Location: Columbia Heights, Minnesota
It's a matter of public record that I've enjoyed a fair amount of regular season success here at the Polo Grounds, but the ugly underbelly of those halcyon days is the all-too-predictable amount of good-natured ribbing that I've endured for my well-documented playoff inadequacies. When it comes to the postseason, I've lost at Godfather's. I've lost at Donatelli's. I've lost at two different Broadways. I’ve lost in coffee shops, and even at Subway. And in 2013, I lost at Tasty Pizza. But for pure spectacle, nothing will ever top the night I lost the World Series way back in 1989. This is really Sparky Tingblad's story to tell, but since I was a tragic witness to one of his greatest triumphs, its telling now rests with me. It took place in the old Mayflower League, a face-to-face enterprise that often required split-second communication, the flexibility of a Russian gymnast, and of course, genuine human interaction. On this day, Sparky would require all of these skills.
He had returned to the Twin Cities for a quickie visit after an early-season relocation to South Dakota, with an objective of completing the final 20 games of a middling season that would conclude with his Fightin' Sheep finishing around .500, safely outside of the playoffs. Playing so many games face-to-face would probably take 7-8 hours, but since Sparky, a man of honor and principle, wouldn't be returning to Minnesota for several months, he firmly committed to completing his part of the schedule so the rest of us could finish the postseason at our leisure.
As the pace of his long journey began to slow, a strange occurrence started forming: as Sparky rode a hot streak, his main competitors all started fading. Finding himself suddenly thrust into the middle of an improbable playoff chase, one major obstacle remained: a season-ending series with future Groundout Russ Young and his powerful Brooklyn Trolleydodgers. Although the hour was growing late, the prospect of Sparky earning a postseason spot and in turn, forcing a premature playoff launch was rapidly creeping from possibility to probability. Predictably, Russ completely collapsed, dropping 3 of 4 games and just like that—the Fightin' Sheep were playoff-bound, ushering in a communication flurry and campaign of chaos not seen since the Kennedy assassination. On one side of the suddenly urgent playoff bracket, I found myself in a late-night matchup against Russ, whom I quickly vanquished in a four-game sweep. But this would not be the end of Russ’ contribution to the madness, not even close. Meanwhile, Sparky's playoff foe would be the top-seeded DC Destroyers, led by the normally unflappable Steve D., but on this night, a short-term losing battle with diarrhea had left Steve D. well...very flappable. Russ, a physician by trade and now with the bedside manner of a guy just swept out of a shotgun playoff series at midnight, led us all to Steve's doorstep, armed with a dose of Immodium suppositories and some advice for him that included some fairly personal insertion techniques.
Steve D. appeared uncomfortable with the situation, constantly battling his swirling thoughts with a nervous chuckle. "Umm...I've never really used these before”, he stated more than once, while avoiding direct eye contact with any of us.
It would be a gross understatement to say that we were all uncomfortable with the situation at that point, but with Russ' prodding and visions of his own Kirk Gibson moment, Steve D. eventually took his suppositories like a good soldier, allowing the playoffs to proceed. I apologize for the reliance on bathroom tales, but out of this incident was forged a new Band of Brothers that none of us could have anticipated. Sparky, who by this time was probably suffering from his own sleep-deprived health deficiencies, methodically dispatched the favored Destroyers, leaving just me and Sparky to determine the championship, in what had devolved into a battle of endurance, well beyond the stroke of midnight. A marathon that started before lunchtime would end in my tiny apartment kitchen, my young family fast asleep in the next room, and my strong Delaware Bay team cruelly victimized by a soul-crushing 9th-inning Eddie Williams homer in game #4, heavily tilting the series in the Fightin' Sheep's favor. At 3:00 a.m., in the relative silence and dim glow of my kitchen chandelier, I lost the decisive game #6. On this, the longest of days, Sparky Tingblad was now a champion.
OK, I'll admit that if I were writing a proper testimonial for Tasty Pizza, this would be the worst possible way to go about it, but the playoff series that I lost there was played many years later and was far less dramatic, and softened greatly by excellent pizza. This particular elimination came at the hands of my brother, Commissioner Jeff and his Low Sox, and a gaggle of Groundouts were present for the 2013 season finale, all of whom concurred on the charms of Tasty Pizza. A perfect tavern cut, with a singular sausage ball resting gracefully within the confines of each square, there's a beautiful symmetry to the composition, and the flavor is worthy of its name. I haven't been back since my most recent defeat, but I look forward to returning sometime when my team is playoff-worthy again. (9 of 10 stars)