Barry's Book Explores True Heroism, Passion
Published: Sunday, September 16, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
It’s hard to imagine that even the most competitive baseball players would tolerate playing for eight hours straight. It’s even harder to imagine that any fan would stay to watch them until 4 a.m. And yet, at the longest professional baseball game ever played, both did.
“I think at some point they realized that they were participants in something extraordinary, different, wonderful, historic, almost spiritual in a way,” said Dan Barry, this year’s Convocation speaker and author of Bottom of the 33rd: Hope, Redemption, and Baseball’s Longest Game.
The Pawtucket Red Sox and Rochester Red Wings, the minor league affiliates of the Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles, played for 33 innings on Holy Saturday in Pawtucket, R.I. in 1981. Umpires halted the tied game early Easter morning, and play resumed in June.
“The idea that these guys were playing in an old stadium, in a struggling mill city, on Easter Sunday morning, which means redemption, resurrection, life, hope, aspiration … I just had a thought about, well, what is it about life’s pursuits, why would they do that, who were these guys?” Barry said.
He got the idea to tell the story using these familiar Easter themes after coming across a children’s book about the game.
“The hard part was trying to figure out whether anyone would [care] about a minor league baseball game 30 years ago,” Barry said. “There’s not really a surprise, is there? Pawtucket wins. It’s a matter of record … So the tension couldn’t be found there. It had to be in the dramas of the individual players and the people who gathered in the stadium.”
Barry spoke with former managers, players, and umpires involved in the game, as well as seemingly minor characters such as the bat boy and handful of fans who stayed for the entire game.
“I’d always see, well, I’m going to be in northern California, are there any ballplayers from that game who were from there?” Barry said. “And I found, oh yeah, there’s a guy, and I knocked on his door. It was like one story at a time.”
Two of these ballplayers, Cal Ripken, Jr., and Wade Boggs, made it to the major leagues and eventually the Hall of Fame. They were the exception, however, as most of the men involved in the historic game never did.
“They say you could buy a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee in Pawtucket and by the time you got to Fenway the coffee would still be warm,” Barry said. “In New England, it’s really that close and yet that far for a lot of these guys … their life is dedicated to trying to get to Fenway, which is just up 95, and they never get there.”
No one, especially a college freshman, wants to be told that they might fail. Barry, however, sees failure as something that should be embraced rather than avoided.
“The honor is, once you fail at an endeavor you’ve chosen, how do you respond to that failure?” Barry said. “How do you overcome and how do you move on?”
Dave Koza, who bats in the winning run, never makes it to the major leagues, yet Barry considers him one of the book’s heroes.
“He’s forgone college to pursue his passion—which is a big word on this campus, right? Passion. And it doesn’t go the way he had hoped … To me, Dave Koza is one of the central heroes of the book, not because he drove in the winning run of this silly game. It’s precisely because he never made it to the major leagues, it’s precisely because he becomes a hero years after the game. He overcomes significant challenges and moves forward.”