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The Zak Zone

June 13, 2012

Every once in a while, you're a part of something that you know is special — a little piece of history.

One such occurrence from my past comes to mind.

It was Saturday, July 27, 1997, and I was spending the weekend camping with my grandparents in Cook Forest.

My grandparents, my cousins, my brother and I had just finished a game of cards, and as was usually the case in the evenings at camp, we were listening to the Pirates game on the radio.

The Buccos' then-ace Francisco Cordova was on the mound, and we were glued to the radio as the game progressed. We'd been listening during our card game, and we knew what was happening, though we'd never say it out loud.

Cordova had held the Astros hitless through six innings, and with every out, he was coming closer to pitching the sixth no-hitter in team history — almost 90 years after Nick Maddox threw the first Sept. 20, 1907.

We held onto every word until the final out of the top of the ninth was recorded. He had done it! Nine innings of no-hit baseball!

The only problem was the Buccos should have been mobbing him in celebration, but instead, they were coming to bat in the ninth.

Cordova had held the Astros hitless, but his offense had failed to muster a run, and it was still 0-0.

Pittsburgh failed to plate one in the home half, and the game was headed to extras.

Cordova was lifted for reliever Ricardo Rincon, who threw one no-hit inning of relief, and when the Bucs' Mark Smith hit a three-run walk-off blast, the team had its first combined no-hitter in its storied history.

And plugged in through that radio, those of us who stuck with it were awarded with feeling as if we were a part of that history.

Monday night, a similar feeling of nostalgia was upon me, as I was covering a Senior League softball game between Punxsy's Rotary Reds and Brockway Drug.

It started to hit me around the end of the second inning when Reds' starter Monica Cameron had retired the first six hitters she faced — including five consecutive strikeouts.

As an avid fan and a player in my younger years, I've been to hundreds if not thousands of baseball and softball games in my lifetime.

From playing tee ball to watching my cousins play tee ball today, from watching my brother's All-Star teams play to watching the Pirates at Three Rivers or PNC Park, I've seen almost everything a baseball fan can imagine.

And yet, I'd never seen a no-hittter, let alone a perfect game — no hits, no walks, no base runners reaching on errors.

Monday, though, became a first for me, and as a sports fan, it humbled me.

When Cameron struck out the side in the fifth, my heart leapt for joy. This was a moment I'd been waiting for since I was a child. My first ever up-close-and-personal perfect game.

While no-hitters and perfect games occur a bit more frequently at the youth levels, and a number of them are mercy-rule shortened as Cameron's was, the rarity of the achievement is still amazing.

To retire every hitter faced is an incredible feat. Even when a pitcher is nearly unhittable, he or she must still rely on their defense on any ball put in play to keep perfection alive.

A perfect game is credited to the pitcher, but it is an accomplishment the entire team reaches together.

Since I was born in 1982, close to 69,000 Major League baseball games have been played — a ballpark figure.

Twice that many pitchers — 138,000 — have taken the mound for a start with the goal of a perfect game at least hanging somewhere in their subconscious.

In that time period, there have been 21 perfect games — 22 if you count the one in 2011 that was broken up on the last out by a blown call.

Still, that's one perfect game for every 3,136 attempts.

138,000 pitchers have taken the mound, and just 22 have attained perfection, making it one of the least-attainable goals in the sports history.

Records like Cal Ripken's consecutive games streak (2,632 games) and Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak are absolutely incredible, and may be untouchable, but those are tests of endurance.

My favorite thing about the perfect game is it could happen on any given night.

I watched 25 years worth of games to see my first perfect game, and I could see my second this evening.

Every time I go to the ballpark, there's a chance I'll witness a little piece of history, and that's exactly what the fans present Monday night were able to do.

Despite all the places I've gone to see games, I couldn't think of a place I'd rather be to witness my first perfecto.

It is the perfect reminder that we don't always have to leave home to experience the things we've been dreaming of for so long.

Sometimes, they sneak up on us right at home, in our back yard — or at one of our old favorite hangouts like the Punxsutawney ball fields.

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