I often fill my books with little in-jokes, things that few people (if any) will notice. I guess that’s true of most writers. After I worked for a long time on individual character sketches, it came time to construct the actual game forSix Innings—the play-by-play details. I started by looking at a lot of Little League scorebooks, because I’m a nut when it comes to authenticity. Thanks to the Internet, I was also able to review detailed scorebooks from actual Major League games at baseball-reference.com, one of the coolest baseball sites ever.
I searched for one game in particular: Game Six of the 1986 NLCS, Mets vs. Astros. It was a sixteen-inning ordeal, and maybe the best game I ever saw. But it’s also tied to a specific memory. I worked as a copywriter for a children’s publisher in New York. While at work, I followed the game on the radio. At around quitting time, maybe a little before, I called my great pal, Craig Walker, and said, “Hey, our Mets are losing 3-0. It’s the 8th inning. Let’s go to Acme on Great Jones Street, have a beer, and watch them break our hearts.”
Craig did not need to be asked twice. We sat down at the near-empty bar, ordered a glass of suds, and watched the television. The Mets miraculously tied it up with three runs in the ninth inning. The game was on. We ordered another beer. Then another. Because the game kept on going. Ten innings, twelve innings, fourteen innings. We ordered food. We laughed, we watched the game in wonder and anxiety and joy. We made about a dozen new friends that day, since by then the city had caught on and seemed to stop—something was happening in Houston, a ballgame of amazing drama, and everybody had to Stop & Pay Attention. In the top of the 16th, the visiting Mets scored three runs. We sweated through the bottom of the inning, when the Astros almost came all the way back. It taught me that it was more exciting, more stressful, trying to cling to a lead than to dramatically win a game with the swing of a bat (which is joyous and exhilarating, don’t get me wrong).
I used that game as a model for parts of Six Innings. I cobbled together the top of the 9th and the bottom of the 16th and transferred it to the 6th inning of my fictional game. Today I read the book and the ghost of that afternoon with my beloved friend, the great Craig Walker, still hovers around the edges. Craig is gone now, passed too soon from this world, and he never got to read my book, our book, a tale I dedicated to him.