“Baseball is like church. Many attend few understand.” – Leo Durocher
In the past month or so, I’ve attended a number of high school baseball games – a continuation of something my mother and I did together for several years. I’d pick her up at the retirement home and I’d drive her to high school baseball games where she once was scorekeeper and sometimes trainer. In later years, when she put down the paper scorebook and athletic tape, she was present and dispensed baseball knowledge to any player or coach who’d listen. And she knew what she was talking about.
She grew up on baseball. My grandfather, a coach at University of Cincinnati in 1951, Reds Scout, and manager of a semipro team in Cincinnati, took my mother with him into that world. She attended a high school in Cincinnati which graduated players like Chuck and Ed Brinkman, Dick Drott, Art Mahaffey, Clyde Vollmer, Russ Nixon, Don Zimmer and Pete Rose.
My mother’s love of baseball was a constant through her life. Friends came and went. My father died. She always returned to baseball. Through the last years of her life and on her last day on this earth it was baseball. It was her passion and her love. She loved our local major league team, the Reds, yet her great joy was watching a local high school team and sitting on the bench with them. Her love for her father was connected to her love for the game.
It’s pretty much the same for me. Memories of my mother is tied mostly to baseball. This time of year is a time of new life with flowers blooming and trees budding and yet for me, it is a time when I am reminded at every high school game I attend or every game I watch on TV that my mother is not physically with me. Mom waited eagerly waited for spring. Rogers Hornsby once said “People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.” This pretty much sums up my mother.
I can’t quite tell the story about the day she died without choking back tears. I’ve gotten pretty good at telling the facts so here they are: we listened to the high school state championship game on the radio. Our team did not win. Her favorite player came up to see her after the game. Twenty minutes after he and his family left her room, she took her last breath. It was as if the season had ended and it was time to put the tarp on the field and go home. We buried her with a baseball in her hand. We established a memorial fund in her honor – the Angel in the Dugout Fund.
Mom wasn’t much on faith and religion but I know she was spiritual. She believed certain things with all her heart. The baseball field was a sacred place whether it was a major league cathedral or a little league dirt field. Players had to have respect for the game and play with passion. Players should have guts and want to win. The team with the most talent doesn’t always win. It’s the team that wants it more. She was “old school” how she believed the game should be played – no bat flips or showing up the pitcher or the next time the pitcher would put a ball in your ribs! Sacrifice bunts, suicide squeeze plays and base hits up the middle were more exciting that homeruns. Hits were earned. Never act like you’ve never won or scored a run before. Treat the bat boy, equipment manager or ground crew the same as you would the star player.
Here’s the thing about grief. There is no wrong way to grieve and there is no right way to grieve When grieving gets in the way of your being able to function in daily life it’s time to seek support and help. I still grieve. I still cry. Sometimes I can feel her presence at the ball park in the crack of a bat, or the chatter of the boys as they take infield. Sometimes I hold a baseball knowing that she holds one in her final resting place. While I know there is no right or wrong way to sit with grief, it can be quite a struggle at times.
But I’m okay. It’s like I’m taking my turn at bat and I keep fouling off pitches until I get a base hit up the middle or on really good days, it’s a home run over the center field wall. On other days, it feels like I’m pitching well and I’ve got a shut out going in the 9th inning and the batter hits a dinger into the left field seats. Grief kind of sneaks up on me like that hitter in the 9th. I’ve learned that I have to let go of that moment and move on because I can’t replay that play of the ball game. I can’t go back and undo or redo anything but I can learn and grow and move through grief with awareness that I am not alone.
(This blog is not intended to serve as individual spiritual direction. Spiritual direction or companioning is typically done face to face in a confidential setting. If you would like to explore one on one spiritual direction, or to experience group spiritual direction, please contact me. In the meantime, my hope is that the photos and this blog serve as a pause in your day, food for thought, or just a reminder to breathe in and breathe out all that is holy and good. The Divine Milieu is all around us. Thank you all for your prayers and support.)