It was 10 years ago this October that Jose Vizcaino and other members of the 2000 Yankees were celebrating a walk-off hit in Game 1 of the World Series.
The path the baseball took from Jose Vizcaino's bat in the pivotal moment of Game 1 of the 2000 World Series to the safe spot in his current home in San Diego was an unlikely adventure, one almost as unlikely as Vizcaino's significant role in Yankees history in the first place.
"What do I remember about it?" Vizcaino said by phone a few days ago. "I remember everything."
Vizcaino spent five months that year as a middle infielder with the Yankees, a brief stop in an 18-year career that included time with the Dodgers, Cubs, Mets, Indians, Giants, Astros, and Cardinals, all of whom prized his versatility, his glove, and his baseball smarts.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the biggest moment of his career, a sliced walk-off single to left field with the bases loaded and two outs in the 12th against Turk Wendell to beat the Mets in the Subway Series opener and help the Yankees to their third straight championship.
His turn in the spotlight came only after the Yankees missed multiple chances to win the game prior to his at-bat.
"The first thing in my mind was: This is exactly what I've been dreaming of," Vizcaino said. "I knew Turk was going to try to get ahead in the count. He threw me exactly what I was looking for -- a fastball middle-away. He threw it right in the sweet spot."
For Vizcaino, it was his fourth hit of the game, the most by any player hitting No. 9 in the batting order in a World Series game.
He holds a share of the Yankees record for most hits in a World Series game with six others: Hall of Famers Joe Dugan (1923) and Bill Dickey (1938), Charlie Keller (1941), Mickey Mantle (1960), Thurman Munson (1976) and Bernie Williams (2003).
The 2000 Yankees had similar struggles to the 2010 Yankees in terms of trying to finish the year strong, sputtering a bit in September. But when the postseason came, every player was ready for the challenge.
One of the beauties of baseball is that there is no guarantee that the best player will have the biggest chance to impact the game. In the Yankees run of championships, their postseasons have featured unlikely heroes, like Vizcaino or Luis Sojo (who got the winning hit in Game 5).
Extra-Inning Walk-Off Hit
For Yankees in World Series
They join names in Yankees lore like Brian Doyle, who hit .438 filling in ably at second base in the 1978 World Series or Chad Curtis, who hit a walk-off home run in the 1999 World Series.
Last year, one of the key moments of the postseason was David Robertson escaping a bases loaded, no-outs extra-inning jam in a tie game in the LDS that the Yankees would go on to win. Who knew before it started that he'd make a Mariano Rivera-like impact?
In 2000, Vizcaino was that guy.
"It took all 25 guys on that team to win," Vizcaino said. "There were no egos on that team. Every day was a different hero."
While most Yankees fans best remember Paul O'Neill's leadoff walk in the ninth inning and Vizcaino's game-ending hit from that game, Vizcaino actually had a secondary role of significance. With runners on first and second and one out in the ninth, he singled to load the bases, setting up Chuck Knoblauch's game-tying sacrifice fly. That set the stage for Vizcaino's second set of heroics.
As it turned out, the hit that won the game would be Vizcaino's last of the World Series. He'd be among the first to get to the dogpile that formed when Bernie Williams caught the last out ("There's no better feeling," he said), but a few weeks later, Vizcaino was no longer a Yankee. He signed as a free agent with the Astros and his time with the Yankees was done.
But there was still one important connection to be made.
A fan came up to Vizcaino the next year in Kissimmee, Florida, where he was in spring training with the Astros. He told him he had something special for Vizcaino and produced a baseball, one Vizcaino recognized as being a used one from the World Series.
The fan told him that he was in the stands when the ball got chucked his way. It was the game-winner from that World Series game. He gave the ball to a stunned Vizcaino, who gave him a signed bat and ball for his trouble.
The fan's story was enough for Vizcaino to believe, and there was one clue that made Vizcaino sure that the ball was his.
"It has a little dark spot from where it hit the ground in the outfield," Vizcaino said.
Vizcaino put the ball in the safest spot he could think of, the glove compartment of his rental car, and then amazingly at the end of spring training, when he returned his vehicle, he left the ball inside.
Flash forward about two months into the season and Vizcaino realizes that he doesn't have his prize baseball. For the heck of it, he calls the rental car company and asks if there's a ball in the glove compartment of the car he rented.
It was still there.
"It's unbelievable to think that I now have the ball," said Vizcaino, who arranged for its safe delivery.
It is now stored away with the glasses he wore that day (he's since had laser surgery and didn't need to wear them any more), and his batting gloves. His Yankees jersey is framed and he has a set of newspapers from the day after as well.
Vizcaino is now a special assistant to baseball operations for the Dodgers, most recently helping minor leaguers in the instructional league. He was reunited with his former manager Joe Torre, and ex-Yankees assistant GM Kim Ng. At one Dodgers-organized dinner, Torre pointed Vizcaino and Mariano Duncan out as the men who won him two World Series rings.
Vizcaino has the baseball to prove it. And just in case he gets absent-minded again, there's already a plan in place to remedy that.
"My brother has a blown-up picture of the baseball," Vizcaino said with a laugh, "just in case I lose it again."