didn’t seem to like the idea. Bonds stayed in a hotel down the road, far from the other major leaguers, who were bunking at the Kelly farmhouse. He ate by himself. He showed up 10 minutes before the games. At one point Tuesday, when he failed to chase a pop foul, Ozzie Smith criticized him, and Bonds snorted, “Lighten up, old man. This whole thing is bogus, anyhow.”

Now, as he churned around first base, it looked anything but bogus. This was the bottom of the 10th inning, Bonds’ National League team was trailing, 11-8, and two men already were racing around the bases ahead of him. The ball landed in the gap in right-center. Ken Griffey and Michael Jordan gave chase.

“Back off! Back off!” Griffey yelled on the run, and Jordan tried, but as he spun out of the way, his long legs got caught under Griffey and both men went sprawling. The ball rolled to the fence, and now two runs were in and Bonds was chugging from second to third, his cap flying off his head.

“GO, BOBBY, GO BOBBY!” screamed his manager, Yogi Berra.

Go . . . Bobby? A dead ringer

Well. Obviously, a few things have changed since my last dispatch. For one, we now have managers at this Secret World Series: the irrepressible, 69-year-old Berra for the National League, and the delightful, 82-year-old Buck O’Neil for the Americans. Both men arrived Tuesday morning, apparently at the invitation of Ernie Banks, who met them at the airport, then brought them here for a hastily called meeting.

“Men,” Banks said, addressing the players, “I know this whole idea of playing a World Series without TV cameras, no money, doing it for the tradition was all your idea, and I’m not trying to tell you what to do. But there have been managers nearly as long as there’s been baseball.

“If you want to do things right, you oughta have a couple of skippers. Yogi here, he’s played in more World Series than anybody else, but he never won one as a manager. And Buck here, well, things being what they were for a black man when we were young, he never got the chance to manage in the majors — though I’ll swear to you men he’s more than good enough.”

Yogi chimed in: “Me and Buck think this is as good as the real World Series, only better.”

“Besides,” Banks said, lowering his voice, “I wanted these two old-timers here to back me up. There’s something spooky about our host, Mr. Kelly.”

“What do you mean, spooky?” Cal Ripken said.

“Well. Look at this.”

Banks opened a box he had taken from the farmhouse, and pulled out the trading card he had shown me Monday, plus an old glove, an even older bat, a dark uniform, and some photos that looked like our Mike Kelly — but from 100 years ago.

“Does the name ‘King Kelly’ ring any bells?” Banks said.

Most of the younger stars were blank. But Alan Trammell rubbed his forehead. “Wait . . . King Kelly. . . . I saw him in that Ken Burns PBS special. He was like the first controversial baseball star, right?”

“Not only that, King Kelly could play like the devil,” O’Neil said. “I remember my daddy talking about him. Said nobody could stop the guy. He was fast — heck, he invented the hit-and-run — and he could hit the ball a ton. They even wrote a song about him, ‘Slide, Kelly, Slide,’ because of how he ran the bases.”

“What happened to him?” Trammell asked.

“He died of pneumonia before his career was over — exactly 100 years ago.”

“King Kelly. I remember hearing about him from the old guys in New York,” Berra said. “He wore them fancy suits, like that Neon Sanders guy in basketball.”

“Football,” Trammell corrected.

“He plays football, too?”

“And,” Banks said, “King Kelly — whose real name was Mike — was famous for traveling with a monkey.”

Everyone froze. It was like an Agatha Christie novel. Our Kelly looked just like these photos. Our Kelly’s first name was Mike. And our Kelly had a monkey.

“What are you saying?” Don Mattingly asked, slowly, “that this guy Kelly has been dead for years and . . . his ghost is letting us use his field?”

Just then, we heard the sound of laughter, a howling, cackling noise. It was Kelly, who had been eavesdropping and was now near hysterics.

“Gentlemen,” he said, “I, ha ha, hate to disappoint you, but — ha ha — those pictures you have, they’re of my great- grandfather. . . . Believe me
— ha! — I’m not a ghost!”

Yogi stared at the picture, then at the man. “Holy cripes!” he said.
“You’re a dead ringer, and you’re alive!” Go pro? No

So it was that we discovered — or thought we discovered — the secret genes of Mr. Kelly. As to why he was living way out here in —-, with a major league ballpark on his lovely property, well, he wasn’t so clear on that. Kelly had been taught the game by his father, who learned it from his father, who learned it from the legend himself. Our Kelly said he had played in high school and college — under a different name — and admitted he was gifted with special skills.

“Why didn’t you go pro?” Kirk Gibson asked him.

“A question of pride,” Kelly said. “My great-grandfather was an original. I could never surpass him.

“Besides, one baseball legend is enough per family, don’t you think?”

“Not in Barry Bonds’ family,” Gibson quipped.

“Hey, has he shown up yet?” Ripken asked.

But it was only noon. Game time was 90 minutes away. Bonds was back at the hotel, watching ESPN.

Four straight homers!

It was through Bonds, though, that we found out the world is catching wind of this Series. I figured the newspaper accounts and radio phone calls would arouse people’s curiosity, but I’ve been careful to stick to my promise of not revealing where this is all taking place. Frankly, I’m amazed it hasn’t leaked out, because the crowd at Game 3 was nearly twice the size of Game 2. Again, there were lots of dark-haired children, and their parents, and they ate grilled pork and chicken, and one of Kelly’s friends made lemonade and sold it for 25 cents a cup, just for kicks.

One of the kids asked if she could sing the national anthem, in her native tongue, and the kid was sensational, although Yogi later said: “I could only understand every other word.”

Anyhow, back to the game, and Bonds’ chugging around those bases, as Kirk Gibson raced over from leftfield and fired the ball in. . . .

Actually, wait, let’s back up for a second. I forget sometimes this is the only official record of this World Series. The facts: Game 3 pitted Nolan Ryan

for the American League against Mitch Williams for the National. Ryan had been retired for a year — but you never took the game’s greatest arm lightly. And Williams? He wasn’t really a starter, but with only three pitchers per team, the NL used whom it had.

“Go the distance, Mitch,” Greg Maddux, the Game 1 starter, shouted.

And for a while, Williams had decent stuff. He retired the first 10 batters

before tiring and allowing a walk and a two- run homer to Griffey — Griffey’s third home run of the Series. That started a chain reaction that made World Series history.

Kirby Puckett sent Williams’ next pitch over the leftfield fence.

Cal Ripken smacked the next pitch over the rightfield fence.

Kirk Gibson hit the next pitch halfway to Fiji.

Four straight home runs. On four straight pitches. On the bench, Maddux whispered to Jose Rijo, “You got any other pitchers’ home phone numbers on you?”

Kelly was next to bat, and the local crowd gave him a warm round of applause. Of course, the crowd was still only 164 people — hardly the roar we associate with today’s game.

That’s one of the nicest parts of this special World Series. You can hear that you’re outdoors. In quiet moments, as pitchers wait for batters, you can catch the sound of the wind through the palm trees, or the occasional squawking bird. When the shortstop chatters, “He’s no hitter-he’s no hitter-c’mon babe-humbabehumbabehumbabe” — well, you can hear that, even from the bleachers. And the smack of the wooden bat, or the thud when the ball meets the catcher’s mitt, well, those sounds are here, as crisp and clear as childhood.

Most of us — including the players — have forgotten baseball’s natural symphony — without the rock music, or ads on the electronic scoreboard.

“Batter up!” the ump yelled. A grave encounter

Which brings me to one more deviation — and then I promise to finish the game account — and that is the visit we all made Sunday morning, before this Series began, to the grave site of a significant baseball man.

Kelly took us there. He knew the way. It’s a fairly simple grave site, honoring a pioneer who died 102 years ago. Ripken, who knows the lore of the game as well as anyone here, tried to explain to the younger guys like Griffey and Mike Piazza what holy ground this was for baseball’s tradition.

“This man,” he said, “was the real father of baseball. Abner Doubleday gets all the credit, but this guy did far more. Not only did he start the first real baseball team, and play the first real game in Hoboken, N.J., and not only did he invent nine players to a side, and nine innings to a game, but he was like a Johnny Appleseed for baseball.

“He traveled across the country, teaching kids how to play. He spread it as far as California, and then he set sail and wound up here. He never stopped teaching.

“I heard that he died with the ball from baseball’s first real game. Nobody

ever found it.”

“It would have been neat to know him,” Trammell said.

“Bet he could have settled the damn strike,” Roger Clemens said.

Everyone was quiet for a while, until Ripken, I guess because he couldn’t think of anything else, took off his O’s cap and put it by the tombstone.

“This is why we should play the Series here,” he said, “to honor him.”

“I guess that’s why you faxed us to meet you here, huh?” Griffey said.

“I didn’t fax you.”

“But I got a fax with your name on it,” Griffey said.

“Me, too,” Piazza said. The same went for Maddux, Rijo, Gibson, Ozzie.

“Hey, guys,” Ripken said, “I hate to tell you, but I don’t own a fax machine.”

We all looked at each other, as a sea gull flew overhead and squawked like the devil. Gwynn: Lucky 13

Anyhow, all this is backdrop to Game 3, the first game in this Series to go to extra innings, and the first time in history a batter has gotten 13 hits in 13 World Series at-bats — Tony Gwynn, whose stroke is so amazing, the other players are asking to touch his bat, hoping some magic rubs off.

Gwynn is batting 1.000.

We thought .400 was a big deal.

Game 3, as mentioned, was also the first chance for Mitch Williams to atone

for the World Series pitch that has hounded him from his stardom in Philly to his outcast status in the game today. But after the five-run, four-homer fourth inning, he gave up a run in the sixth and two in the eighth.

Ryan alternated between fanning batters and fueling them. At the end of nine, he had eight strikeouts and had allowed eight extra-base hits.

“Overtime!” Gwynn yelled to start the 10th.

“Great, I have to pitch to him again?” Ryan said.

Ryan did have to pitch to Gwynn, but only after the American League had scored three runs in the top of the 10th — a Gibson double and a misplay by the minor league second baseman, Pokey Reese, were the keys — and the score was 11-8, with the American League the likely winner.

Ten minutes later, Bonds threatened to tie it when he whacked that ball with two on and two out, and he stormed around the bases, as Gibson fired to Puckett — who was playing second base.

“GO, BOBBY! GO, BOBBY!” Berra yelled.

“Barry!” Bonds screamed at him, as he rounded third and thundered toward home. Here came the throw — Pucket


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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