Baseball: my old buddy

National League 8, American League zip. Didn’t expect that, but I’ll sleep well. There was a time in the distant past when an A.L. skunking by the N.L. was cause for deep, extended grief. Back then I was an American League-only fan, despising all things National League and the Yankees.

Funny how things change. Oh, sure, I pulled for the A.L. in Tuesday night’s All-Star Game, pined for the Royals to become competitive again and pin-pointed the many places I’ve sat at Kauffman Stadium as the Fox Sports cameras panned the festive crowd. But I refuse to hate Derek Jeter even though he wears Yankee pinstripes and I cheer equally – maybe even more so – for the National League.

People I grew up with will have a jaw-dropping reaction to my confession that I’m now more a Cardinals fan than a Royals fan, but that has more to do with the passage of time and, until recently, multiple seasons of unfamiliarity with the boys in Royals blue. Those people will remember me as an avid fan of the game, splitting nearly every waking hour between watching and listening to games or playing the game.

Let’s fast-forward to present day Jodie. Here’s something most people don’t know about me: I got choked up and even a wee bit weepy during the all-star introductions; when George Brett – my No. 1, all-time favorite player – threw out the first pitch; the singing of the National Anthem. Not that long ago that reaction would have been based on some rueful rumination of days gone by, of nostalgic memories of my youth when I fell asleep to the sound of A.M. radio crackling out the play-by-play of my beloved Royals coming up short yet again in a late-night West Coast battle with the dreaded Oakland A’s.

When the A’s began to fade in the late-70s and the Yankees became the forever nemesis of my Royals, a new roster of foes to hate became part of my psyche, and one moment became ingrained into the foundation of my youth – a moment that still, to this day, fills my eyes with mist: October 14, 1976, when Chris Chambliss belted a home run off Mark Littell to lead off the bottom of the ninth in Game 5 of the American League playoffs, capping a royal Royals collapse and sending the Yankees to the World Series.

That was 36 years ago, but recalling it even now and looking at photos of the wild celebration at Yankee Stadium, I realize I’m not breathing because, just like back then, all the air has left the room. Such is the continued, perpetual power of that devastating memory.

But those weren’t the emotions that tied my eyes to the All-Star Game telecast on Tuesday. Instead of melancholy, what I had was deep, reverent appreciation for baseball as history, and as a friend that had dropped by for a short while, connecting me to that history. There was the image of Hank Aaron with Willie Mays, and I was able to appreciate seeing both of those men play at the very end of their careers. In 1973, the very first game I saw at Busch Stadium, the Cardinals hosted the New York Mets in what was part of the farewell tour for the Say Hey Kid, Willie Mays. In 1976, my brother, Robert, took me to Kansas City to see the Royals play the Milwaukee Brewers in Hank Aaron’s final season.

I can’t expect everyone to understand the emotions that well up inside me when I greet my old friend, Major League Baseball, because the history is both corporate and personal. During the height of my fanatic embrace of the game – when I was a young teenager ‑ baseball was one of the only predictable constants in my life, providing ready escape from my family’s mostly silent yet insidious dysfunction.

So there is that element of melancholy and pain, but like I said, the overriding emotions I now have are gratefulness and appreciation. So here’s my message to my old friend, Baseball:

“Thank you for being there. You got me through some of the toughest times. Your friend, Jodie.”

 

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Filed under Family, MIP: Memoir-in-progress

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