Cancel your plans — McGwire is coming

If you are scheduled for a summit with world leaders, cancel it. A once-in-a-lifetime vacation on a remote island? Hope it’s twice-in-a-lifetime. Reschedule all your plans. Drop reservations like they were Bill Clinton’s pants.
If you care at all about sports — even if you only think you might have heard of them at some point in your life — you have a moral obligation to be at the Metrodome in a month to watch history unfold.
Everyone has one month before the St. Louis Cardinals and Mark McGwire — check that, Mark McGwire and the St. Louis Cardinals — come to town for a three-game series June 26-28.
McGwire is going to break Roger Maris’ single-season home run record of 61. He already has 25. By the time this column is finished, he could very well have more — and St. Louis didn’t even play Tuesday. That’s how good he is.
Pitchers fear him. The San Francisco Giants walked him intentionally the other day with two outs and none on, with the score tied in the 14th inning.
The Giants put the winning run on base. They said to the next Cardinals hitter, the none-too-shabby Ray Lankford, “We’re less afraid of you hitting a double than we are of McGwire hitting a home run.”
He could hit 70 home runs. Maybe 80. He hits balls so hard it makes his bat sweat. In an era that includes Ken Griffey Jr., Juan Gonzalez, Mike Piazza and scores of other deadly hitters, McGwire is by far the greatest of his time.
Larry Walker, who entered Tuesday with a 20-game hitting streak and hit 49 homers last season, speaks of McGwire as if he’s a blip, a fictional character — not a living, breathing man.
“I almost snapped my neck around trying to keep up with that one,” Walker said of McGwire’s 433-foot line drive homer Sunday. “I couldn’t believe how hard he hit it.”
This cannot be missed. You can’t come back in mid-July and watch Pat Meares or Marty Cordova hit a ball that frightens people. Almost everyone in the Major Leagues, including most of the Twins, is fundamentally sound. No one else can hit a ball through Teflon.
This is the reason baseball’s often misguided group of policy-makers created interleague play. Yes, you had plenty of chances to see McGwire when he was with Oakland, but he wasn’t quite this good. He was always a threat, but now he’s more.
There’s a buzz, a feel about him that is special to a select group of athletes. It’s the sort of aura that puts stars on covers of magazines for no particular reason other than being who they are.
Michael Jordan generates the most electricity of any athlete playing right now. Wayne Gretzky, in his prime, reached a level only a shade below that. McGwire is getting dangerously close to that echelon.
He makes people in department stores stop to watch a meaningless at bat in a late-inning rout. He makes aluminum bats look like a death wish. He makes pitching coaches regret expansion. He will make old records look silly.
And you will be there. You will leave your house tomorrow and buy tickets for anyone you care about. You will track his progress for the next month and then it will be time for the real thing.
As you walk up to the gate, you will wonder if McGwire is going to hit one that night. He will. Statisticians might refute this claim, but the Daily’s research indicates McGwire has homered in 397 consecutive games. There’s nothing to worry about.
You will walk into the seating area in time to watch the Cardinals take batting practice. You will wonder why stadium officials don’t charge extra for the privilege.
If all goes according to plan, McGwire will bat in the top of the first inning. Maybe he’ll come up with two outs and no one on base. If you’re rooting for the Twins, perhaps you’ll look at him looming in the batter’s box and think the Giants weren’t as crazy as they might have seemed for walking him.
You will try to balance team and baseball loyalties. Then McGwire will connect and you won’t care where you are, what the score is or who just spilled beer on your head.
Your eyes will bulge. You’ll turn to a friend and say nothing and everything all at once. Then you will sit down and realize just how lucky you are to have seen even just a small part of what will eventually be the year to end all years.
— Michael Rand is the sports editor at the Daily. He welcomes comments at [email protected]