The Miracle Near 79th Street, a Buckos Christmas Story
Our story takes place in New York City, in the Winter of 2012, but let’s back track a little, to Alaska in May of 2010. At that time Tapey Beercone was still in its infancy, the sport just but a year old, and while just one game had been played outside the sport’s birthplace in California, the sport had already woven itself into the fabric of the Buckos Nation to the point that it was a given that the Buckos would take the game with them went they took a trip to Alaska. This led to a shining success, the three game Alaska Series, and it instilled in the Buckos Nation the concept that the sport could be taken anywhere. In the years after the sport spread, to Oregon, across California, and even to somewhat public spaces, but our story is about the game expanding to a place that would have seemed impossible, ever while picking up ax handles from checked baggage at the airport in Anchorage.
When Kelly determined to move back from New York to California in late 2012, the opportunity presented itself to do something entirely different with the sport. Going well beyond the campsites and beaches which had been used as prior fields, to play a game in the city! Eric and Chris were called upon to help with the move, and Ryan who would still be living in the city, would be available too. The move took place over the Christmas holiday and the game’s date was set.
Needless to say planning to play a game in the city presented many problems, the least of which where city ordinances forbidding alcohol consumption in Central Park. Furthermore, laws existed forbidding raucous activities and disturbing the peace, all impediments to the game. Undeterred, the Bucko set out to make the game happen, piling on to the subway Christmas morning, backpack full of Coors Light and large pick axe handle inconspicuously stowing away in an architect plan set case.
Exiting the subway at 59th Street, the four Buckos set out into Central Park in search for a field for their historic game in New York City. While Central Park would offer a multitude of options for fields at any of the large lawns, the Buckos feared these areas would be too open for their game. Their target being to find a field location in the Ramble, an unkempt location in the park, it would offer multiple potential locations tucked away from the view of the park goers. They set out from the south, entering the Ramble near the Boathouse. Remote locations were found, however the areas of the Ramble were rather tiny, and a proper field could not be established. The search moved north, to a large open area at the far north end of the Ramble nearly all the way to Belvedere Castle and the 79th Street Traverse Road.
The location they found had a number of large trees arranged nearly ideally to act as a home plate backstop, 1st, and 3rd base. A large lawn would outstretch from home, particularly to right field. In the infield the lawn was covered in fallen leaves and branches, while in the outfield the green shown through. The field even had a tree in left center field with a large forked branch through which a grand salami zone could be established. The only drawback, past the outfield were multiple sidewalks, particularly in left field where the sidewalk would be in easy range for a decent batter. The field was directly open to view to anyone who walked by, and well struck balls could find their way into a pedestrian’s path. While Park visitation was low on that Christmas morning, it would still pose a potential problem.
Wanting not to create any disturbance and risk a premature ending to the game, a new ground rule was established which would penalize any disturbance of a pedestrian by exacting the harshest penalty of any rule on the books. An inning ending number of outs or runs doled out to the team causing impediment to a pedestrian. The rule harkened back to the Piney Pinecone days at Jim Siemen’s Field, and would eventually be established as an official rule, although to this day it has never been imposed. Another concern was beer, and how to drink it unnoticeably. The solution was to use the trees and bushes behind home plate as cover, every player finding a place to hide their unfinished beverages.
With field and ground rules out of the way, the participants were ready to play! Continuing a streak lasted nearly the two years of what would later be called season two of Tapey Beercone, Eric again won the captain’s bat-flip and picked Chris, leaving Kelly with Ryan. Up to that point neither Ryan or Chris had pitched to a large extent. The game would be an intriguing matchup with two established players manning the outfield and two relatively unknown pitchers. Another change, the usual assortment of bats wasn’t present. Instead, what came across country was a new tool handle, which today is one of the heaviest bats to be used in play. One wonders to what extent Eric’s choice of Chris as his teammate was based on Chris’s extensive upper body strength. Having Chris and himself on the team together with that bat could prove to be a decided advantage.
So the stage was set: Late Christmas morning, as across the city in over 2,000 churches nearly a quarter million worshippers were huddling, Chris was digging in at the plate, awaiting the first pitch from Ryan. And as the game began the unknown pitchers proved up to the task, but it was also the new bat that seemed to an impediment to the offense early on. The game start out low-scoring and fairly close, however in the mid endings Ryan and Kelly broke through with a four-run inning on offense and a shutout inning on defense to open up a gap, and as the game went into the later Innings their lead was extended.
As the excitement of the game continued it started to draw crowd. This began at first with simple long glances from passing pedestrians walking by, but then a number of these park goers would stop and watch for an inning or two. An old lady stopped her stroll and took in nearly two hours of the game on a park bench in left field. It wasn’t just the biggest crowd that had ever witnessed a game, it was basically the first and only crowd. Save for a random passerby on the Nabesna Road in Alaska or an anger camping peeking out from a far off tent at a Northern California camp ground, not a soul had ever watched a game besides those participating in it. “What was this odd baseball like game being played with a pick axe handle?” they all seemed to be asking themselves.
While many witnessed it, and a handful stayed and watched, no one would come up to ask about what they were watching. The only onlookers with the chutzpah to walk up and actual ask that question were two Eastern European tourists. “What was this local sport being played in the parks of New York?” they wondered. Keen in the arts of international relations, The Buckos suspended the game, and the tourists participated in some practice swings, and pictures were taken of the affair. To this day these tourist tells stories to their friends at home of the simple game the peasants of America play, on their one day off a year, using only what they can scrounge from their landlord’s basement. It set the game in a very light hearted mood, something not always seen in the sport.
The game was clearly a success, and the response from the public proved that the game could be taken out into the public eye. It was an attraction to flaunt, and in the years that followed this game would be the stimulus for further even more public games, and for the general expansion of the game into more open events. The only question now was whether this particular game itself would live up to the venue? Up until the Estonian Intermission it had been a one sided affair, with Kelly and Ryan pulling steadily ahead. Could Eric and Chris make it a game?
Distractions and merriment aside, the game at Big Apple Field continued. As it stood Kelly and Ryan had established a significant lead, and at the start of last inning they led 14 – 7. Up to that point, save for some late scoring in the penultimate inning, Eric and Chris has mostly been held in check. But that late scoring would prove to be the start of something much bigger. From the sport’s beginning the rules have established that any team can always come back from any deficit. While the five runs plus outs limit keeps play moving in the earlier innings, the restriction is cast aside in the last inning. Any score is possible, as in baseball play only stops after three outs, yet up to this point the sport had never seen a last inning in which more than 6 or 7 runs were scored. The guys would have to do that and more. They would need a miracle.
As the top of the last inning began, Chris and Eric quickly loaded the bases, and runs started to score. First one, then two more, then another. Soon the lead was down to only a couple runs. But a couple quick outs seemed to stem the tide. Ryan was close to his first win as a pitcher, just one out away. And that third out with tantalizingly close. Eric hit a grounder to short, Kelly fielded it cleanly but was late throwing to the third base tree, as Chris got to the base just in time to avoid the game ending force out. On the next at bat, Chris hit a looping fly ball on the infield, but it was just out of the reach of Ryan’s out stretched hands. So the runners continued to reach base safely, and soon once again the bases were loaded and the lead was down to only a single run. The next batter doubled, scoring two and changing the lead in the favor of the batting team. When the dust had finally settled the score was 17-14. 10 runs in the inning! The most that have ever been scored, and a record which would stand for almost two years. And with that Eric was 3 outs away from his first win of the season, Chris his first as a pitcher.
Three outs away and the lead stood at three. Ryan and Kelly had just seen tens runs scored on them, but they felt capable of scoring just four of their own. Yet as the bottom of the inning began almost immediately they would record two outs. They would then put runners on and score two, but with the tying runner on base Ryan would ground out to end the game. And thus ended one of the most exciting games in Tapey Beercone history, an instant classic, and a fitting way to celebrate the Christmas holiday. As the Buckos discreetly chugged what remained of their beers, and packed up to head for the subway, they all knew they had accomplished something truly great.
As time would pass, it is difficult to say how the story of that game would spread. From the hundred or so who witnessed it, how many would tell the tale of what they saw that Christmas day? And how quickly would word spread around the city. While the Buckos would never claim responsibility for it, it’s just possible that their ground breaking game was the impetus for something truly great. For in March of 2016, just over three years from when the game was played, New York City would make a monumental change in their city ordinance, and for the first time it would be legal to drink beer in Central Park. Which leaves just one question: When are the Buckos going back?