Baseball Is Life

Baseball Is Life: When You Are Upside Down

The death notice arrived as I stood -— fittingly — in the women’s hygiene aisle at the grocery store. And it was a death notice; this was a thing that was going to be gone, and, once gone, irretrievable.

I hung on the handle of the shopping cart and wept there between the pads with wings and the Mydol. “Mercy is closing next year,” I texted my sister, because while she might learn the news of the execution of our high school electronically, as I did, I would at least spare her the discovery in the middle of her Facebook feed, in the middle of the day, in the middle of the women’s hygiene aisle, with the Lean Cuisine melting away.

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“When you are upside down, that is when you begin to see clearly.”

The day before I learned all this, I’d changed my social media profile picture to one of me kneeling on the floor of a yoga studio, pitched over backwards, head directed to the floor. I was thinking of the young and battered 2017 Reds as I did so, because a yoga teacher once said to me as I trembled miserably in this position, “When things are upside down, that is when you begin to see clearly.” An upside down season—whether for a few months of sports or a few years of life– means you eventually learn to be glad you have a season to begin with. An upside-down season means you cringe and shrug and enjoy being outside on a sunny afternoon. Upside down means thrown over, but is always, at least in some sense, some way, still upright.

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We were happy, even if some of us made critical hair-related errors.

Maybe you hated your high school. I would not blame you if you did, had you not attended mine. Mine was (I must become accustomed to this business of referring to it in the past tense) called Mother of Mercy. It educated about 800 young women a year for over a century. We wore dark navy blue jumpers and we put on plays and we ran on a wooded trail around the school building during gym class and we were happy. I entered planning to be an astronaut, but algebra was hard, as it should have been, and I left having decided to write instead. It kept me alive and it birthed me anew.

If you think I’m overreacting, bear in mind that I was raised in a city where the local chili parlor recently changed its oyster crackers and we all lost our minds

Mother of Mercy is located on the West Side of Cincinnati, and if you are one of our readers who isn’t from around here, I should explain why this ratchets the matter up to the level of Defcon Several Nuclear Bomb Eruptions. On the West Side, we move our families into the houses we ourselves grew up in. On the West Side, removing to a location which is fifteen minutes away is referred to as “hauling all the way over there.” On the West Side, I once plugged in a GPS search for the nearest Starbucks and the closest one was in another state. That is why we host the oldest team in baseball:  It simply, at this point, has not occurred to us to operate without one.

On the West Side, a difference of seven miles is an altitude change from sea level to approximately the surface of Jupiter.  Such a shift is what the Sisters of Mercy, who currently run my alma mater from afar and don’t understand about the oyster crackers, are attempting. At the end of next year, Mercy students will be shoveled to our sister school, McAuley, which is seven miles away. All the way over there. It’s a different planet. It’s a fine planet on its own, I am sure, but the theater won’t smell right at all, the staircases aren’t narrow and forever, and there’s nowhere for me to point and say, “This is where I mashed my face against the classroom window at the exact moment the vice-principal walked past.” If you don’t think seven miles makes much of a difference, I encourage you to talk to any Reds fan about why we were so horrified when Joey Votto tried to steal this week, and that was over a matter of ninety feet.  Ninety feet is the Grand Canyon. Seven miles is walking to Australia.

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Planet Mercy, all the way over there.

My mother’s alma mater was similar to Mercy:  Small, all-women, and eventually obliterated from the face of the Earth.  It was called Our Lady of Angels. You have probably not heard of it, because it shuttered in 1984 and all the trophies and classroom desks were sold and almost nobody speaks its name anymore, not even on the West Side. And that is that why before I left the grocery store, I put a bottle of shower cleanser in my cart after I’d already gotten some and completely forgot the eggs. The Sisters of Mercy now owe me, among other things, $3.95 and a dozen Grade A Mediums. Like my mother before me, a flame which was passed to my hands and I was in the process of handing across my own body will be extinguished, and once the smoke clears, there is little I can do about it but rub my palms together to try and recreate the warmth.

When you learn that a part of your life which you expected to stand above ground long after you are put in it is about to vanish, stakes change. With your head to the floor, you notice quite quickly what is good and what is bad, what is real and what is an illusion of hope. This is why sports fans are in a state of constant anguish. This is why we slide from the couch to the floor on the bobbled single, pound the steering wheel when loaded bases come to naught, crane our heads around our date’s shoulder at the bar to see the pitch count. This matters. This all matters. The story of this team will stand long after the last out, and you know it, and even if the season rattles along without your attention, it’s your job to keep track because that’s how it becomes your story, too.

Here on the Planet of Mercy, the alumnae have gathered in furious, crying, praying, grateful, wine-drinking groups, because if we are going to be set upside down, we are going to be upside down together. There is an overwhelming sense that while the deed to the school rests in the hands of nuns in North Carolina, ownership actually resides with us, here on the West Side, where we ran the fund drives, decorated the gym, and stapled the graduation programs by hand because it was cheaper that way. I have spoken to women I have not set eyes on in two decades, for we all see clearly now. More than one has told me, “I was just beginning to get it, what it meant—and now it’s vanishing.”

Oh, the jogs around the building and the sound of the wooden lockers slamming are going to be around as long as we are. But someday we won’t be here—and who then, indeed, will tell the story of my mother’s alma mater? And that is why I did not smile, not once, at memes stomping upon the people of Oakland, who will soon lose the Raiders to Las Vegas.  You can’t undo something like that. It’s not funny. Cincinnati itself teetered towards losing the Reds in the 60s, and were it not for Ruth Lyons and the Rosie Reds,  what on Earth would we do for love the first week in April? The team remains today because we remembered ourselves long ago. We remembered who we are and what we own.

I suppose this is why even those of us who come to adulthood in the Midwest are drawn to mountains and the sea every once in a while. We seek permanence beyond our glacier-rounded hills, a permanence not created or maintained by human hands. But even permanence can waver: I once summited Pikes Peak in Colorado as a child, when the elevation was 14,110 feet, then again as an adult—and in the intervening decades, the official elevation shot up an extra five feet. (This likely reflects a rounding error, or too much Coors, but if a mountain can get taller, I like thinking that I may one day make it out of the Petites department.) And the Atlantic Ocean I waded into as a college senior crashed up against different drifts of sand when I returned there last month with my husband. So the very mountains grow with the push of the Earth and beaches slip away by the grain—what, then, can we possibly hope to keep?

We keep what we love by loving. The Reds won yesterday, turning the St. Louis Cardinals upside down for a series win. It cannot be undone. No matter what happens tomorrow, it cannot be undone. It was only 9 innings, but it was ours, and because it was ours, it will last.

36 thoughts on “Baseball Is Life: When You Are Upside Down

  1. Welcome to the 2017 season MBE. Glad to have you writing for RLN and with us. I hope your grief diminishes somewhat and that a winning Reds team is a part of making that happen. And I agree … JV should not steal 3rd … and probably not 2nd … ever …

    • Thank you! I’m hoping to stick around during the off-season this year 🙂

  2. Welcome back indeed Mary Beth. To a season of renewal that may, hopefully, offset at least a little your own loss out in the west end, though to me 500 miles from Cincinnati and 1000 from where I grew up, seven miles seems so small it is no doubt to you a continent away. I also love the “that was your takeaway?” game. Votto is one of the smarter baseball players out there and I want him to steal third when it’s there for the taking. But no, msanmoore, I don’t want him to fail to steal third so please, be smarter Joey. But MY takeaway is to marvel that we have come to expect that an effective shower cleaning product can be acquired for $3.95. When I think of the years and the crud that have been washed away in our master shower I know in my heart that, though it is far from nasty, getting that shower truly clean again is not a $4 problem. It might not be a $400 problem. So if we can be so optimistic about a shower cleaner, surely we can be optimistic about our beloved Reds. The time is now. Playoff hunts and cleaner showers for all Reds fans in 2017!

    • Joey Votto is probably one of the smartest Reds I’ve seen in my lifetime, which is why I was stunned that he attempted that steal.
      (I use a daily shower cleaner to keep it from becoming terrifying. Tilex or whatever is on sale, hence the $3.95.)

  3. I am glad you are back. Always look forward to your writings. Though I grew up on the east side and live 500 miles away….. Sorry to hear about the closing of Mother of Mercy.

    Have always felt that Mary Jo Huisman was a class act.

    • Thanks, Wizeman, and hoping to stay back in 2017.
      I had Ms. Huisman (I couldn’t call her Mary Jo for the life of me) for Health when I was a sophomore. That poor woman had to deliver a lecture to a roomful of 16 year olds on the mechanics of reproduction. She was already a legend when I got to Mercy, and I was terrified of her because I am so clumsy and unathletic, but she was kind to me, probably because she didn’t have to try to watch me run.
      There is a stone marker outside the school commemorating her 500 wins. I do hope it is respectfully treated.

  4. Welcome back, indeed! James lilacs once wrote about how we really don’t know what the past smelled like. The best we can do is read about it.

    He said a few riders described it smells and even fewer described. them well. You are in that rear category of those who can describe smells well.

    I know it’s small beer, but brava!

    • This is not small beer at all, because it perfectly describes Mercy. On the day we got the news, on of the alumna commented, “Are you going to move the smell of the building?” You can drop any Mercy girl blindfolded into the library, the chorus room, the science wing, the theater, or the school’s new wing from the 70’s and she will be able to tell you precisely where she is.

    • By the way my voice recognition was not working very well on that post. I’m glad you caught the gist and please tell your Editors that you should write more articles

      • 🙂 They are great guys and most kind to give me a weekly column. I think my students would be kind of mad at the inevitable late-returned papers if I started complaining I didn’t have enough to do!

  5. I love this piece. As a native Cincinnatian who moved first to the Appalachian South, and then to New York City, I’m always fascinated by regionalism, and my distance from the midwest has caused me to think more and more about what it represents as a mindset. All the things I used to take for granted as just “the way things are” suddenly feel alien and hard to define, but alien in a way that they are also part of me. The Reds are the one thing from Cincinnati I keep in my daily life, and in fact I’m a much much more active fan than I ever was when I lived in Cincinnati, and I think what you’re struggling to define here is the reason. The Reds are the thing that ties me to my family, and to the place I grew up and that connects me, in this very midwestern way, to the place I left. It’s like I get to go be somewhere else, and become someone else, but I get to hold onto a little piece of Cincinnati and eventually pass it to my children. I played two years of little league and hated it. I was never good at sports, or cared all that much about following them. I still don’t follow any other teams. But some of my fondest family memories as a child were of going to Reds games with my grandfather, or falling asleep with WLW playing on the car radio, or how excited my family was in 1990 even though I was far too young to understand. And so, when I moved away, I grew more and more connected to the Reds, and learned about baseball, and ultimately became obsessed, and now this year I threw an opening day party and made imitation Cincinnati chili for my thoroughly bewildered friends. I’ll almost certainly never move back to Cincinnati. I’ll raise my children somewhere else. The generational chain of residence in the Queen City almost certainly ends with me. But I’ll raise them as Reds fans. I’ll teach them about baseball, and we’ll go see the Reds when they come to Citi Field (or wherever I end up), and they’ll watch the next Reds world series win. It’s the one thing I can give them to connect them to the place I grew up, that and the impulse to do that in the first place, which as you point out, is itself, oh so viscerally midwestern. I’ve really appreciated reading your writing this season. Looking forward to more of it.

    • Thanks so much for sharing this….I can relate too well. When I was in college I was desperate to hear WLW at night up in South Bend, IN. I hopscotched across the country for about 15 years after grad school and brought my Skyline Dip with me. You should’ve seen how it went down in Mobile, AL. My best friend currently lives in Maryland and I made sure her first daughter had plenty of red hairbows for Opening Day.

    • We now live in Madison, Wisconsin, but we have two grocery stores within a few blocks that carry Skyline. 🙂 We no longer have to have it shipped, as we did when we lived in Texas.

      • The day I found Skyline in a Florida WalMart, I cried.
        Hm. I seem to do a lot of weeping in supermarkets.

      • They are carrying it in our Kroger in Arkansas! Arkansas! I almost fell down I was so surprised.

        • That’s awesome! Congratulations to Arkansas! I am seeing that Graeter’s is being carried more and more places as well.

    • Patrick, you replied to me on a question about Cozart on the titanic struggle thread, and I replied to you but I think people had already moved on by then. So I’ll repost my comment here in case you find the subject interesting:

      Cozart is a funny case. It seems that most teams feel they’re pretty set at SS, which is why we assume we’ll only get fair value in a trade if a contending team has a SS get hurt in the middle of the season. If no one really needs a gold glove caliber SS with Cozart’s offensive profile, or the only teams who need such a player are rebuilding and don’t feel like paying $12 million/year, then he and his agent have no market. Or maybe no market except as a backup.

      So maybe he signs for set-for-life money on a team where he’ll get to start, and where he feels comfortable and senses that there may be a winning future. If he would, would you sign him? I think I would.

    • Patrick, I have to laugh because I just assumed that was a phrase EVERYBODY had and used on a regular basis. Kind of like finding out the rest of the world doesn’t use “pop.”

  6. I don’t live in a Cincinnati, but I’m a diehard Skyline lover. (GABP can put in all the microbrews and fancy nachos they want; I’m just happy they replaced that Imposter Chili with Skyline.) Did they fix the oyster cracker problem you mentioned? I didn’t even know this disaster had occurred until you wrote about it, and now I’m desperate to know if they were forced to fix the crackers 🙂

    Oh, and thanks again for the great piece.

    • Thanks, Eric– I haven’t tried the new crackers, so I cannot weigh in on this particular trauma, but Skyline says the original company “changed its business model” (which… what…?) and that they are getting them from a new company which is apparently trying to copy the ones we’re all used to. What I love about this story is that Skyline replaced the crackers and didn’t say a thing, but EVERYONE NOTICED IMMEDIATELY, especially one guy who tweeted, “New Skyline crackers are trash” without further commentary.
      I love my city.

  7. “changed its business model”

    I figured this had to be Skyline’s way of saying the price to them had been increased: and, they weren’t going to pay it.

    • I wonder if they actually tasted them or were like “Yep, that’s a cracker!” and threw ’em in the bag.

  8. My HS was closed, sold and torn down so a shopping mall could be built! During the tear-down I grabbed a brick so I could have a piece of the past (although it really doesn’t have a smell ;->). I feel your pain!

    Best story was when the Baseball team moved the construction signs on the busy street in front of the school and rerouted all traffic through our school parking lot!

    • Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry you went through that. We’re terrified we’re going to lose the building too.
      I’ll have to keep that construction direction tip in mind…

  9. Mary Beth,

    Interesting, fun and poignant article. I clicked oh the “Ruth Lyons and the Rosie Reds” link. My aunt, Mary Leona McCarthy, who was mentioned in the linked article, knew Ruth Lyons. Leona was a reporter and editor of a community newspaper in Montgomery. She later took a position with the Cincinnati Post where she wrote a regular column as well as continuing to function as a reporter. Leona was a strong and talented woman in what was then a man’s world. She has a lifelong interest in the Reds, reported on them occasionally for the Post, and knew many of the players. One of my earliest memories of Baseball and the Reds is the time that She took me to see the Reds play the Dodgers at Crosley on my 9th birthday. That sparked my own lifelong interest in the Reds.

    Leona is still with us. After her husband died she moved back to her hometown, Syracuse, NY. We still get together regularly. She turned 100 last October.

    • Great to see Leona’s name mentioned in “Ruth Lyons and the Rosie Reds” link! She will love seeing her name in that article! I can’t wait to see her eyes light up when she reads it!

    • Well God bless Leona– I’m so glad you mentioned that! It’s wonderful to see that women really were at the forefront of the Reds rescue movement.

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