We have come to the point in the seasonÃ¢â‚¬â€exhausted, injured, limping, Halloween candy in the groceryÃ¢â‚¬â€in which we question why we keep going to the ballpark. ThereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s much to be said for personal pride and individual statistics, and somewhat less for launching a fatal fusillade into the playoff plans of the enemy.
They need to keep playing because somewhere, for some family, or just one person, those nine innings are the difference between forced peace and awful reality.
My father died over a summer. The cancer diagnosis came just after Easter, the decline came throughout the hottest months, and he died with the season in October. In the middle was the 2010 baseball season, which I simultaneously missed and absorbed like no other.
I have no idea what the RedsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ record was that season. I could not fill in a single roster.Ã‚Â All I know is I was living in Alabama at the time, and when I was home, and when there was baseball on television, my mother and father and I had something to stare at besides the pill bottles.
In June I messaged my sister to ask if he might like to go to a game for FatherÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Day. Answer: No, and itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a measure of how much youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re not here that you think such a thing is even possible. Ã¢â‚¬Å“You donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know how it is,Ã¢â‚¬Â she wrote, not to be mean, but to indicate the dreadful progress of things. I cashed in my last childhood savings bond to afford the airfare for a visit. Something was different, and terrible, from the last time I was home.
What I found was an echo of the man who raised me, without hair or appetite. I placed a small serving of lasagna before him, and my mother said, Ã¢â‚¬Å“You donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have to eat it,Ã¢â‚¬Â at his dismayed expression. It wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t that he didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t trust me to make dinner. It was that nothing tasted good and nothing stayed down and nothing could be done about it. Taking a shower was a massive ordeal. And now I knew how it was: A simple trip to the ball park was utterly unthinkable.
So we watched from home instead, every single strike and ball.Ã‚Â A day game rendered the evenings endless. An off day was a catastrophe. The games proceeded by inches but always far too quickly.
I am touchy about how sports is often framed in military terminology, as though a game sits equally on the scales as a life-and-death struggle. And since 2010, I detest how cancer is framed in terms of war:Ã‚Â Ã¢â‚¬Å“He lost his battle with cancer.Ã¢â‚¬Â Ã¢â‚¬Å“She succumbed to cancer.Ã¢â‚¬Â As though those who died from it just didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t push back hard enough. I now understand how survivors and their families emerge on the other side of a diagnosis feeling as if they had indeed just waged cruel war, for months or years at a time. But this scourge doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t care if youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re a Senator or a young mother or a genius or a deadbeat dodging child support. They all fight it. Some emerge, others donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢tÃ¢â‚¬â€and itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s never a matter of who deserves to win. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a tornado of a disease, skipping over one house, badly damaging another, leveling the next.
In his final days, my father struggled to raise his head from the bed to look at his youngest grandson in the eye as the baby pulled himself up on the end of his hospital bed. Ã‚Â In addition to him, I also lost a mother-figure, a teacher and mentor, a force of nature and spiritual Amazon, to cancer. The woman was born wearing combat boots and carrying an iron shield. Ã¢â‚¬Å“ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not fair,Ã¢â‚¬Â I said to one of my classmates at the funeral.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“No, it is not,Ã¢â‚¬Â she said, which was better than anything else, because it was the truth and that was all I was in the mood for at the moment. They fought, and we lost them.
But beyond the edge of his hospital bed, as the daily titanic struggle unfolded on the flat screen, there was just another summer, a fair game where rules applied. There was me sitting at my fatherÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s side in RiverfrontÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s green seats and all he remembered of the rising outfield of Crosley. There was life as usual, just life.