The Washington Times - June 1, 2008, 01:00PM

By JAY LeBLANC
June 1, 2008

On Wednesday, Sept. 12, 1979, my parents - both from Massachusetts and huge Carl Yastrzemski fans - had a pair of $2 bleacher seats for that night’s Red Sox vs. Yankees game at Fenway Park. Yaz, who was then in his 19th season - all with Boston - had hit his 400th career homer earlier that summer and was sitting on 2,999 career hits. They’d definitely get to see a heated late-season battle between two storied rivals and would have a pretty good chance of seeing their favorite player make history.

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They never made it to Fenway. My mother was pregnant with me at the time, and apparently I was doing flips in her stomach, making her nauseous and ill. My father did the responsible thing and stayed home to take care of my mother. And of course, Yaz picked up hit No. 3,000 that night, slipping a ground ball past the Yankees’ Willie Randolph and into the record books. At least their ticket stubs from the game are now very unique memorabilia - who else would have an unused ticket from Yaz’ 3,000th hit game?

As you might imagine, I feel responsible for making my parents miss their chance to see history, and I feel like it’s had an effect on my baseball karma over the years. I’ve been to hundreds of pro games and I’ve never seen a no-hitter, a three-home run game or a significant milestone. You’d think that if you went to that many games, you’d luck into something, right? Apparently not.

Well, my luck finally changed last night. In January a pair of my friends from Massachusetts - an engaged couple, actually - had a chance to score some Red Sox vs. Orioles tickets and wanted to come visit my girlfriend Amanda and I. Of course, I said we’d love to host them and go to the game, and I got the day off from work. It just so happened that the tickets were for last night’s game, and Red Sox star Manny Ramirez was sitting on 499 home runs in his illustrious career.

I’ve always been a big Ramirez fan, ever since the day in 1993 when he came to Pawtucket, R.I., as a member of the triple-A Charlotte Knights for a game against the PawSox and I went to McCoy Stadium specifically to see him play. Even then, Manny was Manny. There were probably 100 people waiting in the parking lot hours before the game for his autograph. He emerged from the bus wearing sunglasses and a dozen gold chains, smiling and waving, but signing nothing. This went on for two days. On the last day of Pawtucket’s homestand I avoided the crowd and positioned myself right outside the visiting clubhouse and watched Manny get mobbed as he stepped off the bus. When he was safely inside the clubhouse door, I asked him to sign my card, reminding him he’d only have to sign one. He laughed, and took it and signed it. I still have it.

So anyway, I knew there was a chance he’d hit No. 500 yesterday, and I was psyched. I sat in Sliders bar across the street from Camden Yards and watched the clouds dissipate - ensuring the game would in fact be played - and hoped for the best. When I was handed a shot and raised my glass with a crowd of Red Sox fans, I toasted “to Manny’s 500th.” I told Amanda probably 20 times how cool it would be if Manny became the 24th player in baseball history to hit 500 home runs with us in the stands. I freaked when it looked like we might not get into our third base side club seats in time for his first at-bat and jumped up in excitement when he sent a Garrett Olson pitch toward the left field wall. I was momentarily deflated when his drive was caught on the warning track.

Manny grounded out against Olson in the third and flied out to deep left once again, this time against reliever Lance Cormier, in the sixth. When he stepped to the plate against Chad Bradford in the seventh, there was a chance it would be his last chance at history - well, yesterday anyway - and the atmosphere was electric. Flashbulbs were popping everywhere. As Amanda returned from a beer run, I told her “Good timing” and made sure she was paying attention. I remember briefly discouraging myself by thinking that Bradford was made famous in “Moneyball” for NOT giving up longballs. Ramirez fouled the first pitch off.

On the second pitch, Manny took a mighty cut, and it was immediately clear that the park wouldn’t hold it. I jumped and yelled, high-fived my buddy and hugged my girlfriend and twirled her around while yelling happily like a satisfied child on Christmas morning. She was smiling too, and laughing at me - actually, with me, I think. I never even saw the ball land, and somehow, I’m glad it happened that way, because it’s the mighty cut that will be imprinted on my memory. The Sox-heavy crowd at Camden Yards showered Manny with cheers, praise and “Manny! Manny!” chants, and he returned their affection with friendly waves and tips of his cap.

I’m glad I finally got a chance to see history, and I’m looking forward to being 70 years old and telling the story of how Manny launched his 500th home run 700 feet through a blizzard and it bounced off my fingertips. Plus, now I’ve got another historic ticket to put alongside the Yaz 3,000th hit game stub my parents gave me, and this one’s actually used.