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Ed Kranepool

August 14, 2019

Ed Kranepool

Ed Kranepool looks like he’s probably having fun, and why wouldn’t he be? He’s leaning on a batting cage with a bat tucked under his arm, a sign that he’ll soon be getting a turn to take some cuts. He’s been playing major league baseball for a while, and at this point he’s near the end of the road, but he’s not there yet, and even though at the time of this photo he’s in the midst of a down year he’s recently put in his best string of seasons of his career, batting .300, .323, .292, and .280 over a four year span from 1974 through 1977. What a hitter! So why wouldn’t he be happy by the batting cage? This is what he lives for.

***

This is what you lived for and why you lived.

I read that line this morning, not for the first time, but for the first time since I became a father. It’s in the Alfred Slote young adult novel Hang Tough, Paul Mather. I wrote about that book on this site over eleven years ago, which is probably the last time I reread the book. I read it several times when I was a kid and several more times as an adult, but this time a moment in the book hit me in a way that made me realize I hadn’t before experienced the novel as a father.

The book’s narrator, Paul Mather, utters the line about what you live for and why you live after touching a baseball for the first time in over a year, feeling it, throwing it, slowly at first, and then, once he’s warmed up, finally doing what he loves best in the world: pitching. At this early point in the novel all that’s known is that Paul Mather is seriously ill, so ill that he’s been ordered by his doctors and parents to avoid physical activity, including baseball, and so when he begins firing fastballs, changeups, and curves to Monk Lawler, a fellow 12-year-old in a town he’s just arrived in to get treatment for his illness, I always get a lump in my throat. It was that way the first time I ever read the book, when I was a 12-year-old who lived for baseball. I could imagine that taking baseball away would be like taking life away.

It was no different this time. I’ll always root for Paul Mather as much as I’ve ever rooted for anyone on a baseball field, real or imagined. But on this reading, the tail end of the scene of Paul Mather holding and feeling and pitching a ball hit me in a new way. Paul’s exhibition is stopped by his father telling him to come inside. Paul notes that his father doesn’t sound mad, and that there’s something about his voice that made him think that his father had been watching for some time. I had to put the book down to stop the lump in my throat from getting bigger. I looked to my right, where my two sons were giggling at Spongebob Squarepants.

This is what I live for, I was thinking.

***

Ed Kranepool could be doffing his cap. I salute you. I thank you. That’s what I thought he was doing for the past few weeks. Night after night after my sons went to bed I came downstairs and looked at Ed Kranepool and imagined he was a talisman of gratitude. Why wouldn’t I? Earlier this year he received a kidney transplant, without which he wouldn’t be able to still be among the living. On a more personal level, why wouldn’t I want to find through him some way of expressing my own gratitude for my life, my family. For you too. When I was Paul Mather’s age, baseball was mostly what I lived for and why I lived. But when baseball slipped from my fingers, I started grasping for words, and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since. Words without a reader are OK, like holding a baseball and feeling the potential of it, the faint hint of a pulse. But words only really come alive when they’re read, like when Paul Mather went from holding the ball to pitching it to Monk Lawler. Thank you for reading these words. This must also be what I live for. I’ve been doing it ever since I stopped living to throw a baseball, and I’ve never been able to stop throwing words.

Yes, Ed Kranepool could be doffing his cap. That’s what I believed for weeks. But tonight for whatever reason that view fell away. He seems now to merely be holding his cap up to shield the sun. Maybe someone has just directed his attention to someone or something out on the field that he was unable to see without angling his cap in such a way. Whatever, who knows? Ed Kranepool is simply passing the time, looking around, shooting the shit. Waiting for another chance to get in the cage and spray a few line drives all over the sunny field.

***

This afternoon at a park down the street from our house I pitched a few underhanded tosses to Jack, my older son. My wife was nearby on the playground with my younger son, which was allowing Jack and me to concentrate a little more than when both boys are with me, and the two of them end up fighting for turns. Jack hacked at the first few with an axe-wielding motion that he favors, and I decided to try to coach him a little. I didn’t do much, just got him to put his hands together on the bat and to bend his knees and balance his weight on both feet and swing more or less level.

“And watch the ball,” I said. “Watch it all the way.”

He missed a few while getting used to this new approach but finally connected and sent the ball flying over my head, farther than he ever had in his whole short beautiful life.

This is what you live for and why you live.

2 comments

  1. Nicely done, Josh. I know you don’t post as much as you used to, but I still come and check every day!


  2. I loved Hang Tough, Paul Mather. It’s one of those things from childhood that my mind returns to regularly, just out of the blue when things are quiet.



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