Bo Jackson

It’s been 21 years.

I was there, along with my Mom and my good friend the Bird, back in 1989. July 11, to be exact. I’d worked in the morning at Sgt. Pepperoni Pizza Store, knowing we were going to the All-Star Game. We’d been at Anaheim Stadium the day before for the All-Star Skills Competition (which, now, seems oddly innocent, as a precursor to what this thing has become – but was monumental, as it resulted in Barry Larkin getting hurt and missing much of the rest of the season).

There were two big stories. One was that Tony LaRussa had decided to hit Bo Jackson leadoff. The other was that President Ronald Reagan was going back to his broadcasting roots, joining Vin Scully on the air for (I think) the second inning. We taped the game.

In the bottom of the first, the first pitch Jackson saw from Rick Reuschel (really National League? That was your starter?) he hit about half a mile into dead center field, where the big rocks are now. Back then, the stadium was completely enclosed; the Rams played there and baseball really played second fiddle. 448 feet away, where Jackson hit it, was a big black baggie designed to serve as a batter’s eye.

Buck O’Neil used to tell a story about running to the field from the clubhouse in his underwear the first time he heard Babe Ruth hit, because of the percussive sound of bat meeting ball. Then, the first time he heard Josh Gibson hit, he did the same thing. The third one in the story wasn’t Reggie Jackson, or Frank Robinson, or Harmon Killebrew. It was Bo Jackson. When I saw Bo, I hadn’t ever met a big league scout, or given thought to different hitters making different sounds with a bat. But we all knew that he was something special.

Even though his career was brief, he’s in my top five athletes of all time. I don’t know if it was the fact that the commercials were so cool, or whether he was really that good. I am thinking he was… just… really… that… good. Can you imagine? When he played baseball, he had the most power of anyone in the league; was one of the fastest in the league; had the best arm in the league (ask Harold Reynolds); and was just fun. When he played football, he ran like a freight train (ask Brian Bosworth) and couldn’t be caught (ask the rest of the Seahawks).

I got sent to Birmingham for work in 1998. Know where I went, first day there? McAdory High, the home of Bo Jackson, in Bessemer.

Getting back to things. It’s 21 years later. The ballpark looks different. Bo Jackson looks different. So do I.

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