By Matt Kocsan
Game Seven of the World Series is more myth than reality. I would estimate that my friends and I, in games of wiffleball or whatever in our parents’ backyards on Cleveland’s suburban west side, probably played in “Game Seven of the World Series” maybe fifty more times than the event has taken place in the history of Major League Baseball. (For the record, this year’s is just the thirty-seventh.)
Game Seven is part of baseball history, but more than that, it’s something that lives in your imagination. The past has the power to transport a person to places in the present that the uninitiated—those do not know, those have not read, those who were not there—simply cannot access or understand. I’m thirty-one now and an historian, or as doctoral candidate writing a dissertation about Imperial Spain, I am at least in the very late stages of my training to become one. This is a convenient belief for me to maintain, and probably one that should be an article of faith for my chosen profession.
In service of that, I’ve been in Spain for the last month, conducting research in its archives and libraries and traveling throughout the north of this beautiful, sun-soaked country. It’s my third time and I’m here until Christmas. As a basically bald white guy with a full, dark beard, I blend pretty well in Castile, the heartland of the old empire, even better now that my Spanish has improved significantly since I arrived here on my first research trip in the spring of 2015. I watched the 2015 NBA Finals here. Then, most everyone was happy to discuss the Cavaliers and LeBron James, but today they are truly indifferent to baseball. I’ve watched or listened to all of the Tribe’s games this October, gutting out at least half a dozen nights until six o’clock in the morning, to listen to Cleveland ride its bullpen for eight and two-thirds innings against Toronto, or cling to a 1-0 lead in the first World Series game played in Wrigley Field in generations, in pursuit of their first World Series since 1948, while bustling Madrid neighborhoods slept.
We—in Cleveland, from Cleveland—whisper 1948 while the rest of the country shouts, “1908!”Since 1948. We—in Cleveland, from Cleveland—whisper 1948 while the rest of the country shouts, “1908!” The person who taught me about baseball was my dad; the person who taught me about 1948 was his mother. My father was born in ’54, a few months before the Indians began their campaign and finished with a then-American League 111 wins, only to be swept in the World Series by Willie Mays and the New York Giants. My mother’s father was an Indians fan, too, whom my brother and I affectionately called Pa, but he told me stories about Babe Ruth, in his estimation the greatest player who ever lived, but she talked about Lou Boudreau, Bob Feller, and her personal favorite, Kenny Keltner, whose work at third base ended Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak in 1941. It didn’t take seven games to win or lose that series. Those are my World Series, apparently—not in 1995, but in 1997 and again in 2016—and my mom’s and dad’s and brother’s and yours.
With all due respect to the recent glories of the Cleveland Cavaliers, and we know how special that Game Seven was, it came a bit late for me. The defining moment of my life as a fan of Cleveland’s professional sports teams came in Game Seven of the 1997 World Series. It was a Sunday night, and a girl in my small, Catholic elementary school invited the entire class to a birthday party at, of all places, a party room at a retirement center. I can’t remember who, or how many, but a good number of us ignored the dance floor—a huge surprise, for seventh graders—and huddled around a small, black-and-white set with bunny ears to watch as we plated two runs and took a lead in Game Seven.
We all hustled home to see the final innings, and well, you know what happened. I’d apologize for bringing it up if you hadn’t been thinking about it all day, too. When the game went to extra innings, I left my father and his mother in the living room, and retired to my room—I’d come down if we got the lead—to listen to the radio. Herb Score had the honor of telling me the bad news, as I sat in the dark in the bottom of the eleventh. I wept. I was twelve and it was the last time I truly cried, ugly cried, about sports. Even then, I had already trudged to at least a hundred games with my dad—including five World Series games in 1995 and 1997—and I knew what it meant then. Nobody in Cleveland or Chicago needs to be told what it would mean now, or will need to be told what it means tomorrow.
We love sports, play sports, watch sports, because we’re connected to family and friends and loved ones.My friends and I probably didn’t pantomime eighty-seven Game Sevens of the World Series, but we probably all imagined ourselves in them at least that many times when we were kids. My mother and I talked last night, and we both dreaded this game for a reason. I said I just couldn’t stay up until five or six o’clock in the morning again, which is true. It’s not that there’s no plan to win the game, which I talked about that with my girlfriend after the game. If we can score early and Kluber get us through, say, two or two-and-a-half turns of the Cubs’ order, hand it over to Miller and Allen, we just might win.
We love sports, play sports, watch sports, because we’re connected to family and friends and loved ones. Game Seven is different, though. Those aren’t the two greatest words in sports, as Major League Baseball has declared in promoting what will probably be one of the highest-rated World Series games in decades. For a fan, Game Seven—maybe the ultimate connection to the past and to your people—makes you feel oddly alone, held captive by and terrified of your own imagination, even though you should know better, because you’ve done this before and so has everyone else.
Matt Kocsan is a doctoral candidate in the Department of History at Tulane University. He was born in Cleveland and raised in the Cleveland area, and has an MA from Texas Tech University and a BA from Ohio State.