What great luck!
Four old high school buddies got on the TicketMaster website and purchased tickets for Game 6 in the Chicago Cubs' National League Championship Series against the Florida Marlins. Four seats right on the brick wall down the left-field line, just about even with Cubs outfielder Moises Alou.
The Cubs led the series 3-2 and had 20-game winner Mark Prior on the mound. The Cubs took a 3-0 lead through seven innings. All was right in the world. Only five measly outs before the Cubs claimed their first World Series appearance since 1945.
The date was Oct. 14, 2003. The 10-year anniversary was last week, but Benet boys basketball coach Gene Heidkamp might wish it had never happened. He had a front-row seat to the darkest day in Cubs history, the infamously regarded "Bartman Game."
"I was really excited to get tickets, much less be right in the middle of a play we're still talking about 10 years later," said Heidkamp, at the time a social studies teacher and boys basketball coach at Nazareth.
"I was in the row next to (Steve Bartman). I was actually right in the play."
Heidkamp, who grew up in a house at Peterson and Clark streets on Chicago's North Side and estimates he's gone to a "couple hundred" ballgames, has been reluctant to speak publicly about an incident he called "scary" and "traumatic." He neither wants to pile on Bartman nor offend Cubs fans.
When Florida's Luis Castillo lined the baseball toward the stands Heidkamp moved back from the wall -- "I'm not a foul ball guy," he was quoted as saying in an ESPN article -- leaving Alou, Bartman and Heidkamp's friend in the picture. Had his pal not pulled his hands back at the last moment as he's stated, he and not Bartman would have been the subject of the "Catching Hell" episode in ESPN's "30-for-30" series.
"Maybe we laugh about it now, but when it happened, I think everybody down there was in a state of shock. We had a feeling that when it happened that this wasn't good," Heidkamp said.
(This writer also attended the game and, in the process of buying what then could only be considered a celebratory bratwurst, saw the play at a concession stand monitor under Aisle 242 down the right-field line. At that moment of impending doom the sense was that not only Game 6 but the series was lost as well. Game 7 was redeemed from a communal dirge only temporarily by Kerry Wood's 3-run home run.)
The giddy attitude in Lakeview that Tuesday night had everyone, including Heidkamp, feeling "like you were on the verge of history actually happening."
That, they were.
"The way the game started, you were like this is actually going to happen," Heidkamp said. "It was electric. That's a cliché, but that's what it was. And the exact opposite after. People were just stunned, and some were angry. So it went from about as positive as could be to as dark a scene as you could imagine."
Immediately after the play, people watching on television deluged Heidkamp and his pals with phone calls, some with vitriol, others with humor. As the Marlins scored run after run to go up 8-3, in an "ugly scene" he endured a rain of beer and whatever people could throw into Aisle 4. Much of the crowd of 39,577 eventually discovered who touched the ball, unleashing an obscene chant and a torrent of threats aimed at Bartman -- a former high school baseball player and a youth baseball coach.
"The realistic concern was people were going to go after the wrong person," Heidkamp said. "... As the inning changed, as they scored the additional eight runs, with every run you could feel everyone's blood pressure rise."
The truth is mob rule did attack the wrong person, an innocent fan who, perhaps naively, reacted instinctively.
Bartman's name goes down in history. Alou's temper tantrum, Prior's finger pointing, shortstop Alex Gonzalez's error on a double-play ball, manager Dusty Baker waiting too long to go to the bullpen and reliever Kyle Farnsworth adding fuel to the fire are conveniently ignored side notes.
As Heidkamp said, "There was a lot of baseball to be played after that happened."
Nowadays Heidkamp uses this as a teachable moment on the basketball court and in the classroom. He attempts to instill the poise and ability to triumph over adversity that the Cubs and their fans lacked. He tries to put himself in the shoes of Bartman, who made a split-second decision causing dire and lasting consequences.
Being so close to this moment in sports history, Heidkamp also hopes time forgives Steve Bartman.
"I'll never forget the sound of the ball hitting his hand instead of hitting Alou's glove," Heidkamp said. "It was a thud I'll never forget the rest of my life."
Darren Howard, former Immaculate Conception athletic director and head boys basketball coach, now the AD at Oswego, recently celebrated a life-changing event. He became a grandfather on Sept. 16 with the debut of little Liann Marie Lumzy.
His daughter, Kim, is an IC grad who played soccer and basketball at Monmouth. There she met Peyton Lumzy, a football player and track athlete out of Dixon. They married in May 2012.
"We might have the makings of a pretty good future athlete," Howard noted.
The big 3-0 again
In a 25-19, 28-26 win over Marian Central, St. Francis' girls volleyball team won its 30th match of the season. It is the 28th straight season coach Peg Kopec's Spartans have surpassed 30 victories.
"It's kind of an unbelievable stat, I think, the longevity of it," said Kopec, the winningest coach in Illinois High School Association history with 1,163 match victories over 39 seasons, according to IHSA records.
The last time the Spartans didn't win 30 was 1984, when St. Francis finished 23-8 and won a regional title. Since then Kopec has won nine state titles, including last year's in Class 3A. Entering Wednesday's regular-season finale against Chicago Christian the Spartans were 31-3 and 13-0 in the Suburban Christian Conference, their three losses all coming against Mother McAuley.
"I think we've had a lot of talent and a lot of good coaches," Kopec said Tuesday after scouting potential Timothy Christian regional finalist Nazareth. "It gets to be behind my name, but it's kind of silly. Well, not silly, but it's silly to think that it's one person. The credit goes to so many people."
Along with a steady stream of Division I volleyball players, St. Francis produces players who like to return to coach. Off the top of her head, Kopec thought of nine players who've come back to coach in the program. This year she has two, freshman coach Kate Rodriguez and her own daughter, sophomore coach Erin Kopec Tuttle.
"It means there were a lot of talented girls and a lot of fabulous assistant coaches that helped create it," Kopec said. A lot of committed young ladies and many, many assistant coaches. That's really what I think we've been fortunate with over the years."
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