It is time to talk baseball at the Alois Alzheimer Center today. I wear my Cincinnati Reds gear, as proudly as any Cleveland convert. It is a concession I make every Spring and Fall – to cheer for the home team.
Mostly, my friends here in the sharing and writing circle, are or were Reds fans. A few did not grow up here. One used to watch the Toledo Mud Hens, as he was originally from Findlay, Ohio. I want to ask him if he had ever been to Tony Packo’s (Klinger on MASH owned a restaurant there) but I would be pushing his memory over the cliff.
So we open with my interpretation of Casey at the Bat, written in the 1880’s. It is not quite James Earl Jones, but I use a little Kentucky twang picked up after years of living near the border to snicker, “That ain’t my style!”, and the audience delights in the performance. I do too. I am getting lost in the game.
N., always first to raise her hand and offer her story, tells us how her grandfather, a state legislator, used to read and perform the poem to her and her brother. She was amazed he would make time for her, given how busy he must have been.
F. just wants to talk about the baseball going “whack” then “zoom”, and he motions like one who knew how to hit it out of the park.
As we continue our give and take moments, K. talks about being left on the sidelines, and she never knew why. Only that she and her brothers were always into “some monkey business when it came to playing baseball”, and they played until the street lamps came on, and even later.
R. begins to share, then holds back. I sense this was a common pattern in her life. When its time to write, she refuses, while the rest of the group busies themselves with words on paper, or telling us their words so we can transcribe them.
When it comes time to read aloud our stories, we go from ML. to W. to P. and N. Then D. tells us, “We had to decide what to wear and how much money to take.” And RU., whose mother was the only baseball fan in the house, writes, “She was always in front of the television. She would move the chairs and wouldn’t pay any attention to us.”
Around the other side we move to hear L., R., F. and D. who was obsessed with winning, and finally back to R. I am fully prepared to skip her, though I do always ask, when she blurts out, “Baseball was my second life.”
What she had heard this day, about stadiums, home runs, hot dogs and listening to games on the radio were a barrage of images that penetrated the bunker of her memory. In that one instance, a hole had opened up, as if someone had pitched a fastball right through her hippocampus. “Baseball was my second life.”
When she uttered that phrase, it was like we all, circle members, staff and myself, had hit one out of the ballpark. Because from that, she opened up and shared how she didn’t know anything else, other than days sitting around the radio, listening to baseball games.
While R.’s revelations were the highpoint of the morning, there was poignancy in B’s piece, who related what baseball meant to me, and the many legions who still hear the game called on the radio, attend the ballpark, and renew their hopes each Spring.
“My dad and I would talk about the ups and downs of the world’s oldest game,” B wrote, apologizing for her writing, saying it wasn’t deep. But I, and others, objected. The attraction to the game exists for that sole reason – because baseball parallels the ups and downs of the world’s other oldest game – life.