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How to make 3,000 perfect

By GARY SHELTON

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 5, 1999


The perfect day would be Sunday. The perfect place will be here.

One thing we can agree on about history; it ought to be historic. When Wade Boggs sets foot on the mountaintop -- and he can see it from where he is now -- it should be one of those perfectly scripted days that shows that heaven still pays attention. It should come with a touch of drama, with a memory as fresh and bright as all the ones that brought him to this point.

The perfect pitch would be a fastball. The perfect time would be the bottom of the 12th.

Boggs is in his final pages of the final chapter now, and it is possible to imagine the ending. Probably, that will come sometime over the next week, when Boggs gets his 3,000th hit, when the rest of us have a moment to reflect on what it means, and what Boggs has meant, over all these years when the numbers kept rolling.

The perfect opponent would be the Indians. The perfect pitcher would be Mike Jackson.

You can see him now, walking briskly to the plate, like he can't wait to get there. You can see the umpire walk away, however, to let the moment sink in to the sellout crowd, to let us all soak up the electricity. You can see Boggs, who never notices this kind of stuff, crack a small smile to himself. You can see him glance behind the visitor's dugout, where a group of fans are all dressed as Harlan Sanders, a tribute to Boggs' chicken addiction.

The perfect situation is with runners on base. The perfect score is one run behind.

Why Sunday? Because it gives the world plenty of time to absorb the moment. None of this in-case-you-missed-it replay for us. Why Cleveland? Because the Indians are the AL's best team, and they're up next. Either the Red Sox or Yankees would be a little more dramatic, since Boggs has played for both, but Tampa Bay is done with Boston, and the Yankees don't come into the Trop until late in the season and, frankly, Boggs isn't much for waiting. Why Jackson? Because he is the most dependable Indians pitcher, and who wants Charles Nagy to open the door to legend, for goodness' sake?

The perfect mascot would be the San Diego Chicken, rented for a day. The perfect companion would be the San Diego Hit Man.

Okay, okay. Boggs hasn't wanted any of this race with Tony Gwynn. To him, it's the completion of a journey, not a race to get there first. For the rest of us, however, this is grand stuff. Gwynn is great company, and together, they finally will bring the eyes of the world off the home run and back to the art of contact hitting.

The perfect first pitch would be thrown out by Ted Williams. The perfect last one would be hit by Boggs.

Boggs has always has a regard for the legends; who better than Williams to be on hand when he joins them? So picture Boggs at the plate, his eyes locked in. Runners at first and third, two out. Indians ahead 7-6. Picture Jackson getting ahead in the count, one ball and two strikes, with Boggs looking each pitch all the way into the catcher's mitt. Picture him fouling off two, three pitches, finally working the count full.

The perfect swing would come next. The perfect hit would be clean.

No scorer's interpretations, please. Call anything close an error. This has to be sharp, solid, the way most of Boggs' hits have been. Personally, I see it climbing into the air, thankfully missing the catwalks, and landing in the rightfield stands. I see it hitting Todd McFarlane in the forehead and bouncing back onto the field, where Kenny Lofton picks it up and tosses it toward the Rays' clubhouse.

The perfect noise would be loud. The perfect celebration would last a while.

I see Boggs jogging around the bases like it is a victory lap. I see him embracing his son, and his father, and his wife. I see him engulfed by his teammates. I see the Indians joining in the applause. I see him spinning at the plate, smiling, holding his cap into the air at the moment we all will remember.

Perfect.

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