Why, for me, baseball’s more than just a game

Baseball is back.

I realize there are many people who can’t get too excited about the start of a sport’s season that lasts seven months – let alone, whose games can last four hours at a pace some may find sluggish. But for me, baseball’s more than just a game.

My brother, Braul, was four when my parents left Cuba in hopes of creating a better life for our family. I was born just two days after they arrived in the states. From my childhood in Rhode Island, what I remember most – and what brought me the greatest joy – was the huge role baseball played.

Braul and I turned our yard into a baseball diamond – a maple tree was first base, an oak tree was second, and the gutter that ran down the corner of our house was third. And if we weren’t playing in our Little League games or a pickup game in the parking lot down the road, it would just be me and Braul playing in our makeshift field. Summertime made for long games – and lots of good times.

And then there was the Red Sox. We grew up watching Red Sox games on TV every day they played. My mom and dad would join us and watch the bigger games on the color set, but usually it would be late nights on the small black-and-white Hitachi in the room Braul and I shared.

As we got older, moved and started families of our own, we all still shared our love of the game. My parents would stay up late watching many games together in their Florida home. I’d get a kick when they’d tell me they were up well past midnight to catch the end of a long extra-inning game or a West Coast game they started watching.

And I’ll never forget the many late-night calls my dad and I shared while watching comeback after comeback during the Red Sox’s magical 2004 World Series run.

“Did you see that?!” he’d yell in Spanish over the phone after a dramatic game-tying David Ortiz hit. “Did you see that?!” I’d yell back, moments later, following the game-winning walk-off hit.

Then, almost seven years ago, my mom died unexpectedly. My parents had been together 50 years. My father, whose life revolved around my mom, kind of stopped looking forward to things.

After several months, he moved in with me and my family. Of course, he’d enjoy our morning espressos together – and whenever my wife and our girls would drop in to talk to him. But it was several months later that I found something else he looked forward to on a daily basis – something that took him back to a happier time for a few hours every night.

It was baseball.

My satellite television package allowed us to watch every Red Sox game on TV. And we did just that. Sometime after dinner every night – after our evening coffees – we’d settle around his TV for the start of the game.

He knew the players – he’d followed them before. The games were his escape. A distraction. And for those three hours or so, he’d shout with every Red Sox run, or shake his head in disgust if he felt the manager pulled the starting pitcher too early. Most important, though, he was engaged and, sometimes, happy.

Eventually, he moved in with my brother and his family – where he continued watching his games but gained even greater joy playing with his new great grandchildren. Later, when he required full-time medical care to get around, we had to move him into a home where he could get that. But wherever he was, I’d call him every day – usually, during my drive home from work. And if there was a game on TV that night, he’d be watching it.

Last month, my dad was hospitalized with pneumonia. He also had developed some kidney complications because of his diabetes, and other issues that his doctor said didn’t look good. But after a week or so, he had apparently turned the corner. We joked it was because baseball season was about to start, and he wasn’t about to miss it.

Then, at about 6 a.m. on a Thursday morning, a hospital nurse called. My father had passed. He was finally together with my mom again.

He was 89 years old, but his mind seemed sharper than mine. I look at his framed pictures on my desk, and it’s still hard for me to believe he’s gone.

Today marks a month of my dad’s passing. And after making my afternoon espresso, I settled in front of my TV to watch the Red Sox game we’d often watch together. We were losing 7-2 to the Tampa Bay Rays at Fenway in the bottom of the eighth inning of a game my dad would be shaking his head at.

Then, a two-out hit. Then a double. Then another double. Two more singles – the last by one of my dad’s favorite players, Mookie Betts – and the Sox had amazingly tied the game. And when Andrew Benintendi doubled in the next at-bat, Mookie scored the go-ahead run, and the six-run, two-out rally put the Sox up 8-7.

Craig Kimbrel closed out the 1-2-3 ninth, and the Red Sox pulled off an incredible comeback to start the season 8-1 – their best start in franchise history.

“Did you see that?” I whispered to him, looking up shortly after the win. “Did you see that?”

I think he did. I think he enjoyed that win with my mom.

I know this year will be a tougher one than usual. I already miss those daily calls with my dad, and the many talks we shared.

But I’ll have baseball. And as long as there’s a game on, I’ll be watching.

I think we both will.

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