13 years later: What I’ve learned from Rob Mackowiak’s big day
Editorial: One of my earliest memories of Pirates baseball took place thirteen years ago today. May 28, 2004, was the day that an otherwise uneventful career turned into a memorable one.
One of the main reasons that I remember this particular day is that I was not rooting for the hometown team. As a six-year-old, I had a great love for Sammy Sosa, and therefore, was so excited to see him that I rooted for the Cubs in a doubleheader. The fact that the Pirates were in season 12 of the 20 years of misery did not help either. So as I left kindergarten class early, I was all in for the Cubbies.
My first vivid memory of the game itself happened in the top of the eighth inning. With two outs, and the Pirates holding a 4-1 lead, Chicago catcher, Michael Barrett, stepped up to the plate with the bases loaded as a pinch-hitter. As was so typical of early 2000s Bucco baseball, Barrett smacked a grand slam to give Chicago a 5-4 lead. Much to the dismay of my parents, I was gleeful at the turn of events. The Cubs held their lead going into the bottom of the ninth. Little did any of us know that one of the brightest moments of the Pirates dark years was about to take place.
Rob Mackowiak did not have an eventful big league career. He only lasted eight seasons in the bigs, and of those eight seasons, played in 100+ games in just five of them. By the age of 32, Mackowiak was out of baseball. The fact that he lasted as a regular for any amount of time was largely a product of him playing on woeful Pirate teams. Nonetheless, on this day, Barrett’s grand slam indirectly began a doubleheader for Mackowiak that would be as memorable as any other moment for the Pirates of the mid-2000s.
With just three outs to go in game number one, Joe Borowski was on to save it for the Cubs. Aided by a Tike Redman triple, the Bucs tied the game at five. With two outs and the bases loaded, Mackowiak stepped up to the plate, looking to continue what had already been one of the greatest days of his life, as his son Garret was born earlier that day.
Rob Mackowiak cranked a walk-off grand slam, giving the Pirates a 9-5 victory. I can tell no lie when I say that I cried my eyes out because the Cubs had lost (my life has improved since then.) So he became a father and won a ballgame, but Mackowiak’s had more heroics coming on May 28.
I did not stay for the entirety of the second game. All I remember from the nightcap is Reuben Mateo hitting a home run. I was back home at the bottom of the ninth inning, where the Cubs had a 4-2 lead. With one on and nobody out, Mackowiak again stepped up to the plate.
Once again, Mack came up big, tying the game at four. Craig Wilson homered to win it in the tenth, and I cried myself to sleep.
As I started to write this historical piece, I debated with myself a little bit. I knew I wanted to write about Mackowiack’s beautiful day, but I did not know how to do so in a way that would be informative to the average Pirates fan. Along the way, I figured it out.
I don’t know if this was a coincidence or not, but I don’t remember ever rooting against the Pirates after that day, at least not to that degree. I like to tell myself that it was because even as a little six-year-old, I learned something.
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Maybe I learned that sometimes sports transcends the teams you root for. Sometimes things happen at the expense of your favorite team. This is what helps make the game the great joy that it is. I believe that sports are much more fun when you appreciate the game rather than just your favorite team.
I remember hearing a quote from Ken Burns’ excellent “Baseball” series. The quote was; “Baseball isn’t life of death, but the Red Sox are,” meaning that the love of one franchise outweighs the love of the game. For awhile, I believed this quote. I figured that as long as I loved the Pirates, nothing else about the game mattered.
But as I’ve matured, I’ve come to a conclusion that no matter where your favorite team is in the standings, if you love baseball enough to watch that team, then you should love it enough to realize other things that are going on.
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I am not encouraging fans to go to drastic measures, like Pirates fans did Friday night when they cheered the New York Mets second baseman as he rounded the bases not once, but twice. What I am saying is that, while the game can break our hearts as fans. This is only natural, we should always be aware that beautiful moments happen in this game. Although, some might not directly involve our boys, or even come against our boys.
No, baseball is not “life or death.” But win or lose, it sure is worth watching.