April 21 would have been a special day for Paul Dockal anyway.
The White Sox were in town for their only Seattle trip this season. Paul and his wife, Jennifer -- both Chicago transplants -- had plans to bring their then-9-month-old son, Bode, to Safeco Field for the first time. Plus, Paul had purchased first-row seats behind the opposing dugout.
“It’s kind of been a dream of mine to have those seats just once,” Dockal said. “We made it like a big deal. I was so excited to take Bode to his first game -- it was really important to me, even if he doesn’t remember a thing.”
Decked out in black and white, Paul, Jennifer and Bode arrived at their seats well before the first pitch. Several White Sox players tossed them balls during batting practice. Paul Konerko homered in the second inning, and a perfect day was off to a perfect start.
At the end of the sixth inning, Paul looked up at the scoreboard to check Philip Humber’s pitch count and realized just how perfect a day the White Sox starter was having.
“I turned to my wife, because it was a warm day and she didn’t know how long we should keep Bode out there,” Paul said. “I was like, ‘Hey, is everybody good?’ She asked why and I said, ‘Something really interesting is happening here. I can’t talk about it, but I think it’s happened less than 20 times in the whole history of baseball.”
As the outs piled up and tension mounted in the stands, Paul felt a shift among the Mariners faithful. Some continued heckling Humber, but others appeared to be subtly rooting for the visiting starter. Everyone watched with rapt attention as the innings ticked by. Paul, who attended several games during the White Sox 2005 World Series run, likened the final outs to a playoff atmosphere.
Two hours, 17 minutes after the first pitch, Humber completed his masterpiece with a strikeout of Brendan Ryan. Dockal high-fived nearby White Sox fans and accepted congratulations from several Mariners supporters. But it was Bode, who quietly watched the entire spectacle unfold, who he was thinking about most.
“It’s one of those things that, I don’t think he could understand how important it was for me to be with him until he has a son of his own,” Paul said. “The first thing I said to my wife was, ‘This is the best day I’ve ever had with my son.’”
That sentiment still holds true. But Aug.15 has emerged as a solid No. 2.
Paul’s brother, Pete, was visiting from Texas with his girlfriend, Rosa. A big baseball fan, Pete was looking forward to his first game at Safeco -- and his first with Bode, now 13 months old. Paul had mapped out the Mariners’ schedule a few weeks before and decided that the Wednesday matinee would be best for his son’s second trip to the ballpark. Plus, barring a rotation shuffle, Felix Hernandez was scheduled to take the hill.
“If you’re coming in for one game, that’s the guy you want to see,” Paul said.
Dockal said he pulls for his hometown Mariners, just without the same emotional conviction he has for the White Sox. So he was wearing neutral colors – a Sonics shirt, actually -- in the 10th row behind first base as the M’s took the field against the Rays. Even in the early frames, Paul had an inkling the day might be another special one.
“This time, I talked about it the whole time,” he said. “By the third inning I was like, ‘Hey, he’s got a no-hitter going.’”
Once again, the intensity rose with every at-bat. The White Sox led, 3-0, after the third inning of Humber’s perfecto, but Hernandez and the Mariners were perpetually just one pitch from losing not only a chance at immortality, but also the lead. Paul found himself rooting for Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson to retire the Mariners quickly just so Felix could get back to work.
When Hernandez kicked one leg in the air and raised his hands skyward after striking out Sean Rodriguez to end the ninth, Paul witnessed history once again.
And Bode had, too.
There have been only 23 perfect games thrown in nearly a century and a half of Major League history. Two of them were the first two games Bode Dockal ever attended in person. Paul said that, in a way, he wishes his son would never attend another game – nothing could top what he’s already seen. But he knows Bode will have to relive the magic of Humber and Felix through photos and stories rather than actual recollections. Plus, someday decades from now, Bode might walk through the gates of a stadium with a son of his own.
And on that day, perfection just might strike a third time.
By Ian Kay / MLB.com