Archive for the ‘Ed Kranepool’ Category

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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.

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Ed Kranepool

October 23, 2017

Ed Kranepool

I’m just going to hang out a little with Ed Kranepool here. It’s just after 9 at night on a weekday. My kids are asleep. I worked all day, worked pretty hard, I guess, but my bike ride home lifted the work off my shoulders, and I was happy when I walked in the door and saw my family. I made dinner while my wife, exhausted from the work of dealing with two young boys all day, drew a bath for herself. Exley, my three-year-old, was really tired from getting up too early this morning, and he didn’t want to let her out of his sight. He cried inconsolably for a while. I held him and murmured to him, to no effect. My wife came out of the bathroom while the tub was filling.

“Look, I’ll be right back, Exley,” she said. She was naked. I’ve been with this woman for sixteen years now and I still want to construct a towering cathedral and spend the rest of my life kneeling inside it in a prayer of thanks every time I see her naked. Anyway, she left to submerge herself below the surface of some scalding water and away from all our needs for a few minutes, and Exley kept wailing. I finally got him to ratchet down to sob-sniffles, and then he laughed a little when I started trying to lob some little oval veggie chips up and into my mouth.

He helped me make tacos, and by helped me I mean he mangled some tomatoes, ate a few fistfuls of shredded cheese, and spilled some lettuce on the floor. I completed the tacos eventually, even though I was the only one who ate them, or, to be more accurate, shoved them in. Abby shoved down mostly lettuce and hot sauce, Exley took one bite of one taco, spilled the rest everywhere, and then began careening up and down the hall like a frat pledge at the end of a grain alcohol party, while Jack, who’s repulsed by food that’s mixed together in any way and would never eat tacos, picked a little at some plain noodles and broccoli. Why do I make tacos? Later, after dinner, or whatever you want to call our nightly collective ridicule of food-centered togetherness, I went downstairs for a while with Jack while Abby wrestled Exley into some pajamas.

“What if there’s a monster in the other room?” Jack asked.

“What if I have a bad dream tonight?” Jack asked.

“What if I’m dreaming right now?” Jack asked.

I told him some things: it’s OK to be scared of the dark. I used to be scared of the dark, I added, and then I added that, honestly, I’m still scared of the dark.

“But not here in my home,” I said. “I feel safe here.” This was mostly true, but just this morning, when I was first up with the boys and sitting at the table near our windows that look out on the street, I was visited by a horrible scenario, or revisited, I should say, as it comes to me every once in a while. I imagine a stray drive-by bullet piercing a window and killing one of my boys. We live in a neighborhood with shootings. That is to say, we live in America, where everyone is packing and either desperate or a maniac.

“It’s OK to be scared,” I told my son, “but everything is going to be OK.” I told Jack this, and then later I told it to Exley too. After my alone time with Jack, Jack goes up and reads books with Abby, and I play downstairs with Exley and then read him to sleep in the rocking chair. Tonight we played with a chess set and Exley scattered the pieces around, and then when we couldn’t find two pawns, Exley started to get upset.

“Me scared,” he said.

“Don’t worry, Sweet,” I said, using the nickname I’d given him. Actually what I most often call him is Kissy Sweet. How much longer is that going to last? He has already sternly and repeatedly instructed me to stop calling him a baby. And how much longer am I going to be able to feel his body go heavy and soft in my arms with oncoming sleep as I read about Curious George and the Man with the Yellow Hat?

Ed Kranepool, each and every one of these words is dedicated to you. Ed Kranepool, have you ever read to your children or maybe grandchildren about Curious George and the Man with the Yellow Hat and wondered, as I have after reciting so many of those stories again and again, whether the Man with the Yellow Hat has a heroin addiction? Why else, Ed Kranepool, would he continue disappearing, time and again, for wide unaccountable swaths of time while his pet monkey, clearly incapable of being left alone, wreaks havoc to such an extent as to be symbolic of havoc itself?

But I digress, Ed Kranepool, and really, Ed Kranepool, what I want to say to you because I don’t have anyone else to say it to is thanks. Thanks for that feeling of my younger boy falling asleep in my arms, and for the blue eyes of my older boy as he stares somehow both at me and through me and wonders for the first time in his life aloud if this is all a dream, and for that feeling of seeing my wife without any clothes on, and for that feeling of riding through Chicago streets and flying, almost, with the joy of exertion and release and anticipation and being alive.

What if this is all a dream, Ed Kranepool? And are you still dreaming it, Ed Kranepool? It’s a few months now since the stories came out that you were in dire need of a kidney, that you had auctioned off your World Series ring, that were on a waiting list, that time was running out. I know you felt what I felt. That connection, that bliss. I feel it, and I don’t fully know why, when I say your familiar, friendly, evaporating name.

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Beat

August 11, 2008
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This Ed Kranepool card is softer now than it was a week ago. It still feels pretty sturdy though. In fact, in some ways it seems tougher, as if it would be harder to rip in half than the other 1976 Ed Kranepool card I have, the one that stayed in my shoebox while I kept this Ed Kranepool in my pocket for the entirety of my just concluded week-long trip east. Maybe what seems like damage is something else altogether. Jack Kerouac pointed out that while the word beat in Beat Generation started out meaning “poor, down and out, deadbeat, on the bum, sad . . .” it came to accrue many more meanings, most notably beatific, as if the defeats of life, the beatings, could transform the loser, the beat, into the humble indestructible holy fool of god.

I can’t tell you if that’s true, about beatings leading to adamantine bliss. In fact right now I just feel beat, in the original sense of the slang phrase uttered by smalltime criminal and poet Herbert Huncke to Jack Kerouac (the first time the latter heard the phrase) in Times Square some sixty years ago. I feel a little ill, tired, maybe on the verge of a nasty summertime cold. I sort of deserve it, I guess. On Friday I got only a couple hours sleep after drinking many beers and seeing the Stooges in New York City, then Saturday drove a lot then rode on an airplane then on a train then a shuttle bus then a train then a bus and spent the rest of the day moaning on the toilet from maybe a bad pre-Stooges free hot dog at Rudy’s on 9th Avenue, then yesterday it being August I went to a baseball game back here in Chicago in only a T-shirt and shorts and shivered in the upper deck shade and wind for a long time as my team, the visiting Red Sox, proved that they might not have enough this year, their starting pitcher for the day, Clay Buchholz, beat in the sense of utterly defeated, lost (from today’s Boston Globe: “Once [Buchholz] was dressed yesterday [after the loss], he sat for a few beats, staring into his locker. He got up, missed while trying to kick a towel into a basket, and wandered off toward the back of the clubhouse. He seemed lost, in many ways . . .”). My team is beat, I’m beat, and now it’s back to the daily grind, which for all its unavoidable virtues (roof over head, food in stomach) is very rarely, if ever, going to bloom into the beatific. Whatever, big deal: I went on a vacation and now it’s that steroidal first Monday back. As Iggy might say, boo hoo.

But I still have this Ed Kranepool souvenir of my beatific, or at least interesting, week away. In its creases and fades are a hike up Camel’s Hump in Vermont, some mucky golf some miles south of Camel’s Hump, some mini golf a few hundred yards or so from doomed Shea Stadium, one last trip before the mini golf to Shea Stadium, that old undemanding friend, for a perfect sunny sweaty day drinking beer and cheering for the Mets yet not giving a shit when they lost their lead late and cheering again when they got it back in the bottom of the ninth on a David Wright two-run home run. In the creases of this card also the Stooges show and maybe also all the good moments with loved ones I don’t get to see that often in Vermont and New York, and (I’m rushing now because it’s time to go to work) also most of all for the water damage or on the other hand beatitude inflicted or bestowed on this card by a massive flash downpour on me and Ed Kranepool and a friend of mine who has been depressed, the downpour occuring as we walked over the Williamsburg Bridge, no shelter anywhere in sight. As it rained down my friend, who has been getting crushed lately in his mind by the beatings of the past, woke up fully to his old and real and alive road-going self for the first time all day, reveling in the rain beating down.

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Ed Kranepool

August 2, 2008
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I’ve been to Shea Stadium many times, and I’ve never left unhappy. Unlike at Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park, the other two places where I’ve witnessed many major league baseball games, the stakes were never very high for me at Shea. Although I rooted for the Mets there, it never mattered that much to me if they didn’t get the job done. I was only ever there to get out of the day. In that way it’s a special place to me, a friend who never demanded anything but who was always there if you needed someone to hang out with. A mensch. I’ll be sad to see it go.

You don’t hear that much about this being the last year of Shea, at least not compared to the bombast of the extended elegaic farewell being offered to the other stadium in New York. They call that other place The House That Ruth Built, a moniker that communicates the deep aura of history and legend surrounding that structure. They don’t call Shea anything and never have, at least as far as I know. But maybe in this its last few weeks, to parallel the more well-known stadium in the Bronx, it can become known as The Building Where Ed Kranepool Resided for Quite a While. 

For many, many years, Shea Stadium did not exist without Ed Kranepool, a member of the original Mets in 1962. He is shown here in 1976, fourteen years later and still with a ways yet to go in his Mets career as a part-time first baseman. He has just completed his best year, batting .323 in 325 at-bats, but one gets the sense from his expression that he is not putting much stock in the sizzling batting average. Some days you do OK, some days you don’t. This is the unflappable credo of Kranepool, the tough, humble survivor, the reliable friend, the mensch.

Anyway, I’m going to be taking the next week to travel. No work, no writing. Part of the trip will be one last happy baseball game at Shea. I’m bringing this card of ol’ Ed Kranepool with me.