I've had the good fortune to work in television the past 34 years but was never more fortunate than last night. I was part of the Fox Sports Wisconsin broadcast team for the Brewers-Cardinals game that ended with Trevor Hoffman's 600th career save.
Milwaukee scored two in the fifth to take a 4-2 lead. An audible buzz in the stands grew louder with each passing inning. When acting manager Willie Randolph (Ken Macha was ejected in the second inning) brought in John Axford and made a double lineup switch with one out in the eighth, it appeared Hoffman would remain seated in the bullpen while his young protege would be called on to finish the final inning and two-thirds.
But when the Brewers were retired in the bottom of the eighth, I raced to the end of the camera pit adjacent to the home dugout. Axford was putting on his warm-up jacket. "Hells Bells!" Ax was done for the evening!
"I was really hoping Trevor would get the call," said an unfailingly unselfish Axford. "This will be my best 'hold' ever."
The crowd, whipped into a frenzy when Trevor trotted in accompanied by his AC/DC anthem, quickly grew quiet when Colby Rasmus led off the ninth with a bloop single, an unlucky Texas League-hit that generated inevitable flashbacks to the veteran's early season struggles.
But with every Brewers player and coach stationed on the dugout's top step, every fan standing, screaming, hoping and praying, there was a palpable sense of karma throughout the stadium. This team, this city, would not let Trevor fail.
"I was just praying I didn't let a ball go through my legs or throw one in the stands," Casey McGehee told reporters after the game.
The Brewers fortuitously had stationed big game veteran Craig
Counsell at shortstop. A two-time World Series champion, Counsell knows all about making plays under pressure and did so twice in the final inning. He took a flip from Ricky Weeks to force Rasmus, and then fired to first to double up Randy Winn. Two outs. Counsell then fielded Aaron Miles' grounder and tossed across the diamond to an eagerly awaiting Prince Fielder to end the contest.
"This is what you play for, nights like this," Craig said.
The team rushed the field and hoisted Hoffman on their shoulders. Moments later, in what was the biggest thrill of my career, I did the first live interview with Trevor after his momentous save.
He thanked the fans for staying until the end of the game (anyone who left early must be continuously thumping their skulls today) and for sticking with him during his tough times. He thanked his teammates, many of whom still had tears in their eyes.
"I've never seen so many grown men cry," said catcher Jonathan Lucroy, who reflected on being part of this historic night after starting the season in Class AA Huntsville. "I don't even deserve to be on the same field with this guy."
Starter Chris Narveson's fine effort will be largely forgotten.
"This is one game where no one will remember the winning pitcher," I said to Narveson after the game.
"Yeah," Chris smiled. "This was all about Trevor. We're all so happy for him."
"He reinvented the game," said McGehee. "He made being a closer cool. He made throwing a change-up cool."
Trevor Hoffman never complained when he was removed from the closer's job. Instead he kept up his grueling workout regimen and concentrated on improving his mechanics to earn the chance to pitch in close games while throwing unconditional support behind his ninth inning successor.
In an age when star athletes often gripe about contracts and playing time, Trevor Hoffman also made being a team player cool.
Before arriving in Wisconsin, Mark was a TV sports director at stations in Greensboro, the Quad Cities and Fort Smith, Arkansas. He got his first job at the ABC affiliate in Syracuse during his junior year at Syracuse University where he majored in TV and Radio at the Newhouse School.
Mark is an avid fan of all sports. He covered the Packers at Super Bowl XXXI in New Orleans and has also reported on the Final Four, the Daytona 500, the Rose Bowl, the NLCS and the PGA and U.S. Open golf championships. He covered the GMO for 20 years. Mark played soccer in high school and is a passionate supporter of "The Beautiful Game." One of his greatest experiences was attending a UEFA Champions League game hosted by Real Madrid at Bernabeu Stadium.
Mark was born in Philadelphia but has happily made the transition from cheese steaks to cheese heads and is thrilled to now call Wisconsin home. He is currently president of Concannon Communications LLC and working on projects involving, writing, producing, voice-overs and public relations.