Baseball in the Blood
Love, tragedy, and America's game
I still can see her sitting in the big La-Z-Boy in front of the console TV. On a small table at her side rested a bowl of cut peaches sprinkled with sugar, and a bottle of Hires root beer. It was her usual late-day treat. And on the screen, baseball. In her hand, a folded page from the sports section of the Pittsburgh Press, the box scores. In the other hand, a pen. It was important to keep an up-to-date record.
Many years ago, my Great-Aunt Margaret had been engaged to be married. By all accounts she was deeply in love. He was a minor league baseball player, destined, they said, to play in the majors. But one dark night, he was killed in a car accident. My great aunt kept the death notice in her purse for more than fifty years.
My boyhood centered around Bill Mazeroski and Roberto Clemente. I listened to the Pirate games on a transistor radio on the front porch of my home, my father washing the car, a small cigar between his teeth, my mother in the kitchen in her flowery apron, frying pork chops for dinner. Home and baseball in those days was everything.
Over the years, my love for the game waned. So much had changed. Money became the driving factor. I lost interest in the day-to-day of the long summers. Still, the game was hardwired and through the years, my heart would soar when the Pirates were in the hunt, albeit not often after a championship run in 1979.
“Did you hear what Willie did today,” my great aunt asked one afternoon after I had mowed her grass at the home where she lived alone with her sister, my grandmother.
It was his best year. 1971. He had hit another blast in what would be a 48 home run season.
“He’s going to have over 120 RBIs,” she said. She was keeping close track of it all.
However, in that season’s World Series it was Clemente, not Willie Stargell who shined. Clemente turned the postseason into a personal showcase of his grace and talent. Fourteen months later, Clemente was dead. Killed in a plane crash on his way to help earthquake victims in Nicaragua. When my great aunt heard the news, she cried. His death seared into her like only a few could understand.
The Cubs and White Sox are done for the year, my Pirates are perpetually abysmal, and the golden era is long gone, but every year when the postseason rolls around and my baseball soul comes alive, I think of those days on the porch with the transistor, and my Great-Aunt Margaret in front of the television set trying to mend a broken heart.
Photo by Caryn
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