by Gwen S. Clarke
I just finished reading a feature in a regional newspaper by a sportswriter who loves covering baseball, and whose writing resonates with his passion for the sport.
Still in the thrall of the recent College World Series, I am wallowing in my innate love of baseball – the real kind, played for the joy of the game. How I long to hear the “thunck” of a masterful connection between baseball and bat. Wooden bat. A perfectly hit pitch shouldn’t go “tink.”
I inherited my fascination of the sport from my closest childhood buddy, my maternal grandfather. He talked about playing “the hot corner” as a young man, in the region of southern Ohio that lived and breathed Cincinnati baseball in the early twentieth century, though as the years went by, and he moved to less flood-prone climes, (only to run smack into the south Florida hurricane of 1935) if there was only a Cleveland game on the radio, he could be in their corner, as well. Being born in Portsmouth within months of each other, Grandpa Kiefer claimed baseball immortal Branch Rickey to be his best friend. I wish I’d asked more questions.
My first boyfriend, by the name of Billy, came along in junior high school, and thanks to some celestial synchronicity, was the son of a retired professional baseball player from Boston. Their long dialogues about the sport so endeared that jug-eared fellow to my grandfather, that every young man who followed was called Billy by Grandpa, regardless of his real first name. No one seemed to mind, including the one who ultimately put a ring on my finger.
Billy’s friendship cemented baseball into my DNA more than being “Hub’s girl” did, because his dad was creating Miami’s first youth recreation leagues and throughout those sunlit years, I became the scorekeeper, glove-holder, water-girl, and dugout manager for every team he played with. It boggles my mind to recall their old 1930-something yellow Ford coupe pulling into our driveway to collect me. It overflowed with the entire team, plus a truck full of gear. I’d pile in, on the lap of whoever happened to be next to the passenger door.
When I was in high school, and my grandfather was a fading shadow of my vital icon, the innovation of television found its way to our extreme end of the United States. In my mind’s ear, I can still hear him saying: “I never thought I could sit here in my own living room and watch a Cincinnati baseball game.” It never got old for him, though we had to be the ones to turn the “off” knob on the TV; that old-school gentleman thought it would be rude if he shut it off while those folks, whoever they might be, were still in his living room. My dad, bless him, once made a 40-mile round trip to turn it off when Grandpa called us at our summer beach retreat to say that he was tired, he wanted to go to bed, but those folks were still there.
I hope Grandpa was watching from above as our son evolved to be an awesome (by my eyes) left-handed relief pitcher and had his embarrassing baby nick-name of Boo-Boo made suddenly cool when the high-school cheer-leaders shortened it to Boo.
Fast-forward to the next generation where I found myself watching his son begin as little T-ball player. All the wee sprouts looked alike with their red and white jerseys and over-sized helmets, but our irrepressible number nine could be found, wherever he was playing, by seeking out the source of the singing outfielder. His smart coach soon had him opening each game with the National Anthem. He went on to play rugby and is a CPA now. Go figure.
Our one-year-old great-grandson visited us last week. The pitcher called Boo is trying to teach his grandson to call him Papa Boo. We’ll see how that works out, but considering that Papa Boo met his match – baby Christian’s grandmother – on the baseball diamond, don’t rule it out.