Seeing the Cardinals in the World Series brings back a painful memory. No, I don't mean when they got swept in the 2004 series by the Red Sox. And I don't mean their clinching loss, at home, to the Astros in last year's National League Championship Series. And I don't mean when the 2002 team was taken out by the Giants. Or when Arizona scored in the bottom of the ninth in Game 5 of the 2001 playoffs to eliminate them.
What I'm referring to is one of those experiences that, even 13 years later, still makes me shudder. Almost every time I see a Cardinals player in their home white uniforms, a part of me winces at what could have been.
It was the summer of 1993. I was on the road a lot back then. I had decided that, wherever I was, life was more interesting somewhere else -- no doubt prime material for a therapist to work on, but my way of dealing with it was to keep moving. Travel was among my myriad addictions, many of which I pursued at my favorite destination: Grateful Dead concerts.
The great thing about a Dead show, other than that they were my favorite band and there were thousands of other people there for the same reason, was the collective sense of craziness. It was the safest place in the world to get loaded and weird, because nobody among the throngs could ever look at you and say, "Dude, you're high" or "Dude, you're weird" -- not when there are naked people walking around, and people dressed as clowns, and people sucking balloons of nitrous oxide, and people offering to adjust your chi for a hit of pot, and ... well, you get the idea.
I was in the middle of one of these manic scenes, somewhere in the Midwest, possibly Indianapolis. Details are a bit fuzzy. And somewhere in the surging sea of insanity I saw a familiar face, an old St. Louis friend from my college days. Let's say his name was Bill, because it just might be that he's now an elected official somewhere in these great United States who doesn't want everybody to know that he once roamed the Midwest in search of places to get loaded and weird.
We were all talking about how great it was that very soon the Dead would be playing in St. Louis, and I mentioned that I might go to a ballgame while I was there. One of Bill's buds says, "Hey, you should give me a call. My sister knows Ozzie Smith. I can set you up with some tickets." (Ozzie Smith, for you younger folks, was the Derek Jeter of his day, and if you don't know who Derek Jeter is, please stop reading now.)
The thing is, somebody you've never met saying to you, in a Dead-show parking lot, that they know Ozzie Smith and can hook you up with tickets is really no more weird, or even memorable than, say, somebody running a disco in the parking lot after the show, or a school bus painted in Day-Glo colors, or people passing around an invisible "energy ball," or ... well, again, you get the idea.
In other words, it didn't occur to me that, upon arriving in St. Louis, I should actually call this guy and say, "Gimme those tickets!"
We got to St. Louis on a Sunday, and some friends and I went to the game. We got cheap seats in the outfield, and the Mets killed the Cards, 10-3. We were so far away from the action (and so, um, loaded and weird) that just now I looked up the game on baseball-reference.com and realized Dwight Gooden pitched 7 innings for the Mets -- which makes the story even worse, as you'll soon see.
The next night at the St. Louis show, out of all the freaky faces flying around, the first one I see is the Ozzie guy, and he is pissed. "Dude!" he says, "What happened to you? I had Ozzie's tickets for you at will call!"
Even now, after writing that, I have to stare at the words: Ozzie's tickets. At will call. For me.
Turns out his sister was Ozzie Smith's agent, and apparently in my foggy behavior I had told the guy I'd call, and so four seats, Ozzie Smith's seats, front row, right behind home plate, under my name, with Dwight freaking Gooden on the mound ... went unclaimed. With me, the idiot, loaded, sitting in the bleachers watching little mini-baseball players (mostly Mets) run around the bases.
The Cardinals won the World Series this year, with me rooting for them. But it was difficult to watch their home games with some peace of mind. I kept thinking about Ozzie Smith and those seats behind home plate.