In 2001, I lived in southern New Mexico, just north of the borden from El Paso, and I loved baseball.
I was always drawn to baseball. My parents often tell the story about how a baby Simon would cry on the drive home from daycare at certain intersections. When they followed the turns that didn't make me cry, they were led to 2 different parks with baseball fields.
The problem I had as a baseball fan was that I didn't have a great way of consuming it. My family didn't have a TV with sports channels until 2004 (my first at-home baseball game happened to include the famous ARod-Varitek fight), so I couldn't watch baseball unless we went to a restaurant with TVs. I had a radio alarm clock in my room, but they lowered the signal power from the El Paso radio stations around 8pm back then (it might have been 9 but I'll stick with 8 for the story) and my family lived just outside of the low-power range. If a baseball game on the radio went after 8, I wouldn't hear how it ended, and that was only if the radio station played the game. The newspaper had everything but was a day late. That was good enough, and my morning ritual became reading baseball news and box scores.
As the most local team to the El Paso area, Arizona Diamondbacks games would play reasonably regularly on the radio. They also had a minor league team in El Paso, so I could even go to games a few times a year. This combination of accessibility was unique for someone without national TV channels and made me a diehard Diamondbacks supporter.
Already by the 2000 season, I was rewarded. The owner committed to spending money and winning immediately after starting the team, and while it wouldn't look good in a couple years, they were a force to be reckoned with at the time. I followed every game. I read every box score. I knew every player on the team and many of the players in the minor league system. When I played with my whiffle ball in the back yard, I would replay games based on what I could gather from the box scores. I made up batting stances based on how radio announcers described them. When I pitched against the wall in the back yard, I pretended to throw pitches I knew nothing about other than the name. There were only 3 things I could talk about back then: Pokemon, Garfield comics, and baseball.
In 2001, the Diamondbacks made it all the way to the World Series, the championship series of the American baseball season. The first 6 games were tense and dramatic. The Diamondbacks won the first two games and then lost the following 3 games in spectacular fashion, including giving Derek Jeter the nickname "Mr. November." Game 6 was a complete blowout, and less than a third of the way through both teams started preparing for a winner-take-all game 7 in Phoenix.
The first 7 innings were tense and dominated by good defense and I was glued to the radio in my room. I was afraid to go to the bathroom between innings in fear of missing something. In the 8th inning, the Yankees took the lead. The Diamondbacks didn't score in the 8th. New York didn't score in their at bat in the 9th, so Arizona needed 1 to tie or 2 to win going into their half of the inning.
But if it weren't for my grandmother, I wouldn't have known any of this until the next day because my radio signal disappeared sometime during the Yankees' half of the 8th.
I don't remember if my grandma was already watching the game, but somehow I ended up with a personal announcer for the final innings. I know I was talking to my grandma by the time the Diamondbacks started batting in the 8th inning, because I remember her voice dropped "oh, they're bringing in Rivera."
My grandmother knew more than enough about baseball to narrate the action. She also knew just enough to know the name of the Yankees' pitcher. Mariano Rivera was the best relief pitcher in the game at the time and legendary for his postseason prowess. I say "at the time", but Rivera would go on to have the most successful relief pitching career in baseball history, and his postseason success was a defining part of his legacy. More men have stepped on the moon than have scored against Mariano Rivera in the postseason, and it wasn't because of a small sample size. Even my grandmother knew things did not look good.
The Diamondbacks didn't do much of anything in the 8th inning, but neither did the Yankees in the 9th. The Diamondbacks had one more chance to keep the game going.
My grandmother would squeal like an excited 3rd grader when she got excited. Only 10 years later that energy would be gone, but it was a defining characteristic of my interactions with her when I was little. She would get excited about something and squeal and do a happy, full body wiggle. The Diamondbacks' first batter of the inning reached base, and soon they would have runners on first and second.
"Go, go, go!"
Years later, I learned my grandmother watched sports the same way I do. When I'm invested in an outcome of a game, I can't turn away but I can't watch, either. I'll often pace around or walk far away from the action to hide behind something, anything. Grandma was probably watching her TV from behind a corner in the kitchen, peeking out just enough to tell her grandson the action. Tie game.
The next batter was Craig Counsell. I don't think my grandmother had seen any other games in the series because I remember her asked me about the batter's stance. Counsell went through a few variations of his stance, and the version from this World Series was pretty tame for him, but they all had one distinctive feature: he would hold the bat abnormally high over his head before the pitcher threw the ball, almost like he wanted to swat a spiderweb on the ceiling. Even people who don't watch much baseball notice that Counsell looked different at the plate than anyone else, even if they couldn't tell you why. Bases loaded.
"Ooh, yes! He did it! They won!"
My grandmother and I had one more thing in common: when we got really excited, we would get really quiet. She almost whispered those words to me, and we were both silent for a good while afterwards. I heard grandma's boyfriend come out and ask if the game was over, assuming the Diamondbacks had lost because the room had fallen silent.
My grandmother never knew that this phone call on November 4th, 2001 is the singular moment I think of when I think of her. Maybe it's unfair. She wasn't a huge sports fan and probably would have thought that hikes or holidays would stand out to me as I grew up. She probably put far more effort into a birthday party or traveling to see me. But you don't get to control how people remember you, or what they remember you for, and if there's one thing I'll never forget about her, it's the little squeal over the phone when Tony Womack tied the game.
When I watch that 9th inning, I don't hear the TV announcers. I hear my grandmother paying for a long distance call to talk to her grandson. I hear a woman get excited for something not because she cares, but because someone she loves cares. And now that I'm grown and she's gone, I also cry.