My father died in 2004; my mother five years later. Anyone who has lost their parents knows one of the bittersweet tasks of grieving – going through all their stuff, deciding what to give away, throw away, keep. There were hundreds of stories to tell in the detritus of two well-lived lives, but the one I’m remembering this fall begins with the sound of a radio announcer, a crowd in the background and the crack of a baseball bat. It all came back to me when I found my mom’s photos of several St. Louis Browns players. My mother, you see, was a baseball groupie. And so, in a way, am I.
I grew up in the house my father built, a 1 1/2-story post-war “cottage,” with three rooms down and two bedrooms up. In one of those bedrooms, on hot summer nights, my mother would tuck me in and turn on the window fan (these were pre-air conditioning days). Despite the whir of the fan I could still hear the radio downstairs, tuned to whatever baseball game was being broadcast. Most nights it was the Cards and Harry Caray, but often it was the Milwaukee Braves. My folks were never Chicago fans, a fact I find comforting, not wanting to think they missed the thrill of having their teams win a World Series. My mother’s Browns became the Baltimore Orioles, and I distinctly remember when they became World Champions in 1966. My cousins who lived in Baltimore at the time sent my mom an ashtray with a decoupage of the newspaper’s front page the day after their win. The ashtray, like the photographs, was a keeper.
I grew up in the ’50s and ’60s. My parents were in love with automobiles and the new interstate highways. Every summer I saw the world from the back seat of my dad’s latest car. A two-week vacation meant driving as far as you could in a week, turning around and going back home. Some people went to Disneyland, but we went to the new Astrodome, the Royals park in Kansas City (it had a waterfall!), and of course, Busch Stadium. “Cold beer here, frosty malts!”
My first husband was a Cubs fan, and so I joined the ranks. For cheap entertainment we used to drive out to the country listening to games on the radio of our 1960 Volkswagen. We were poor, but the smell of ripe corn and the voices of Vince Lloyd and Lou Boudreau – priceless. My Cubs fan died in 1993 and baseball faded from my life until one night, in 1996, I tuned in to the Yankees/Braves World Series. For some reason I’ve always hated Atlanta. Maybe it’s because they deserted Milwaukee. Or their fans’ obnoxious hatchet chop. Maybe because the idea of “America’s team” is just wrong, or because one of their star players was named “Chipper.” The way the Yankees came from behind to beat them rekindled my love for baseball. And while Jim is probably cursing me from the next world, I have become a die-hard Yankee fan.
Then I married a Mets fan. Yes, he’s from Boston, but he was born in Brooklyn and his grandfather took him to Shea Stadium in his formative years. So here we are this fall, two New York fans, looking forward to post-season play in which neither of us has any real stake. His friends back home are Sox fanatics, but I just can’t get past the caveman look and Ethan has always admired the Cardinals. Late October will find us on the couch, drinking our not-so-cold wine, eating pasta instead of hot dogs, pretending our seats are behind home plate, thanking reality that they are actually near the fireplace.
Some people complain that baseball isn’t exciting enough, that it’s too slow. They have never felt the anticipation of a bottom-of-the-ninth inning 3/2 count in a tied game with two outs and a runner in scoring position. In an age of nanoseconds it’s difficult to get excited about a game that has no time clock. Baseball fans have what basketball and football fans don’t. Patience. Nobody has to define forbearance to Cub fans. Thousands of fans with that “wait till next year” faith were rewarded when Boston won the World Series in 2004, the first time since 1918. Grown children took newspapers to their parents’ graves. “They finally did it, Pop.”
Baseball may be in the genes. My love of the game came from my parents who took me out to the ball game, bought my first box of Cracker Jack and a felt pennant for my bedroom. That room where on summer nights I fell asleep, my heroes rounding the bases, each run my own private victory.
Pitchers and catchers report for spring training Feb. 11 and 12, 2014.
Corrine Frisch is a freelance writer. Retired from Lincoln Library, she is a member of Springfield Poets and Writers.