Touching third and heading home

E on DC

Everyone seems to be throwing in the high nineties these days. When did we start keeping track of the pitch count?  Throw for six innings and your job might be done. Baseball consists of getting three outs every inning. It mirrors life when we want things to slow down.  Rise from bed in the middle of the night and look over your shoulder at your wife sleeping. Turn away and take another look back; you wonder if this woman will be with you for the rest of your life.  One day you turn around and the bed is empty. She’s no longer on first base. When did she leave?  It’s the middle innings and now there’s nothing left in your arm. You can’t hold a woman close to you anymore. You need time to think and so your mind wanders like another walk. How did the years go by so quickly?  When did your hair turn gray? When did you start losing your hair?  I think it’s baseball that stops time like Satchel Paige teaching us something about hesitation.

Many years before I migrated to Washington, I collected baseball cards.  I had a few thousand. I kept them in old shoe boxes and sometimes in small crates my mother came back with from the corner store. I flipped these cards over and over. I read the stats on the back. Now and then when I glance at the obituary pages of a newspaper I come across a name that I can match with a card. How could a player be dead?  I once owned his card.  His face should never have aged. One day I gave all my baseball cards to a kid by the name of Patrick who lived on the 13th floor of the St. Mary’s Housing Projects in the South Bronx. I have no idea why I did this. Why did I mug myself?  Who was I trying to impress?  The cards could have kept me young.

Today in my house I have only six cards. My collection consists of Mickey Mantle, Bill Mazeroski, Barry Bonds, Jose Reyes, Mariano Rivera, and Jackie Robinson. Every card was a gift. I don’t remember who gave me the Mazeroski card. My introduction to the blues started at the end of the 7th game of the 1960 World Series. I was ten and didn’t even have a girl-friend. I didn’t know the difference between love and loss until it left the hand of Yankee pitcher Ralph Terry.  What Mazeroski did is what every kid who loves baseball one day wants to do. You live to win the last game of a World Series.  In 1960, fans could run out onto the field. Mazeroski touches third and every fan in the world is waiting to welcome him home. I still carry this memory in my bone marrow.  It’s something I only experienced once and it has no comparison.

When Mazeroski had his big hit, I listened to a radio announcer describe the ball going over the left-field wall. I was alone in the back room of an apartment on Longwood Avenue in the Bronx. There was no woman to lean into and absorb the shock. No hand down the center of my back or a whisper in my ear.

There was no comfort after Mazeroski lost his hat coming around the bases. I was only ten but I felt very old that day. The blues came down hard and it shook me.

This year I found myself “dating” the Nationals. I’ve been paying more attention to their games.  Checking  the Sports Alerts on my IPhone. Talking to friends at work. Giving up when I find them down by a few runs; overwhelmed when they tie a game in the ninth and win in extra innings. In my mind the dust of heartbreaks is still there in the corner. How far will the Nationals go this season?  You share your vows with the person you want to spend the rest of your life with. Is the city of Washington too young to go steady?  A young kid sits in the stands with a glove, punching into the pocket where he hopes a ball will fall.  What does an older person feel?  I’ve noticed more adults handing over a caught ball to a nearby child.  This gift of the game is priceless. It’s a sharing that says the odds can be changed. A child leaves a ball park with a ball. What does the man who gave it to him leave with?

In between pitches, some fans send text messages to their friends. I can’t do this. When a batter steps out of the box or a pitcher steps off the mound I want my life to stop just for a moment. I want to look at the field and my surroundings.  Mindfulness is so elusive. I learned this after Mazeroski became a point of reference in my life. When you love a team, you want them to win. This is more than sharing a telephone number or sending flowers.  I plan to take the Metro out to a game before the season ends.

I’ll leave my house early and hope the trains are running without delays. It will be just me. I’ll step out of the Navy Yard Station where I’ve been working with some friends who want to place a baseball mural where the escalators are or maybe right by the entrance.  I’ll join the crowd and the flow. I know one day my steps will be slower, but the game will be waiting. Maybe the umpire will call time out and brush the dirt off the plate.  For a moment everything will be new the way it was back in the Bronx when I was growing up.

I wish I could collect cards again. Who would I place next to Mazeroski and Jackie Robinson?

I look at the lineup of the Nationals and check a couple of names. This is how it begins.

After all the innings played maybe my wife will still be up when I leave the ball park. Baseball is the game that begins and ends at home.