Kirk McCaskill got the sign and stared in. Ken Griffey Jr. had worked the count to 3-0 -- a frightening spot with such a dangerous hitter at the plate. The right-hander wound up, fired ... and Junior deposited the ball into the seats in deep left-center field. But this home run wasn't like the 629 other ones that Junior hit, this was a sports legend happening in real-time: Ken Griffey Sr. and Jr. had just hit back-to-back home runs, becoming the first and so far only father-and-son duo in Major League history to accomplish the feat. McCaskill was on the mound for both of them.
"Everybody was kind of unaware of [the significance]," McCaskill said in a recent phone call. "Nobody had really thought it through. I always tell the story that it was like the movie 'Brubaker.' He gets released from prison and all the inmates are lined up and they start this very slow kind of clap. And my recollection is like that, like, 'Holy s---. What just happened?' It took until Junior got to second base to realize what actually happened."
McCaskill couldn't forget the moment if he wanted to.
Currently a high school baseball coach at The Bishop's School in La Jolla, Calif., he gets reminded of it every year. It's emailed, texted and joked about by every friend, family member and child he's ever coached. He gets sent the clip on Sept. 14, the anniversary of the event. He's reminded of it every Father's Day when the highlight gets sent around again with renewed gusto.
"All the kids I coached know about it and they remind me of it constantly," McCaskill said with a laugh.
While the crowd may not have been prepared, he thinks that the younger Griffey knew what was up.
"That was a 3-0 count, so it had to be on his mind," McCaskill said. "Just to think about his ability level, like, 'I'm gonna hit one after my dad on a 3-0 count,' and then he does it. It's pretty amazing."
While that moment may live on in history, it never would have happened if McCaskill succeeded in his first love: ice hockey. After all, just like Junior, McCaskill began by following in his father's footsteps. Born in Kapuskasing, Ontario, Canada, Kirk's family moved a lot as they followed his father, Ted, who played professional hockey in the NHL, WHL, WHA and more.
"I would go with him to the rink as much as I possibly could. I had the classic mattress in the garage to shoot pucks into it, trying to nail those little buttons on the mattress," McCaskill said. "Before rollerblades, I was roller skating around the block in Huntington Beach, California, and people thought I was nuts. That's really all I wanted to do."
With hockey on the mind, baseball was simply a fun hobby. The thought of having a future in the sport didn't even occur to McCaskill until after high school. Naturally gifted enough to throw a mid-80s fastball and a decent breaking ball despite limited on-field action, the young right-hander really only saw scouts for the first time when he started a game for an elite legion team in Phoenix one Friday night. Afterward, Jim Brock -- the legendary Arizona State University coach -- even offered him a track scholarship since the baseball team was out of them just to get him to join.
Instead, he headed to the University of Vermont, where he could continue playing hockey and baseball. McCaskill -- who would later be a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, college hockey's version of the Heisman Trophy -- was selected by the Winnipeg Jets in the fourth round of the 1981 NHL draft after his sophomore season. He was selected ahead of future hockey stars like Rangers goaltender John Vanbiesbrouck and Red Wings left wing Gerard Gallant.
"I tell the kids I coach that I found out I got drafted by the Jets in USA Today," McCaskill said with a laugh.
Unlike baseball's current rules, Winnipeg didn't need to immediately sign him, so he returned to school for his junior year, where he was soon drafted by the Angels. He played a year of rookie ball and was still juggling his fledgling hockey career when he was invited to big league camp -- a difficult decision as he would have to miss much of the college hockey season.
"I think you should go to big league camp with the Angels," UVM coach Jim Cross told him. "You've done everything you can do at the college hockey level, we're not going to make the playoffs, and this is an experience that might never come again."
So, the young pitcher listened. "It was a great decision," McCaskill said. "I mean, all of a sudden, I'm at baseball camp. I've never been to a camp before. I've only played rookie ball. I'm there with Reggie Jackson, Rod Carew, Tommy John and Freddie Lynn, and all these guys. And it was just a real eye opener."
While that should have sealed McCaskill's future, there was one issue: Winnipeg was still interested. With McCaskill earning meager wages in the Minors, the Jets stepped forward with a four-year deal that was too tough to pass up.
"I put my baseball stuff away, and I was ready to commit to being a professional hockey player. I hadn't really skated much in the previous year and a half. It was a couple of months in there when I went back to play in college, so I had to try to get in shape."
Describing himself as "a lumbering, slow center with pretty good hands, but too slow to create my own shot," McCaskill suited up for nine exhibition games with the Jets and was present with the team during a playoff run before he was optioned to the Sherbrooke Jets of the AHL for the 1983-84 season. He scored 10 goals and dished out 12 assists that year, but the writing was on the wall. When he was out on the ice with players like Dale Hawerchuk, Morris Lukowich and Dave Babych, McCaskill knew they were far beyond his skill set.
"Whereas I can remember throwing bullpens in Spring Training next to Mike Witt, Tommy John and Ken Forsch. I looked down the line I thought, 'OK, this isn't too daunting. I think my stuff could potentially measure up with this stuff someday,'" McCaskill said. "When I was on the ice with the proven NHL guys, I was like, 'Oh my lord.'"
While McCaskill may not have lived his childhood dream of becoming an NHL star, he did pull off one of the most remarkable two-sport careers in modern history. Even with the year off with the Jets, McCaskill went on to win 106 games, pitch in two posteasons and be honored as one of People Magazine's most beautiful people in 1991. Not surprisingly, McCaskill the coach wishes that young children got to enjoy playing multiple sports -- even if they don't end up earning paychecks for them all in the future.
"I think what's going on in the travel sports world today is an absolute travesty -- that kids start to isolate and focus on one sport when they're 9 or 10 years old really blindly," McCaskill said. "This whole idea that there's a college scholarship waiting for someone out there if they decide to play just one sport starting at 10 is really damaging. I hate to see it."
So, while he jokes that his goal for Bishop's is an undefeated season and a conference championship -- "otherwise I quit" -- he's really focused on helping the student-athletes succeed on the field and in life.
"I love being able to talk about how this game and your challenges in this game will make you better in your chosen profession in life," he said. "Same thing, so keep the bigger picture in mind."
And as for that matchup against the Griffeys, the one that is replayed every year and shows up in his text messages from everyone who knows him?
"Here's my theory on it," McCaskill said. "When we land on Mars and start a professional baseball league, and the league's been around for 100 years, there might be a father and son on the same team. Who knows, they might hit back to back. But the chances of a father and son hitting back-to-back home runs in the history of this universe is truly a one-off. You talk about a record that will never be broken."
Of course, there is one thing that people often forget about that day and McCaskill is quick to remind me: "The Angels won that game, by the way."