I have one person to thank for my undying love for baseball: My “mother.”
In 1969 when I was 7 years old I was living in Washington, DC with my parents. In March of that year my mother passed away, and my father, a native New Yorker, decided that the best thing for me at that point was to go to New York to live with his sister, Lillian. I did not know Lillian at all. I met her for the first time when she came down to Washington shortly before my mother died. A few weeks later I was in a strange city, about to spend the rest of my formative years with a complete stranger.
Over time, I came to see my aunt as the only true mother I’ve ever had. In fact, I have always called her Ma. But things were very difficult for both of us while she was raising me. Ours was a tenuous relationship to say the least. I won’t go into details. Let’s just say we gave each other hell from the time I moved in until well after I’d moved out as an adult.
There were a few moments when hell disappeared and heaven was a place on earth. One of those moments was when my aunt introduced me to baseball. My aunt grew up in Brooklyn, and when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier she became a Brooklyn Dodgers fan.
She began following baseball in earnest and paid close attention to what Jackie was doing. When he passed away in the early ’70s, I recall her talking about how much of a fan of his she was, saying she followed everything he did, and everything his family did. She spent a lot of time at Ebbets Field, cheering him (and the rest of “dem Bums”) on.
My aunt is a woman of faith, and when she felt that she’d replaced God with the Dodgers, she “put away childish things” and stopped following baseball. I’m sure it was a hard thing for her to do, but I suppose it became easier when the the team left Brooklyn for Los Angeles.
So, she stopped following baseball, but it never left her blood. When Willie Mays tried to keep his career alive by playing with the Mets in the early 70s, she turned on a Mets game briefly one day to catch of glimpse of him, perhaps to re-live, for a few moments, the golden age of New York baseball. Then, when Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s home run record, she again turned on the TV, but turned it off after Aaron had broken the record.
She didn’t turn the TV on again until October 1978, when the Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers were the two teams in the World Series. I don’t really know why, but she was captivated by the series. Suddenly I found myself feeling the same way, and then, “that was all she wrote,” as they say. I became a fan for life.
My aunt didn’t stay captivated. In fact, she rued the day she introduced me to baseball. But I am glad she did. She passed both her love of the game and, more importantly, her faith in God onto me. These two things have sustained me, kept me going during this, the toughest time of my life.
Now my aunt is about to start a new chapter in her life. Her declining health has made it no longer possible for her to live on her own. She will be leaving New York early tomorrow morning to go down south to live with her daughter. This morning she reminded me that God will make a way. Somehow.
Thank you, Ma, and Happy Mother’s Day.