The Boys of Summer

Some thoughts on grieving…

Recently, on a lazy Sunday afternoon, as my wife and I were taking a brief rest, she looked up to what I was watching on TV and said “You know we’re getting baseball back.” I nodded my head and quickly felt my mind take off; contemplating how much her comment reflected just how far I have come from the darkest day of my life.


To understand why her words meant so much, you have to understand my love of baseball. Baseball was a gift passed on to me by both my parents. My dad would play catch with me in the yard. He taught me how to throw a curve and I could always depend on him making my games as a kid. My passion for the game however, came from my mom. She loved her baseball and she especially loved it when the boys in pinstripes would take the field. Her beloved Yankees would always define her summers. A perfect summer meant a World Series in the fall. Anything less was a disappointment. I can’t say when it happened, but her passion had become my passion.


I remember sitting with her, in October of 1977, listening as Reggie Jackson staked his name in World Series history. He had already hit two home runs and as he came to the plate again, I asked her “Mom do you think he can do it again?” She told me “Son you just never know.” With the crack of the bat you could hear the crowd start to scream and the announcers yelling, “He’s done it again. It’s a home run!” That night my mom and me danced together, with the shared joy of celebrating a magical moment we would never forget. It was our moment, a moment we would relive together many times in the years to come.


I can remember sitting in a restaurant with my family, in August of 1979, when our waitress asked if we had heard the news. My dad said “no” and she informed us that Thurman Munson had died that day, in a plane crash. My mother’s hand flew to her mouth and she rushed out of the restaurant in tears. Thurman was one of her beloved Yankees and she mourned him like she had lost a member of her family. I also remember the radio didn’t play as many games, at our house, the rest of the season.


I remember many years later on a night in 1996, I was married and father myself, with my wife sleeping beside me, I watched what I feared was going to be a bad night for the Yankees. They had made it back to the World Series after years of frustration and were facing a powerful Atlanta team. We were already down 2 games to 1 and were losing 6-0 when the boys started to make a comeback. It was capped by a three run homer by our backup catcher Jim Leyritz. I jumped out of bed and as quietly as I could, so I wouldn’t wake my wife, I danced and cheered as he rounded the bases. My phone suddenly rang and I grabbed it knowing who would be on the other end. It was my mom and all she could say was “Did you see it son? Did you see it?”


Two years ago, my mom lay dying in her bed. She was wrapped in her Yankees blanket and had a Yankee hat on to keep warm. I sat with her that night and watched the boys play but neither one of us was really into it. I held her hand and knew my days with her would be short. The boys of summer where back, but there would be no season for my mom. A few weeks later, on May 19th she went home to be with Jesus. Her Yankees played and lost, 6-5 to the Reds, that night. Mom would have been disappointed.


I didn’t watch much baseball that year. I’d try but my heart wasn’t in it. The joy of the game wasn’t there for me anymore. My beloved Yankees played hard but it was a bad season for them and I didn’t even care. I stayed away because those pinstripes always had me thinking of my loss. The game that brought me so much joy in the past, now often left me in tears.


I guess that’s why, when my wife said what she did, I had to stop and think. Without even realizing it, my life had moved forward. The pain of loss was not as harsh as it was before. I had gone back to watching something that my mom had passed on to me and I didn’t feel like my heart had a hole in it. It was just a baseball game…a game that I could still love. It was no longer a reminder of something painful and could never enjoy again. It was just a peaceful Sunday, watching my Yankees play ball.


What I realized most about grief, in that moment, was how time allows us to process the good from the painful. My mom passed her passion for baseball on to her young son. Now that she’s gone, instead of it making me feel her loss in every pitch, it is a way to connect with a wonderful memory of her. I know my phone won’t ring when a great play is made as it did so many times before, but now I turn to my son and celebrate with him. We do the dance. We make new memories. He may not realize it, but a piece of his grandma is getting passed on to him.


A wise woman told me this about grief. In time, you will get to the place where you live the memories you choose, instead of your memories choosing for you. Grief is a funny thing. There are no shortcuts through it. I will say this. Day by day pain does fade and your memories become a way to stay connected not dreaded. So here’s to you mom…the batter is coming to the plate, the umpire turns to the field. Then, in a loud voice he says the words that all baseball lovers love….Play Ball.