the third, the Yankees pushed across a run
and, in the fifth, reality arrived when they
took a lead they never relinquished. No
one cared. It was too much fun.
Such fun that the game occasionally got
lost in the on-field antics. Like in the seventh, when the Yanks were up 3-1. After a
strike was called on a Yankees batter, Billy
Martin erupted. He sprinted to plate
umpire Al Clark and the two went toe-to-toe, nose-to-nose, in a staged rhubarb complete with dirt-kicking and bat-throwing.
Clark turned and, in a pirouette that
Baryshnikov would have envied, tossed the
Yankees skipper from the game. The crowd
went nuts. Though ejected, Martin wasn’t
dejected; he joined a poker game that had
started in the locker room back in the fifth.
An envious Reggie Jackson chirped, “Hey,
throw me out, too!” Nope. Jackson
remained, and in the ninth did what Steinbrenner paid him to do and what everybody there wanted him to do.
The Yankees owner had recently signed
him as a free agent from Baltimore for
what at the time was the enormous sum of
$2.9 million over five years. Through eight
innings he had one single in four trips, but
in the ninth he connected with reliever
Tom Frazier’s ’ 79 meatball and air-mailed it
into the trees over the right field fence. It
was his moment, and he milked it. His
home run trot included handshakes with
every Tar Heel infielder, and it sealed the
Yankees’ win, 8-1.
Jackson’s blast allowed him to go full circle. From home to home. Come to think of
it, that’s a baseball metaphor for life. We
leave home to experiment, to explore, but
as we grow older, we try to get back home
or to something quite like it. A lot of folks
who were at the game that day can relate.
Steinbrenner still owns the Yankees, but
with a $1 million gift to UNC, he has created a home of sorts here — the Steinbrenner Family Courtyard in the new
Bryson Field at Boshamer Stadium that
opened in February.
And that walk-on who wished the rain
away? He pinch-hit that gray day and went
down swinging but still proudly recalls that
he faced “Louisiana Lightnin’” Ron Guidry
and fouled one off. That “kid” still wears a
Carolina uniform. Today, Head Coach Mike
Fox ’ 78 lives in the coaching box along third
and calls Chapel Hill home. Full circle.
And as for that wiry redhead? Me. That
spring proved to be the turning point in
my life, for my days as a student ended and
that fall I made Chapel Hill my home as a
teacher in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school
It’s funny how baseball and life go.
Home run. Run home. Twice the Yankees
came, won and then left. But Mike Fox
and me, we got to stay. We made it home
— safely. Full circle.
— Fred Kiger ’ 74
This article first appeared in Chapel Hill
Magazine’s March/April 2009 issue and is
reprinted with permission.