Tag Archives: baseball

Don’t Stop Believin’

We could hear the strains of the national anthem as we hurried across the immense parking lot, headed to the main gate. A light breeze, unusually cool for July, fanned our rushing faces. I pulled the folded-up ticket printouts from my pocket, ready to hand them over to the guy with the scanner, even as I passed my bag to the woman who gave it a cursory poke then waved me on.

My girl tugged on my hand, reading off the numbered sections. “C’mon, Mama. Keep going this way.” And we walked and walked and swerved to avoid giggling groups of teenage girls in team shirts. Finally Bear announced, “Section 201. Here it is, Mama!” And we sank into our seats as the first inning played on.

“Sorry we missed the national anthem, Beary,” I apologized. “But we’ll definitely hear ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame’ – okay?”

She nodded, eyes on the crowd, on the sun-setting sky, on the ads flashing across the electronic billboard across the field from our seats. Taking it all in. She’s like her Daddy; she loves coming to a baseball game.

We snapped a quick selfie, posted to Facebook “Great night for a ball game! This one’s for you, Kevster”, then I sat and wondered. Wondered if we were doing the right thing. The game we came to last year, just after Kevin died, was so…magical, I guess, for want of any other way to describe it. Could we capture that feeling again? Capture feeling Kevin so close to us? My girl insisted on this tradition, insisted that we come to a baseball game, but did she know that it might not feel the same this year?

The first inning ended, the second began. “Mama, can we get some peanuts?” Part of the tradition. Peanuts and Dr. Pepper. She cracked them against her seat, then pried the peanut out, dumping the shell onto the concrete beneath her shoes. “Do you think Rafael will be here again?” Not our cat – the Australian college student from last year. When I said I doubted it, she replied, “Well, I think something special will happen. We just have to look for signs.”

Something special.

My eyes gazed across the field, to the first base line. We’d sat there for a Yankees game nine years ago. Me, about twelve weeks pregnant with the Bear and down with morning sickness all day long. The drive into the city had nearly done me in, and I was nauseous and unsure about being at a baseball game. But it was the Yankees, and Kevin’s little-boy excitement was pretty contagious. Determined to help me feel better, he bought some Sea-Bands at a local drugstore, little elasticized cloth bracelets that applied pressure to take away seasick feelings. I was skeptical, but willing to try anything at that point. At the game, we asked a woman in the row in front of us to take a photo, and it’s one of my favorites. We’re both smiling – Kevin because he’s about to see the Yankees, and me because for the first time in three weeks I wasn’t doubled over heaving. That was something special, for sure.

Just over a year later, we were back at the stadium, this time lugging a diaper bag and a baby girl. She slept through most of the game, and Daddy fed her a bottle when she woke up crying. He was so proud to bring her to her first baseball game. I didn’t know exactly how proud until sometime during a break between innings when giant messages started streaming across the jumbo-tron, and suddenly there was our daughter’s name with a big welcome from the baseball team. Then I knew why Kevin had asked for the camera. He stood snapping pictures of the message and the bright stadium lights were nothing next to the love shining from his face. I should’ve known he’d do something to mark the day. I have a photo of him holding Bear and her bottle, and it’s one of my favorites, too. Something special.

Another year passed, and we headed back to the city for a baseball game. It was a giveaway day at the stadium and as we walked through the gates, a guy handed Beary a stuffed koala bear. It was nearly as big as her tiny 16-month self; she grabbed it with both hands and a big smile broke out behind her binky. Nothing could tear her away from her new toy. We hadn’t counted on the weather turning cool and rainy, though, and I’d forgotten a sweater for my girl. So Kevin searched a couple of stadium gift shops until he found a child-size team jacket. He paid way too much for it, and it was too big, but we rolled up the sleeves and she was warm and snug, thanks to her Daddy. Again, a kind stranger took a photo of the three of us – and the koala bear – and, yeah, it’s one of my favorites. Kevin’s arm around me, the Bear on my lap, with her bink and her bear. Something special.

The game played on. And my girl kept finding signs of something special about to happen. A bit of cloud floating down in front of us — Daddy watching the game, she said. A bright flashing ad for her favorite long-term parking spot at the airport. A triple peanut – very rare, she informed me.

And then, I heard it. Just a handful of notes at the beginning of the crowd sing-along and my girl and I looked at each other. Stared at each other in disbelief.

Just a small town girl
Livin’ in a lonely world
She took the midnight train goin’ anywhere

“Hey!” she cried in surprise, hands flapping with joy. “Daddy sent us his song!”

The excitement in her voice was something special. I lifted her up on the seat beside me and wrapped my arm around her tightly. Tears streamed down my face as I heard her clear little voice sing out with such love and gusto the words her Daddy blared on his car stereo at every chance:

Don’t stop believin’
Hold on to that feelin’

She was right. Something special happened.

I thought about how I’d felt just a few innings before. Wondering if coming to this baseball game was a good idea. Wondering if we could capture the magic of Daddy with us one more time.

I should have known better. I should have known that being in that stadium, with so many wonderful memories, where we shared so many great times, would be a good thing, a special thing. It always has been. I should have known he would still be with us, and we’d feel all the love he ever gave us, ’cause it goes on and on and on and on. Cancer couldn’t stop it; death can’t, either. That kind of love is something special.

I don’t know how you pulled that one off, Kevster, I thought, but I’m glad you did.

Don’t stop believin’.

Play Ball

It’s something I never could have imagined last summer. I cried every day, sleeplessly wandered the house all night, and refused to believe that any of it had happened, refused to accept the fact that Kevin had died and he wasn’t coming back to me and our Bear. Ever.

But he’d left a gift. Tickets to a baseball game. And I went. I took our Bear, though I was doubting, afraid, sad. I took her to the baseball game because I believed that Kevin wanted me to. And it was a magical night. So we went again last summer, late in July. And that’s when it happened, I guess. That’s when Kevin’s gift kept giving. That’s when my little girl decided that this should be our tradition.

A few weeks ago, she asked me, “So, Mama, when are we going to our baseball game? Do you have the tickets yet?”

In her mind, in the midst of that awful, hard summer, we had created a tradition. We went to a baseball game in July in honor of her Daddy. And now it was time to go again. In honor of her Daddy. It’s a way for her to stay connected to him; a way to create new memories and weave them with the Daddy she loves and remembers. After all, baseball’s in her blood.

So we’re off to the city to catch a game tonight. I don’t remember who’s playing — that’s not the important part. The important part is that we’re there, feeling close to the guy we love most in this world. It’s supposed to be a gorgeous summer evening; maybe Kevin will drift in on a playful cloud and watch the game with us. My girl’s got plans to drink a Dr. Pepper and eat peanuts and play in the kids area and sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” with the crowd before we leave at the seventh inning stretch. We’re going to honor her Daddy and remember his love of the game, and the joy he got from sharing it with us.

Play ball.

Batter Up

Kevin liked baseball.

Kevin liked movies.

Kevin liked baseball movies.

On hot summer evenings, if the Yankees weren’t playing on TV, we’d pop in a baseball movie. On cool late autumn nights, when the Yankees weren’t in the Series, we’d still watch the games, but sometimes alternate with a movie. We had our favorites: For the Love of the Game. Fever Pitch. Field of Dreams. A League of Their Own. The Natural. We watched them over and over and laughed at the same parts and cried at the hard parts and I cried more when it all turned out okay in the end. Quotes from the movies were our shorthand, the way we talked to each other.

They also became a way we dealt with cancer.

When we spent a long day at chemo and he’d been poked and poisoned and sent home with more to drip through his body, and tubing was attached to him and hanging from him, he’d give a feeble laugh as I steered him through the house and tucked him into bed. He’d sink into his pillow and as I arranged tubing and blankets, he’d ask me, ”What if my face was all scraped off and I was totally disfigured and had no arms and legs and I was completely paralyzed. Would you still love me?” knowing that I’d come back with, “No. But we could still be friends.” And we’d laugh and the heartache of dealing with cancer would fade for a minute because we couldn’t imagine a time when we wouldn’t love each other. Especially when the cancer made us love each other even more.

And when the chemo racked his body weekend after weekend and he was exhausted from fighting cancer and his mind got stuck in the dark places and he felt like he couldn’t go on, I’d tell him, “You just throw whatever you got, whatever’s left. The boys are all here for you. We’re gonna be awesome for you right now!” And he knew that I was there, that I was going to fight with him and hold him and hug him until the darkness went away.

And when the first chemo stopped working and the cancer came back, and it was hateful and vengeful because it hated us for fighting it, and the oncologist told us about a different protocol, we took a deep breath and said, “A new season. A clean slate. Yep, this smells like the year.” Only it never was the year. As hard as Kevin fought, he could never make the cancer go completely away. But he tried. Oh, did he try.

When he’d regain his appetite after a round of chemo and I’d fix him some deep dish pizza or a French silk pie – anything to get some food into him – he’d take a bite and I’d giggle as he exaggerated his delight with the flavor. “Is this heaven?” he’d grin at me. “No, it’s Iowa,” I’d smirk back. And the house was full of laughter and we could breathe hope and it felt like there really was enough magic in the moonlight to make our dreams of beating cancer come true.

So he fought and he tried and we loved but sometimes the answer to a prayer isn’t “Yes” but it’s “No” and now the World Series is on, but the Yankees aren’t playing, and it’s hard for me this year and it turns out there IS crying in baseball. The memories are swirling around me and I should be pulling out a baseball movie to watch because that’s what we do, because baseball goes on, and life goes on.

But I can’t, because it’s hard to go on without Kevin. I just want him back. So much.

But I also know what he wants. He wants me to keep swinging. He wants me to watch and wait and take a swing at this curveball life’s thrown. He wants me to hit it and curve toward joy and watch happy and delight and hope round the bases and head toward home.

So, okay, Kev. This one’s for you.

Batter up.

(Quotes from For Love of the Game, Fever Pitch, and Field of Dreams)

Baseball’s in her blood

We settle into our seats with a pretzel and soda. She’s taking it all in, this loud, boisterous baseball stadium with thousands in the crowd and their din of voices. I marvel that she’s doing it, my little sprite who struggles with noise and crowds and squeezy places. But I can see it in her face, in the eyes that are cataloging everything in the last rays of the day’s sun. She’s entranced.

And of course she is. She’s Daddy’s girl, after all.
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It’s a cruel trick that I’m the one bringing her to this game instead of her Daddy who loved baseball so much. He was a longtime Yankees fan and when he traveled for work, wherever it was, he always tried to squeeze in some baseball. Even in Iowa, where he sat on the bleachers and gazed at a field of dreams surrounded by cornstalks.

She was about two years old the last time we took her to a game. Then cancer crept in and he grabbed games on the road and we never made it back to the ballpark with her.

Kevin wanted to take her to a ball game, one she’d remember. Then he saw the Yankees were going to be in our neck of the woods for Mother’s Day weekend and, despite the wheelchair and portable oxygen tank, we decided to go see the pinstripes play. We ordered new team shirts and Kevin found some cheap seats in the outfield.

They say life happens while you’re making plans. Well, death happens, too. Less than a month before our trip, Kevin died. I stumbled through the days that followed, numb, directionless, crying constantly. Searching for Kevin. Sifting through papers on our desk, looking for a few words he might have written, needing to hold all the bits of our life that I could find.

I found the tickets that he’d printed off. Now what? Could I take our daughter to this baseball game? On Mother’s Day weekend? Less than a month after his funeral? I had to. It was his Mother’s Day gift to me, he’d wanted us to make a fun family memory. He wanted to share his love of the game with his daughter. Now it’s up to me to share the things her Daddy loved. So, for Kevin, I would go…and hope that I remembered enough of his patient tutoring to fake my way through explaining the infield fly rule.
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She bounces with excitement in the seat next to me and laughs at the antics caught on the jumbotron. Her iPod records everything she wants to remember about this game: the number on the back of the seat, her drink resting in the cupholder, a blurry self-portrait of her and her beloved Dora doll. Being here without Kevin feels odd, but I also feel joy nudging grief aside for a moment because who can be sad on a cool May evening at a baseball game with this magical imp who shines more brightly than the stadium lights piercing the dark night?

I’m not the only one bewitched by her guileless charm. The Australian college student sitting behind us falls under her spell when she politely asks for his photo. He thinks she should be in it, too, so he lifts her to his shoulders and I snap the two of them just as a homerun is hit, so up he jumps with the cheering crowd, and her with him, shrieking with joy and her bubbles of giggles float to heaven and I know Kevin laughed.

Watching her drink up the icy Dr. Pepper her Daddy loved and remark, “It tastes like the ballgame, Mama”, I am struck by how very much of her Daddy she embodies. She loves being one with the loud crowd, belting out “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” at the seventh inning stretch. It’s true what she smiles up at me: “I guess baseball’s in my blood.”

It’s not easy, being here without him. I cried, trailing my daughter through this city her Daddy and I loved to explore. But we did what he wanted. We made a fun family memory. Not the way he planned…but still. I should’ve known that the force of his love and God’s love would be enough to get my girl and me through this “first” – a weekend trip without Daddy.

And if I think about it, we weren’t without him. He’s with us everywhere, even at a ballgame, beaming at his Little Bear in her Yankees t-shirt. He surrounds her with love, settles into her memories and, with any luck, whispers the intricacies of the infield fly rule into her ear.

Because he knows me so well…and I’m probably never going to get that rule right.