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Take me back to the ballgame

What a wonderful distraction the end of the major-league baseball season was this year. Every night, practically, those of us so inclined could escape the incessant bickering of the television news pundits and the presidential candidates, could escape developments in wacky local races and the general insanity of the electoral season.

At my house, we rooted first for the Astros in the National League playoffs, where my mother attended Game 5 in Houston and we searched the television screen for her face, just two rows behind Barbara Bush in the field-level boxes. At 76, this, Mama said, was the thrill of her life. A longtime Cardinals fan, she moved to Galveston over 20 years ago and has embraced the Astros ever since.

We rooted for the Red Sox and booed the Yankees in the American League matchup. Then we agreed to root for the Red Sox in the final series and celebrated their triumphant win with the rest of the country.

I hadn't watched baseball so religiously in years, but watching it this postseason made me realize how much I've missed it and how much it has meant to my family's life.

My father was a Class D minor-league player in the Kentucky-Illinois-Tennessee circuit of the 1950s. Our family photo albums contained many pictures of Daddy in his Bowling Green Barons uniform, the hair on his suntanned forearms bleached blond, his shoulders slumped in the graceful way of an infielder. My brother, who became a dedicated baseball fanatic as he grew up, was photographed in droopy diapers, decked out in a catcher's chest pad that reached his knees, holding up a fat catcher's mitt, smiling behind the bars of a heavy catcher's mask.

In his first birthday photograph, taken at the Olan Mills studio downtown, Kyle wore a baseball cap and held a ball in one hand, a bat in the other. That photo, enlarged and framed, hung on our family room wall for as long as I can remember. One embarrassing day years later when I was in high school, I screamed at my mother in an adolescent rage and threw a shoe across the room, breaking the glass on that photo. I was immediately consumed with guilt, as if I had broken a precious icon. I was sure my mother would never forgive me, but she did.

Baseball was at the center of our family's life together, before divorce visited us, the kids grew up, and we blew to the four winds. Summer days and nights were organized around my brother's Little League games, my mother's nighttime softball games, and my father's games, whether he was playing or coaching. We followed the American Legion league of older teenagers, the semi-pros and the pros.

My earliest memory of baseball is of sitting, legs splayed, in soft dirt, rolling a baseball around with the palm of my hand, watching the imprint of the stitching in the red dust.

I remember the day my brother, playing centerfield in the Little League park just across the street from our house, reached for a fly ball, ran backward a few steps, then collapsed to the ground and rolled in slow motion. He didn't get up. He'd been stung by a bee and was having an allergic reaction. My father swept him up, ran home with him in his arms, loaded him in the station wagon and rushed him to the hospital. The bee sting and his reaction were dramatic enough; that it happened midgame, in centerfield, made it unforgettable.

When he grew up, before becoming a lawyer, my brother became the business manager of the Memphis Blues, a triple-A farm team for the New York Mets. His son, my nephew, left college and took his first job in the press office of the Colorado Rockies. He worked a year for the Atlanta Braves before following in his father's footsteps and entering law school.

My fondest memory of baseball revolves around dusk in the neighborhood ball park, my sister and I staying long after the Little League game had ended and the dugouts had emptied out, replaying the game in silent pantomime, running the bases, tagging home, sliding into second base, winding up and pitching -- no ball, no bats, just our bare feet connecting with red clay dirt and the chalky base line. We slithered on our bellies beneath the locked dugout door and sat on the bench, our ears roaring with the sounds of the imaginary crowd.

This year, baseball transported us away from politics for two blessed weeks. It transported me across years of separation, back to my father, to my brother, to a life imagined with my sister in the cool dusk of a summer's day, past game's end.

-- kathryn@csindy.com

  • Take me back to the ballgame

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