I was experiencing a bit of deja vu Monday night in Milwaukee as Josh Willingham had his career night with 2 grand slams and 8 RBIs.
I was broadcasting at Dodger Stadium in April, 1999 when Fernando Tatis of the Cardinals hit 2 grand slams...in the same inning off the same pitcher!
Somehow, Chan Ho Park was still in the game the second time Tatis came up. As he came up, I asked on the air, “He wouldn’t hit two in the same inning, would he?”
Next pitch ... BAM! My answer was, “Yes he would! See ... you ... later!”
Such things are the beautiful unknowns of baseball, as you never know when you come to the park what you might see that night that you’ve never seen before.
Monday night was another of those wonderful times, and it couldn’t happen to a better person.
The Willingham family has been through a lot - too much - this year. In May, Josh’s grandfather passed away, and in June, Josh lost his kid brother in a tragic automobile accident. I had a long chat with Josh’s dad in Houston, and David was still in shock at losing his dad and son a month apart. But they’re a family of faith and they were dealing with it as best as you could expect.
Family members have told me Josh has been able to focus on baseball as a way to deal with his brother’s loss and, my, how he has focused! He has battled his way back to near the .300 mark, and his 16 home runs are third on the club behind Adam Dunn and Ryan Zimmerman, both of whom have had many more at-bats than Willingham.
There have been several clubs scouting Josh for weeks as we approach Friday’s trade deadline, so I know we might lose him, but I hope we don’t.
Our club, or any club, needs men like Josh Willingham in the clubhouse and on the field. If I had a son and was at the game with him, I would point out Josh to my little guy and tell him, “Watch the right-fielder with the glove and with the bat. That’s how the game is played.”
I met Josh when he was with the Marlins, and he was always quick with a handshake and a “hello,” and he would speak my name. Most players might remember an opposing broadcaster’s face, but not greet him by name. When Josh and Scott Olsen came to our club, I knew we were onto something good; not just on the field, but off as well.
After the Nats scored a grand total of five runs here in Milwaukee in a four-game series last year, it was Willingham who knocked in a series’ worth of runs with just two swings.
And it couldn’t have happened to a better guy!