After dozing through The Man Who Came to Dinner, which is, arguably, not only one of the greatest comedies ever made, but may be the best Christmas film ever, I finally woke up, and started channel flipping. By that time it was 8PM on Christmas Eve. Naturally, even with a million and one channels nothing was on other than a marathon session of Mythbusters, which I finally began watching. The phone rang and I missed what happens when you microwave a jawbreaker. That’s the kind of thing a person really needs to know. Before that, though, I flipped onto the MLB channel. The discussion was about the 1975 World Series. As I bawled through that obscene Carleton Fisk home run, remembering how a friend had called to congratulate me on the Red’s win, I remembered my horror of that night. I was in tears. I was ready to shoot Greg for jinxing the win, but I never did. Then – came Game Seven. Baseball historians rightfully consider Game Six of the 1975 World Series to be the greatest World Series game ever played. I realized that Game Six was one of the most horrific moments of my life. Game Seven was one of the most triumphant. Granted, the following year, Game Four literally became the greatest single moment of my life, when Johnny Bench, My Man, obliterated the damn Yankees!
I started thinking about those games. I had a difficult time watching the World Series this year. The 1985 World Series, where Kansas City won, was the last time I ever watched a World Series with my Grandfather Froehlich. Ironically, my father lost his battle with Alzheimer’s Disease, just a few days before the start of the 2014 World Series, featuring Kansas City. My Grandfather Froehlich loved baseball. So did his father. It is a family thing, with my mother quite a fan, but not like I am. My youngest niece, Laura is also a baseball fanatic. I do wonder where I went wrong with Laura. She’s a Yankees’ fan.
My father followed the Braves. My heart bleeds Cincinnati Red. My grandfather was a Baltimore Orioles fan. His father was a die-hard supporter of the old Philadelphia A’s. His butcher shop was just a few blocks from where the A’s once played their Spring Training games in West Palm Beach. My mother remembers walking over to watch the games, complete with a pantheon of the gods, never realizing Pa knew the legendary Connie Mack well enough to visit with him, during those days of legend and lore. Her heart still belongs to Mr. October. I have no earthly idea why, but there was this one infamous afternoon, in the City, where he stopped next to her at the men’s fragrances counter at the old B. Altman’s. She kept buying what he did. They visited, he would spray difference fragrances for her to buy for my father. She bowed out after about $250. He asked if she was through, and she told him she did not make as much as he did. He thought it was hilarious. The only time in my life that I’ve ever even tasted a banana split was when I shared one with Johnny Bench, while I interviewed him, in Atlanta.
It is all about that beautiful constant of baseball. Like the line in Field of Dreams, baseball has been that one constant in my life. When you are young and the world is young, baseball is about the present. It is about the near-term future, those endless next years most of which never come, but like that Tantalus thread, are always out there, just waiting for someone to grab them, and make those dreams come true. Then, you wake up one day, and realize that baseball is more about the past, about history, about things than were, than it is about things which will be. The game is the same, it always will be, but there will come a moment in every fan’s life when it becomes about what once was, not what will be.
I sat there, bawling through the clips of Game Six and Game Seven of the 1975 World Series. Sure, it was about Reds Triumphant, but there was something more to it. This year is the first Christmas without my father. It is the first Christmas I have been alone, without any family other than two annoying little yapping monsters and five very annoyed felines. It all came back to me, those wonderful days during the playoffs and the World Series when my grandparents were there to watch it with me. Grandy and I would watch every minute together, year in and year out, for many years. It was that shared legend, lore, and history, which is now so important. I did not realize it at the time. We never do. We never realize that the most golden and precious moments in our lives are being played out, until we look back, years later. We never get the opportunity to treasure those moments as they happen. During those golden years, it wasn’t about watching baseball with my grandfather, it was just about watching baseball. It was about my absolute annoyance with Mae, who basically raised all the grandchildren, starting when I was two weeks old. Her nephew was the great Tim Raines. He would fly she and a couple relatives up to a playoff or World Series when he was in them. She would go to the games, and I would lose my mind, sitting there with Grandy, knowing she was there, live. She didn’t care about baseball. She cared about being with her family. I cared about the baseball. It wasn’t until they were all gone that I realized it was about my family.
That’s the treasure of baseball – the memories of what once was, and will never be again. They are memories we never realize the importance of, when they are being made, but now, are the greatest treasures in the world. Sure, watching Carlton Fisk ruin my day is still stomach churning. But, what is more important was sitting there, in the library of my parents’ home in South Carolina, with my grandfather.
I never did shoot Greg for calling me during the bottom of the ninth of that game. I also thought about that. Just the idea of him jinxing the game makes me want to consider violence.
Gosh, I love this game.
It’s amazing how I’ve not even begun to wax poetic about the Braves, and the number of home runs I was honored to see Hammerin’ Hank hit. My father was a Hank Aaron fan. When I finally acquired a satellite dish, living across the road from my parents, when he knew the Braves were playing, he would put a leash on Donovan, the Golden, and maybe shag the cat, Gracie, who was outside, trying to hide from him. No matter what I was doing, he would invade, bring the dog, and letting the cat go in the house. He’d watch the game, then leash the dog, and walk back home. I’d end up driving the cat back over, to keep her from getting away, once again. My mother would call, and tell him to come home and leave me alone. He never did. About five years ago, I began noticing that he was no longer interested in baseball. Alzheimer’s took that away from him, fairly early in the process.
My grandfather Froehlich had TSA stroke induced dementia. It short-circuited his short-term memory. But, it never robbed him of his love of baseball. As the dementia progressed, the one thing I could do with him was sit there, in the living room of their wonderful house, and watch baseball with him. I think the last time we went to a Spring Training game, there in West Palm Beach, was in 1987 or so. I still have his Orioles cap.