Archive for the ‘Teams’ Category

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Bill Robinson (by guest author Ted Anthony)

January 1, 2019

(The following post is by guest author Ted Anthony.)

The line was huge that afternoon at the old Franklin Federal branch, somewhere south of Pittsburgh. We lived somewhere north of Pittsburgh and rarely traveled this far down. But on this day, this particular bank location had something that was drawing big crowds during that bicentennial summer: an appearance and autograph signing by Dave Parker, the Pirates’ imposing rightfielder and rising star.

My mother would have none of it.

It wasn’t that she didn’t like Dave Parker; she loved him as much as she loved the rest of the Pirates in that National League East contender year, which is to say quite a lot. But the woman who didn’t learn to drive until she was in her 30s, and who let very little intimidate her in this world except for driving her car into unfamiliar terrain, was pulled to this distant bank branch by the undercard of the day: journeyman Pirate infielder-outfielder Bill Robinson.

My mother adored the Pirates in those days. She made sure we were in seats at Three Rivers Stadium for Jacket Day and Visor Day and Batting Glove Day. And though Willie Stargell was her favorite player by far — she won two game tickets on a local radio station that season by making up a rhyming cheer for him — she adored Robinson for his underdogitude, his ability to shine despite the bigger stars around him like Stargell, Parker, Bob Robertson and Al Oliver.

Plus, this was only a couple weeks after he hit three home runs in a heartbreaking extra-innings loss to the Padres. That feat — listened to by her, like so many games, on KDKA-AM on her tiny transistor radio — was the kind of thing that only endeared him to her more: the less noticed utility guy, working hard, claiming the spotlight with style but a minimum of pizzazz and ego.

Robinson went on to have the first of two consecutive career-best seasons that year, batting .303 with 21 homers and paving the way for an even better 1977 (.304/26). It’s hard for a fan to imagine the late-1970s Pirates without summoning an image of his face and his laconic smile.

I remember little from that distant afternoon at Franklin Federal Savings & Loan. But I remember two things: Long after Parker and his entourage departed, Robinson — sans posse — hung around to talk to people and chatted with us for nearly 15 minutes. And I remember, as we were leaving, my mother leaning in to me and whispering, “People like him are why I love baseball.”

Ever the Stargell fan, my mother stopped going to Pirate games after attending his retirement day in 1982. By then, Robinson had been gone for months, headed to our then-rival, the Philadelphia Phillies. As the years passed, she — like many in Pittsburgh — became disillusioned, first by drug scandals and then by long strings of flaccid seasons.

But by 2013, living in an assisted-living facility, she had become a fan once again. Every evening she’d sit in her apartment and watch, sometimes with my father, who was fading from Alzheimer’s, sometimes with her grandsons, sometimes alone.

In September 2013, as she was on the cusp of 89, I arranged to take her to see one final Pirate game. To call the logistics complex would be an understatement. By then, the magic of the Pirates’ 2013 season had become evident to all, and the only seats available were a couple rows beneath nosebleed. It was no small task getting an osteoporotic nonagenarian with a walker to her very vertical seat. But with the help of PNC Park staff, a precision dropoff by my wife and a strategically placed elevator, we made it.

At a Pittsburgh Pirates game, PNC Park, September 2013.

For nine innings, she couldn’t stop grinning and looking out at the ballfield and the Pittsburgh skyline beyond. Andrew McCutchen, she said, was “the new Willie Stargell.” And though by then her memory was fading, she turned to me late in the game and said, “Do you remember Bill Robinson? We went to see him once, at a bank somewhere. Right?”

Exactly a month ago today, my mother died at age 94, a decade after Bill Robinson died at 64. Franklin Federal is long gone, devoured by another bank that was then gobbled up, in turn, by an even bigger bank whose name now adorns the Pirates’ beautiful riverside ballpark. Even as she faded for a final time, she watched the Pirates all through this past season until it ended with a fizzle as the days got shorter and autumn rolled in. Her remote control by then had become her magic wand; toward the end, her brain remembered only two channels: her favorite all-news network and the station that showed the Pirate games.

Our culture loves tales about fathers and sons and baseball, and rightly so. I have many of my own. Less frequently, though, do we hear about mothers and sons and baseball. That’s a pity, and I hope it’s changing. In my own family today, my wife is as big a fan as I am. Our ball-playing sons’ childhood memories, like my own, will be suffused with the sense that both of their parents — not just their father — loved the game in all its strange and wonderful glory.

A couple weeks ago, when the director Penny Marshall died, a meme spread on social media that riffed off a favorite quote from one of her best-known films, “A League of Their Own,” about women playing ball during World War II.

“There’s no crying in baseball,” they wrote. “Except for today.” I kind of get that. I hope Bill Robinson, wherever he is, would, too.

Summer 2018. (Photo ©2018, Ted Anthony)

Ted Anthony, a longtime journalist and essayist from Western Pennsylvania, has reported from more than 30 countries. 

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John Christensen (played)

December 21, 2018

John Christensen_marker

Played

4.

I’m gonna read every one of these books, I said when I got the box of my father home. I felt the inevitable failure of this vow almost instantly, as I started and then quickly abandoned one of the weightier ones—Michel Foucalt’s Discipline and Punish, an exploration of the ways in which imprisonment serves as the shaping principle at the root of our gruesome civilization. I got only a few pages into it, all of them given over to an excruciatingly specific description of the methodical torture and dismemberment of a criminal in France in the 1700s. Hoping to keep up some measure of momentum, I then opted for the thinnest book in the pile, which I also found impenetrable and fairly quickly abandoned. It was an early work by Erving Goffman about, among other things, the sociology of play. I found within it a printout of a recent email, an indication that my dad had been reading the book within the last few years. I vaguely remember the email, because after Dad wrote it to me, my brother, and my mom, it sat there a while in all our inboxes without a reply. I figured someone should say something, so I replied: “That’s beautiful, Dad.” He printed out my reply and his initial email and saved it. When I cleaned up his room after he died I found versions of the text in his email message in several places. He kept playing with it, trying to get it right.

***

I suppose what I’m trying to do here is describe a transformation. A baseball card that I never cared about or paid any attention to came into my awareness, and a line of text on the back—“John’s brother, Jim, once played minor league ball”—sparked some thoughts about the notion of play, and I decided to try to play with this baseball card with my sons. So I took it and a few others to the kitchen table with some colored pencils and markers and crayons, and I invited my sons to have at it. They lost interest quickly, but not before John Christensen got played with. I like what happened to him. The marker on his face mutes some of what I, upon first discovering the card, initially read as apprehension. Now he seems more like he’s just playing catch. John Christensen was not far from the end here in this 1988 card, but with the thin, crude smear of color across his face he looks to me as if he hasn’t yet moved to the past tense of the word play.

***

In the games my sons prefer playing with me, everyone is always dying. They die, I die. Everyone instantly comes back to new life every time. It’s exhausting. Every time I die I want to stay that way for a little while, but they want there to be no break in the cycle of death to life. I lie there, having, for example, just been smashed to smithereens by a meteor, which is actually a pillow resting on my face. I was Galactus, omnipotent destroyer of worlds! And now for a sweet moment I’m nothing at all. But they squeal at me.

“Daddy, who are you now? Daddy, who are you now?”

***

Exactly thirty years ago today, John Christensen went from being someone playing major league baseball to someone who once played major league baseball. On December 21, 1988, he was released by the Minnesota Twins, bringing his major league career to an end. I can’t find anything about him after his career ended. Most former major leaguers show up somewhere in post-career incarnations on the internet, but John Christensen seems to have existed only insofar as he was actively engaged in play.

***

As long as you’re alive, you’re in play. Even into his nineties my father kept writing and rewriting that brief cluster of words that I found in the Erving Goffman book and all over his room. He kept wrestling with big ideas all the way to the end. Here’s his manifesto:

Life is a metabolic process of transformation of energy into increasingly complex, diverse, self-reproducing and evolving structures of matter-energy.

The meaning of life—a productive/creative activity—is life itself; the goal of life is more life: more diversity, more creativity, more consciousness, more and deeper understanding of life.

 

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John Christensen

December 5, 2018

John Christensen

Played

1.

John Christensen doesn’t look like he’s playing. Maybe he’s being played with. Maybe two other guys keep faking like they’re going to throw to John Christensen and then instead throw to one another, smirking. Even if this wasn’t exactly what was happening, John Christensen, circa 1987, looks hesitant, doubtful. Why wouldn’t he? After being selected in the second round of the 1981 draft by the Mets, he had performed well in the minor leagues throughout his first three years of professional ball, earning extended time in the majors in 1985. But he began to struggle at that point, hitting just .186. In November, the Mets traded him and three other young players to the Red Sox for two similarly marginal young pros and one veteran left-handed pitcher with a mediocre record. The deal seemed destined to rapidly disintegrate in the collective memory: a few leaky ships passing and then sinking in the night. The same could be said for a deal a few months later that also, eventually, included John Christensen. John Christensen wasn’t initially among the names in this second multiplayer deal, which originated in August of 1986 and included a solid but little-known Mariners outfielder and a light-hitting Mariners shortstop coming to Boston for a light-hitting Red Sox shortstop and an unidentified quantity of players to be named later. Two of the players to be named later, Mike Brown and Mike Trujillo, went to Seattle just a few days after the trade, and since these two Mikes created a plurality of players, it could have been fair to assume that the deal was done, but in fact several weeks later, John Christensen was added to the deal as a third player to be named later. Perhaps there had been some protests by the Mariners that since only one first name, Mike, had been named later, there legally needed to be another name involved, and the Red Sox, eager to be done with the whole seemingly meaningless endeavor, reached for the Triple A roster at Pawtucket and grabbed whoever. Here you go, assholes: a John. In most circumstances, both of these multiplayer mosaics of marginalia involving John Christensen in the months leading up to the photo shown at the top of this page would have amounted to nothing of any lasting note, but then in October of 1986 the solid but little-known outfielder in the second deal, Dave Henderson, catapulted to glorious sudden fame with a dramatic home run in the 1986 American League Championship Series, allowing the Red Sox to stave off seemingly certain death, and then added more heroics in the World Series that brought the Red Sox to the brink of a seemingly inevitable World Series victory. This shimmering Valhalla of long-awaited triumph (and with it the crowning measure of Hendu’s glory) was then abruptly demolished in a terrible collapse centered in its critical early stages by the forlorn mien of Calvin Schiraldi, another member of the John Christensen trade club. A few years later, a third member of the John Christensen trades, the aforementioned lefty veteran, Bobby Ojeda, who had merely pitched very well in the 1986 World Series, avoiding any cataclysms of sudden fame or infamy, was the lone surviving member of a boating accident that took the lives of teammates Steve Olin and Tim Crews. I only mention that last part because I don’t know how anyone, anywhere, can have an aura of sureness. I don’t know how anyone can just play.

***

But I still turn to these cards for play. It gets harder and harder. That’s why I barely ever write anything about them anymore! I can’t remember how to play with the cards. Life has turned me into someone who is being played with. But I did remember to look at this card, and to turn it over. And to look at the back. There’s one line of text at the bottom.

“John’s brother, Jim, once played minor league ball.”

I’ve made a living for some years now as a copyeditor, so when I turned over this John Christensen card and read that lone sentence at the bottom of John Christensen’s promising minor league statistics and progressively dubious major league statistics, I did what copyeditors often do: I scrutinized the commas. There are two of them, one on either side of the word “Jim.” They identify that name as something inessential to the core meaning of the sentence; John Christensen has one and only one brother, and the name of this one and only brother is a supplemental bit of information that, had it been fumbled out of the sentence altogether, wouldn’t alter the meaning of the sentence but would merely rob it of some detail. If the commas weren’t there—if the sentence read “John’s brother Jim once played minor league ball”— the implied meaning would be that John Christensen had more than one brother, and that the one named Jim—his name called out as in essential piece of identifying information—is the one brother to John who once played minor league ball.

Curious to see if I could find some way of checking whether the gang at Topps had their copyediting game down, I put on another one of my professional hats and attempted to do some fact-checking. If I could determine that the implied fact—that John Christensen had just one brother—was true I could also verify that the sentence did not contain an error that should have been caught during a copyediting review.

It took a while, as there wasn’t much on the internet about John Christensen beyond his dwindling statistics, but I eventually found what was—considering John Christensen’s relative anonymity—a surprisingly long newspaper article about his struggles as a rookie, and it included the following lines:

“I went golfing with my brother and he asked me if everything was OK because when I’m not doing very well, I get a little more quiet. I said that I haven’t gotten off to this bad a start since I could remember.”

It’s not an ironclad support for the fact implied by the commas—whether John Christensen had just one brother—but absent any other information available on the matter, I choose to interpret John  Christensen’s own decision to leave out an identifying name for his brother as an indication that there was only brother he could have gone golfing with. Had he had several brothers, wouldn’t he have identified the one he had had such an intimate, meaningful moment with? I think he didn’t because John Christensen, like me, and like my two sons, has just one brother.

Once I verified this to my satisfaction, I also verified the larger fact in the lone card sentence on the back of this card: that John Christensen’s brother, Jim, indeed played minor league ball. There are even a couple of baseball cards showing evidence of this fact.

(to be continued)

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Randy Johnson

November 13, 2018

Randy Johnson

For a while now, I’ve been having trouble writing. It’s as if something has attached itself to my face, my ears, my eyes, my mouth. Can’t see so well, or hear, or speak. I fantasize about somehow yanking it off, but in reality, even if I could put my hands on it, it wouldn’t come off easily. It’d rip away jagged swaths of whatever it had affixed itself to. You can’t separate yourself from your limitations.

I found this card in a corner of my house recently. If you’re into such things, you might be able to recognize that beneath the jarring defacement resides a card of some potential value, as it’s Randy Johnson’s Topps rookie baseball card. But any value it might have had is nullified, of course, as it’s now Randy Johnson’s Topps rookie baseball card with a lower-case letter a stuck to it. The letter resided for some time in a freezer bag full of letters with adhesive backing that my sons play with occasionally, or used to, and the baseball card resided for some time in a freezer bag of baseball cards that my sons play with occasionally, or used to.

I’m moving from present to past with my sons. They are now old enough to have things they used to do. When they first arrived, I ceased to be who’d I’d been all my life to that point. Or rather, the story that I thought defined me was shattered by a new story that they centered. I became a father of babies. So now that they’re not babies, what’s my story?

You can see one of Randy Johnson’s eyes clearly, while the other is obscured. You can see most of his mouth, along with some of his sparse facial hair. The bulge on the left side of the letter blocks out the lobe of the one visible ear while forming an exaggeration of Johnson’s cheek. It thickly overlays atop the gauntness of the adult pitcher a suggestion of the pudgy baby fat of an infant.

My boys moving out of the baby years could be one of the things partially smothering my ability to see and hear and speak, and by all that I mean my ability to write. But there’s no end to the reasons not to write. My last book kind of bombed. My father died. I work all fucking day. Netflix is beckoning. The world is murderous and aflame.

The back of this card shows that Randy Johnson has three major league wins to his name, meaning that from our current remove we know he has exactly 300 more to go, a massive number, connoting magnitude and longevity and even, using the parlance of the game in its reckoning of such numbers, immortality. But those wins have all come and gone, and this rookie’s career has been over for quite some time.

I saw Randy Johnson up close once, back at the beginning of this century. I was at Shea Stadium with my new girlfriend, whose father did business with a company that had a luxury box at Shea, and we got to go once in a while. The entry to the part of the stadium where the boxes were was the same as the players’ entry, and on the way out one day we lingered briefly with the fans waiting for autographs and were rewarded by the sight of the man who would a few years later become the tallest player in the baseball Hall of Fame. I have nothing really to report about this encounter except that as people called out his name he moved with his head down and walked fast, as if he was trying to get this part over with as quickly as possible.

The curve at top of the letter a is not altogether discordant with, just above it, the arc of the bill of Randy Johnson’s cap, and the straight right side of the letter a points down toward the piping of his uniform. This bracketing by the bright features of the defunct cap and the defunct uniform emphasizes the union of the half-hidden face and the alphabet letter obscuring it. If you are anything at all beyond the uniform you wear, you are language.

Actually I can’t be sure I have the story straight on the day I saw Randy Johnson up close. Did he actually sign a couple of autographs? He might have. All I know for sure was that seeing him up close made the moment crackle with importance. It’s the only thing I’m still connected to in relation to that day except the person who went to the game with me, who’s just finished getting our boys to sleep and is in the next room as I type this. It’s hard to stay seated at this table and keep writing. I want to go out and sit with her for a little while and stream some show and every once in a while look over at her perfectly flawless face.

You come out of the womb with a face, but an identity doesn’t start to form until you start to grasp that first letter, the beginning of a lifelong climb, letter by letter, word by word, through the eddying spirals of meaning and obfuscation.

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Nick Esasky

November 9, 2018

esasky

Nobody owns anything. Not your helmet or anything else that you might use for protection. Not your uniform or whatever else that might fix you for a while in a specific identity. Not your identity. Not your legs, your arms, your movements, your embraces. Not your eyes or reflexes or timing or swing or anything else that might bring you that fleeting feeling of connection. Not any feeling, not any connection.

My four-year-old, Exley, held this card in his hands a few weeks ago. It was still in one piece. Earlier that day, he and my older son, Jack, had asked me to get out a freezer bag of cards from the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. They’d dumped out the cards, scattered them around, and pretended to bulldoze them across the carpet in imitation of bulldozers at a landfill. They used to play this game more, but they’ve mostly moved on to other games, and this time around they lost interest pretty quickly, an indication that they probably wouldn’t be asking to play the game again.

Anyway, we cleaned up most of the cards, but we missed a few. It’s always gone that way: some get stuck in the corners of the room, and we come upon them later.

Nobody owns these cards. They’re not mine. I have my box of cards from my childhood, and my older son, Jack, in imitation of me, has a smaller box of his cards, and Exley, in imitation of Jack, has an even smaller box of his cards. All three of us now mostly ignore these possessions. For quite a few years, the cards from my childhood, my first and most persistent possessions, had a lot to say to me, but they’ve grown quiet over the last few years. What more can they possibly say? The only cards saying anything at all to me lately are the ones from the freezer bag, the nobody cards, the cards touched by my boys.

Nick Esasky was one of the cards we found in the corners this time, maybe our last time playing with these cards. Exley found Nick Esasky and held him. I knew what he was thinking. He was grinning and tightening his grip.

“Don’t,” I said to Exley.

***

Nick Esasky owned a strong home run swing. He was in turn owned for several years by the Cincinnati Reds. I know this from memory and also from looking at the back of this sundered card. I know from memory that he came to the Red Sox and had his best year. I don’t remember if he then moved on from the Red Sox or if he was with the Red Sox when he started struggling with the vertigo that would make it difficult for him to move around in the world safely, let alone hit major league pitching. He was out of baseball as quickly as if some greater power had reached down and ripped him in half.

***

This morning I was late leaving the house for work. Exley had decided that he needed to wear the Batman costume he’d worn trick-or-treating, and I helped him step into the main part of the costume, but we couldn’t find his cape. My wife was in another room with Jack, and she could take up the search, but I didn’t want to walk away from Exley while he was standing there capeless. Ultimately I had to leave anyway, so that’s how I left him.

It was cold outside and the wind was blowing against me the whole way as I rode my bike up Clark Street. There was a flyer in the elevator at the building where I work:

Safety presentation today, Suite 427

Topics:

  1. Fire
  2. Active Shooter

***

The pieces don’t go together, not really. Capes go missing and then reappear but are ignored, forgotten. I thought about going to Suite 427 but got busy with work and forgot what time the presentation was anyway. The flyer was gone by the time I rode the elevator back down. I biked home in the dark, the light on my handlebars blinking don’t kill me don’t kill me to the traffic.

I wanted to get to my home, to my wife, to my boys.

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Rusty Staub

March 30, 2018

Rusty Staub

After a specialist removed the breathing apparatus, it took my father about an hour and fifteen minutes to die. He was lying on a hospital bed in the critical care unit. His eyes were closed, and his swept-back hair and tipped back head made it look like he was flying, or like something invisible inside of him was flying out and casting his body back down to earth. My brother and I spoke later and discovered we were both watching images from our father’s life flash through our mind, as if the invisible ascension was passing through us as it rose. The images were vivid and quick, one giving way to another and another, a whole life compressed in a quickening kaleidoscope of light and love and loss. How can we even say we belong here? How we can we say this when we’re bound to leave?

***

I got this card not that long after my family moved away from my father. I was eight, in my second full year of collecting. I was in a new place. I wanted to belong. I was drawn to these cards.

The sun is shining on Rusty Staub, on his pale face, on his wavy pale orange hair, on all the colors of his bright uniform, the white and the blue and the hint—as if his personality filtered into the very fabric of the franchise—of orange. This moment of genuine happiness and ease was it, what baseball was for me: fun, sun on my face, some kind of belonging.

***

There were no last words at the bedside; the stroke had taken care of that. The night before the stroke was just a normal night. My mother made my father a meal he liked, and after it he refrained from his usual quick retreat back into his room. My mom finally realized what was going on.

“Are you waiting to hear me rehearse my lecture?” she asked.

He said something to the affirmative.

She had been preparing to teach a course on the history of printmaking and must have mentioned that she wanted to run it by him, just like she’d been running things like that by him for years.

“Oh, I’m too tired,” she said, “let’s just do it tomorrow.”

He probably then said OK and shuffled off to his room.

He was always there to listen, my father. He was there for my mom and for my brother and for me and for his few close friends, all big talkers and dreamers who needed a guy like my dad to listen. So it’s fitting that the last words of a listener were about the act of listening and an implicit affirmation that he would be available another time, any time, forever, to listen.

***

Rusty Staub never stayed in one place for long. A few years in Houston, a few in Montreal, a few in New York, a few in Detroit, back to Montreal for a moment, then Texas for another, then back to New York, to where my father too always returned. But everywhere Rusty Staub went he belonged. Everywhere he went, he emanated openness, friendliness, familiarity, somehow reaching out into the stands and out of a piece of cardboard to make you feel like you belonged.

***

I have always held these baseball cards between myself and death. How could there be death if someone could be a grown-up and play baseball really well and enjoy it like a kid and could also be named Rusty? How could there be death if Rusty, who already seemed like he had been around forever when I first met him in these cards, could outlast my own childhood in the 1970s? How could there be death if Rusty was still somehow miraculously lurking in the dugout into the mid-1980s, still ready to grab a bat and pinch hit. What a beautiful thing it was to see Rusty Staub amble out of the dugout to pinch hit! Who else would you rather see? Who could communicate the core message of this game and this life better than Rusty Staub? The message is not, it turns out, that there’s no death. Life is fleeting, life is suffering, life is to be enjoyed.

***

In the last minutes of my father’s life we were standing around his dying body and talking, my brother and me and my mother, about the restaurants he took my brother and me to on our visits. Mom remembered the “place with the round tables.”

“The Knickerbocker!” I said.

I used to get chicken in a basket at the Knickerbocker. I loved going there with Dad and Ian and getting chicken in the basket. I thought about that as Dad lay there unconscious, struggling for breath. I thought of all the restaurants he took us to in the 1970s and early 1980s. Our lives intersected with Rusty Staub’s for a little while as he went from restaurant to restaurant and we went from restaurant to restaurant. Life is fleeting, life is suffering, life is to be enjoyed. My favorite restaurant that Dad took us to occurred to me, an Italian place on MacDougal with pictures of actors and athletes on the walls. The last words spoken around my dad in his life were a restaurant I’m hoping tonight Rusty Staub, now also gone, enjoyed.

“And Monte’s,” I said.

They had a thing they did at Monte’s: they greeted you as if they knew you. After I left childhood it dawned on me that they couldn’t possibly remember us from one summer to the next, but as a kid I believed it. I believed.

My father took his last breaths as I thought about that place of warmth and happiness and belonging.

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Mickey Lolich

March 19, 2018

Mickey Lolich

It’s hard to find the words. That’s what’s been happening to me lately. It happens a lot to my three-year-old too. His older brother, Jack, is hyper-verbal, and he started talking early and hasn’t stopped, but it took a lot longer for Exley to find the words, and perhaps because he’s growing up in the shadow of his brother’s constantly babbling multisyllabic oratory, he still gets upset when he can’t express himself clearly. When he was younger this would result in tears, but now he rages, and he’s bizarrely strong, seemingly able to throw as hard as, say, Mickey Lolich, who, I noticed a few days ago, before this card was ripped in half and chomped, struck out over 200 men six years in a row, every year from 1969 until 1974 (and in one of those years he topped 300 Ks). But I digress. I was talking about Exley’s raging cannon. We’ve all been beaned by him. Earlier today, he wailed Jack in the head with a canister of Play-Doh and dinged me in the nose with an arm from Mr. Potato Head. It happens all the time. My wife is the Ron Hunt of the house, racking up HBPs on a near daily basis. The worst incident, though, was two weeks ago, when Exley, frustrated during dinner with his inability to find the words, whipped a fork and struck my grieving widowed mother in the head.

“That hurt, Exley,” she said pretty gently, I think. It’s hard to be clear about some auditory details of the moment, because I was also roaring.

“GOD FUCKING DAMN IT, EXLEY!” I roared.

Those were the words I found. What can I say? It’s hard to watch the tines of a fork strike your mom in the temple because of your son. It’s hard to watch your mom suffer at all. I realized when she came to visit, the first time I’d seen her since my dad’s passing in January, that parenting two young children and working full time and overtime at my job has kept me relatively cushioned from that state of torn-up wordlessness called grief. My mom was not so cushioned from it. She moved slowly the whole visit and sometimes stopped moving altogether and just cried.

Anyway, she went home and I went back to the daily routine of going to work and coming home and ducking flying matchbox cars and carrots and Transformers. I came home today and found this card on the kitchen counter. It had been on my writing table downstairs, and for a while had been the next card in the deck I’d pulled from my shoebox as a way to move through my year even before my dad’s death shredded my quaint writing project. Now I’m just trying to keep moving. I should have just written something, anything, about Mickey Lolich days ago and moved on, but instead I found a 1979 trading card produced to promote the James Bond movie of that year, Moonraker, and I fell into a long, flailing, futile attempt to put meaningful words to how my dad used to take my brother and me to movies every summer, movie after movie after movie, including Moonraker, but I can’t find the words. Then Exley brought Mickey Lolich back into my awareness. It’s the first time one of my cards from my childhood have been damaged by my children. I wasn’t mad. These cards mean a lot to me, but also, in light of other disintegrations, they don’t mean shit. I told Exley who the player was. Exley found some words.

“I ate Mickey Lolich,” he said.

That’s all I can say for now, but I’ll share this video of Exley and my father from the last time I saw my father. Exley probably won’t remember his grandfather, but he was a fan of his grandfather’s homemade soup.

Near the end of the clip you can hear my father ask, “Is there a video store in Asheville?” He probably wanted to rent a movie he’d seen recently so he could show it to me. He loved movies, from the time he went to see King Kong as a little boy to the time he took my brother and me to Moonraker to the time he ate soup with my son and thought about some fucking Daniel-Day Lewis period piece probably and wanted me to see it. It wasn’t a Daniel-Day Lewis movie that time, actually, but I can’t remember what it was. I wish I could. He may have mentioned it himself, but he gets drowned out by the other soup eater.

“All gone,” Exley says, finding the words. “All gone.”