Carl Yastrzemski, 1960 (via 2010)April 15, 2010
I bought some baseball cards last week, something I haven’t done in a while. I have a guest article up on GQ.com (yes, the same GQ that is to my grasp of manly stylishness as Gourmet magazine is to a convenience store Slim Jim) that mentions my lack of connection to the new cards, and how that feeling dissolved with the appearance, near the end of the second pack, of this reproduction of Carl Yastrzemski’s 1960 rookie card.
The card was seemingly targeted toward me specifically, as if marketing consultants had known that I would inevitably be drawn once more to the gods of my youth. (It was part of a subset of the 2010 offering from Topps called “The Cards Your Mom Threw Out.”) Usually I chafe at being the prey in the consumer culture, but here I didn’t mind. I guess I never will mind when it comes to baseball cards. I bought packs of cards as a kid to find the best and happiest parts of myself inside them. It’s the same now, and while most of the cards in my recent purchase seemed to report back that the best and happiest parts of myself were disappearing in this new, slick world, when I came to a reproduction of the first-ever appearance in the Topps universe of my hero, Carl Yastrzemski, I felt all the things you’d want to feel in this life: lucky, happy, connected.
And ever since I found the card in the pack, it’s been sitting on my desk where I write, growing on me. I can’t get over how young he looks. When I first learned about Yaz, he seemed to me as if he was as old as the mountains, as if he had been around forever. The numbers on the back of the first Yaz card I ever got, in 1975, supported this notion. They were small and voluminous and stretched back way before I was born. But now here he is, a cheerful, clear-eyed boy half the age I am now. He hasn’t learned or forgotten anything yet. He doesn’t even know where he might fit in (note his listed fielding position: “2nd B.”).
It reminds me of a photo of my grandfather that I saw for the first time a few years after he died. When my grandfather was alive, I’d never really considered that he’d been a boy, but in the photo he is a rail-thin Missouri adolescent hanging by one arm from the beam of a lamppost. A goofball. Somehow it brought him back to life in a way that a photo from when I knew him could not have.
And now this goddamn Yaz card is making me sad: I miss my grandfather. I wish he were around to see my book. Jesus, he would have crowed about it long and loud to anyone and everyone he came into contact with. I remember going to the supermarket with him when I was a teenager and he was pushing eighty: he’d introduce me to the lady handing out samples of Cheese Whiz as if she wasn’t a stranger and as if I was the World’s Youngest Pulitzer Prize-Winner instead of a mumbling pothead with a GED.
I spent the whole summer with him after being expelled from boarding school, no college prospects looming in the fall. He never once brought up a single thing having to do with my expulsion or what my plans were for the future. We ate together, watched Red Sox games and M*A*S*H and Magnum P.I. together, went to the movies together, went swimming at a nearby pond together. He was using an oxygen tank to help him breathe by then, but when we went to the pond he laid the portable tank down by our towels and waded out into the water and sort of collapsed down into it. Then he gently flipped over so he was looking up at the sky, and he began making a gradual circuit around the perimeter of the pond by performing a slow but methodical version of the elementary backstroke. I stuck close to the shore, splashing around for a little while before getting out and sitting on one of the towels. I watched him circle the pond. Just a couple years earlier, Yaz had played his final game, and at the end of it he circled the whole park, jogging slow, trying to reach out and touch as many people as he could before he said his final goodbye.
I see Yaz, Yaz as a boy on a 1960 card, Yaz much later, on his last day in the majors. I see my grandfather as a boy, hanging by one scrawny arm from a lamppost. I see my grandfather circling the pond. I feel the water on my body evaporating in the sun. He’ll get back to shore eventually, and dry off, and slide the plastic tubing from the oxygen tank back into his nose, and we’ll ride back home, and eventually the summer will end, and the next summer he’ll be in worse shape, unable to live on his own, and the summer after that I don’t want to talk about. I don’t want to talk about anything except sitting in the sun on the little beach of Slough Pond on Cape Cod. I see my grandfather circling the pond. I see Yaz circling Fenway. Can the circle be unbroken?