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The Thrill of Victory

“The Thrill of Victory, …” If you’re of a certain age, you know exactly what phrase follows! “… and the Agony of Defeat.” Used for years in the opening sequence of ABC’s Wide World of Sports, the opening montage famously shows ski jumper, Vinko Bogataj crashing spectacularly at a ski-flying event in Oberstdorf, West Germany on March 7, 1970. ABC may have been talking about thrill and agony from the point of view of the athlete but what about the fan’s perspective?

With absolute certainty, I know the most thrilling moment in sports that I ever experienced. It was August 7, 2007 at 8:51pm PDT when Barry Bonds hit # 756. My sixteen year-old stepson and I had been “bonding” all summer over baseball. We paid beaucoup bucks to attend the All Star Game at AT&T Park along with its attendant events like the Home Run Derby and Futures Game. The All Star Game had its own thrilling moment, Ichiro Suzuki hitting the only inside-the-park home run in All Star history!

But it was Bonds that we craved. I don’t know what put the idea into our heads but we decided early in the season that we would be there to witness 756, even though there was not any certainty that it would even happen that year. Bonds finished the 2006 season with 734 homers, 21 short of tying Hank Aaron’s record and 22 short of breaking it. He had hit 26 homers in 2006, a vast improvement over his pitiful output of five home runs in 2005 when he was plagued with injuries, but a far cry from the 2000 to 2005 seasons when he averaged over 51 home runs per season.

A friend recently commented on how lucky we were to be there. In fact, there was little luck involved but there was a spreadsheet. All summer, we tracked his homers and built a forecast of when he would reach 756. We were filled with anxiety as we watched him hit numbers 751, 752, 753, and 755 at away games. But I was convinced that he would save 756 for the hometown crowd at AT&T Park in San Francisco. And our faith was rewarded! Every time Bonds came to bat on August 7, the entire stadium rose to its feet and cheered in encouragement.

The Giants’ batters went down 1-2-3 in the first inning, so Bonds led off in the bottom of the second and smacked a double to right field.

In the bottom of the third, he drove a deep line drive to Center field.

He came up to bat for the third time in the bottom of the fifth with the score tied 4-4. And that was it! With a 3-2 count, he drove a deep fly ball to Center field. There was the barest moment of hesitation and then he raised both arms in victory, and the stadium erupted!

The game paused after that for about fifteen minutes. Bonds stood on the field, his Godfather Willie Mays standing by his side. With grace, he thanked the fans in San Francisco, his teammates, his family, and even the Washington Nationals. I thought it was a deeply human moment when he said to his kids, “I’m glad I did it before you guys went to school.“ Finally, he broke down in tears as he pointed upwards to heaven and thanked his late father, the Giants’ star Bobby Bonds. And then there was a prepared video of Hank Aaron graciously offering congratulations to Bonds.

In the end, the Washington Nations beat the SF Giants 8-6 but I doubt that anyone really cared. We had witnessed history. Bonds was ostracized by many after that but for me the moment is still as thrilling to watch now as it was then and I will never forget it.

What’s the most thrilling moment in sports that you’ve witnessed?

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