My mom taught me the baseline of what I know about baseball. Growing up on the North Side of Chicago, she followed the Cubs as Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ron Santo, and Fergie Jenkins headlined afternoons at Wrigley Field (although her favorite player was Rich Nye).
She taught me how to keep score, how to grip different pitches, and how to read the catcher’s signs. She taught me to save newspapers when your team does something memorable. In my life I’ve been to 7 Major League ballparks, and she’s taken me to 5 of them (Wrigley, Comiskey, Miller Park, Camden Yards, Veterans Stadium). She took me to my first baseball game, taught me how to take the train to Wrigley when I was old enough, got the two of us tickets for the first ever Cubs vs. White Sox interleague game, and reminded me again all about 1969 after the Cubs collapsed (or regressed) down the stretch and missed the playoffs in 2001.
This is a long way of saying that my love of baseball wouldn’t be what it is today without the influence and encouragement from my mom. On this Mother’s Day, I asked other BTTP contributors about baseball and their mothers. Here are their stories.
Our finest shirseys (Jesse Krailler)
I’ve lived in Cincinnati most of my life, and haven’t really experienced an opening day anywhere else, but from what I’ve been told, the city has one of the best celebrations around. When I was growing up, my mom was a teacher in the same district that I was a student in, and our spring break often fell on baseball’s opening week.
Bear in mind, our house didn’t have a memorabilia room. We never had season tickets. We didn’t have jerseys with our names on the back. We had plastic souvenir cups from the ballpark. We had a schedule on the refrigerator. And we had opening day parties.
My mom made a big deal about opening day every year. We would put on our finest shirseys, fill up our souvenir cups from the previous year, and grill some Big Red Smokies. Every town has a tubed meat product they call their own, I’m sure, and that is ours. It’s a mettwurst, basically, but one that holds a special place in a lot people’s hearts in one specific Midwestern city.
Surely, a lot of the pomp and circumstance was for me, but certainly not all of it. My mom loves baseball. “They always win when I go to the game,” is a sentence she will say with a straight face as we walk into the ballpark, when we both know they lost the last time we came. She makes jokes about which players must certainly be distantly related to the manager, which is the only possible explanation for their continued playing time. She taught me how to be a great fan. Care about the team regardless of the results, but not too much. We are reasonable people, and this a game, after all.
My wife and I continue to have parties every opening day with our two children and a bunch of our family and friends. We make decorations. We play baseball bingo. We give out prizes. We have Big Red Smokies. We have fun and we have baseball. It’s my favorite day of the year, easily beating Christmas and my birthday. Thanks, mom, for giving me the gift of a love for baseball.
“Poor thing” (Ken Maeda)
My mom’s interest is mainly limited to Korean baseball league highlights. One of the very few times she watched part of a game with me was during the 2003 ALCS. Game 3. The one where Don Zimmer charges Pedro Martinez. After Zimmer got sidestepped, my mom’s reaction was something to the effect of “Omigosh.” Upon seeing that he seemed to be all right, her reaction was (in a sympathetic but slightly amused manner): “Oh, poor thing.” And that’s my mom-and-baseball story.
The red seats, every year (Anonymous)
Growing up in Oxford, Ohio, a college town in the southwest of the state in the 70’s, a whole region of us Little Leaguers emulated Pete Rose by switch-hitting from a low crouch, and flapping our back arms Joe Morgan-style. Riding in our lemon yellow ‘73 Dodge Coronet Station Wagon, Mom and Dad took me and my older brother Charles to one Reds game every year, always the cheap red seats, in the upper deck. We’d eat peanuts and look down longingly hoping for one day when we might graduate to the green, or even, if we became rich, the coveted blue seats that circled the forest green Astroturf field.
Both of my parents were professors at the University so they and Charles were all big readers. I resisted in the way of second siblings. The only thing my mom could get me to read was baseball cards. She tells me the first word I could read was Shortstop.
When my parents divorced in 1975, Mom was determined that things would change as little as possible, even though, of course, everything changed. With Dad gone and Charles elsewhere, she’d join me in the backyard to play catch. I was embarrassed throwing to her. She was a lefty catching with a righty glove, an old Franklin I found after practice, and she wasn’t very adept. I’d throw the ball as hard as I could, trying to hurt her hand and ending our session, but she persevered.
Despite the divorce, our annual trip in the yellow Coronet to Riverfront continued. June, 1976, World Series glory shimmering, Reds-Astros, Fred Norman versus J.R. Richard, my older brother taught me how to keep score. I learned the backward K while scoring Rawly Eastwick striking out the side in the eighth, on his way to his ninth save that year. Not Rose, Morgan, Bench, Perez or even the exquisitely named Cesar Geronimo or Davey Concepcion, no, Rawly Eastwick became my favorite Red for the inexplicable reasoning familiar to little kids everywhere. Before the ninth inning, the Reds announcer mentioned an upcoming Family Day promotion where if Mom and Dad buy two full-price tickets, the kid’s tickets were half-off and included vouchers for four hot dogs, four sodas, a plastic Reds helmet and a pennant. I said to Mom, “It’s a shame we can’t go to that game.” My mom said “Why not?” And I said, “Because we aren’t a family.” Mom looked me in the eye and said, “We are absolutely a family.”Next post: BttP Podcast: Ep 20 – Darius Austin & Paul Cline
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