[FOUNTAIN]A Season Finale to Lift the Spirits

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[FOUNTAIN]A Season Finale to Lift the Spirits

A wonderful sport has produced a wonderful championship series at a time when the United States and the rest of the baseball world most needed it.

This year's baseball world series will probably be remembered for decades as one of the most improbable and most exciting. For those of us here in Korea, the appearance of young Kim Byung-hyun gave the championship a special flavor.

What makes baseball so special? It's often slow and boring but, like soccer, it is a game that kids grow up with, and it is a game where you don't have to be a 150-kilogram behemoth or a 2.3-meter skyscraper to dream about making it to the majors. American boyhood memories revolve around baseball; I'll never forget the first time I walked into the old Busch Stadium at Grant and Dodier in St. Louis and watched Stan Musial take up his question-mark stance at the plate.

Some plays, like the swooping grace of a well-turned double play, are awe-inspiring every time they are executed, and yesterday's final game of the World Series had two beautiful moments of choreographed perfection. In the first inning, Paul O'Neill of the Yankees was caught trying to stretch a double into a triple, thanks to a well-executed relay from center field.

The Yankees returned the favor in the sixth inning when Derek Jeter seemed nearly to whirl in the air to relay the ball to third base to catch Danny Bautista of the Diamondbacks trying to squeeze an extra base out of a run-scoring double.

Kim Byung-hyun, pressed into service as Arizona's closer, will have a lot of mixed emotions this winter; he had a roller-coaster year. After an all-star 2001 first half, he stumbled and was sent down to the Diamondbacks' Tucson farm club. After being recalled, his numbers were less than impressive but he saved the win against the Atlanta Braves in the playoffs that sent his team to the World Series.

Then the Yankee Stadium roof fell in on him. Two nights, two outs in the ninth, two home runs, two losses. Had the D-Backs lost one of their two final games at home, Kim might have gone down in baseball lore with Fred Merkle of the New York Giants, who cost his team the pennant when he failed to touch second base late in the 1908 season.

But the D-Backs rallied and as Mark Grace, the Diamondbacks' first baseman, told ESPN radio after the game, "BK helped us get here. This will make his flight back to Korea a little easier."

Indeed it will, and he can also savor striking out the Yankee side in his first inning in a World Series.

Matt Williams, Arizona's third baseman, put the series into perspective. He told an ESPN interviewer after the final game, "If you're a Diamonbacks fan, those games in New York were wrenching. But if you're an ordinary baseball fan - what a series!"

The writer is a deputy editor of the JoongAng Ilbo English Edition.

by John Hoog

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