h1

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.”

 

h1

Sergio Ferrer

February 27, 2018

Sergio Ferrer

Where is my father?

My father is in a box of ashes in Asheville. My father is at Shea. I am at Shea too. It’s 1979. There’s hardly anyone in the stands. The planes headed to and from Laguardia roar over the field every few minutes, causing my father to press his fingers in his ears. “Let’s go, Mets!” I shout every once in a while. My brother does too. My father grimaces down at the New York Times. My father buys us hot dogs and soda. He buys me a miniature plastic bullpen cart, the kind shaped like a baseball with little bats in front propping up a roof shaped like a Mets cap. I love it. I vow to hold onto it forever. But where is it? Where is Shea Stadium, for that matter? Where is Sergio Ferrer?

Sergio Ferrer spent the entire 1979 season with the New York Mets, the first time in his nine years in professional baseball that he didn’t spend some or all of the season in the minor leagues. And yet he only appeared in 32 games, and most of those appearances were so brief that they didn’t include a trip to the plate. He faced a pitcher only 9 times all year. I never noticed him, or if I do I don’t remember, so it’s like he was never there.

My father is in my bones and muscles and organs and blood and in the bones and muscles and organs and blood of my two sons. My father is in my gentleness with my sons and in my brooding desire to be left alone by my sons and in my periodic explosions of frustration with my sons and in my desire above all for happiness in my sons.

In 1979 Sergio Ferrer had 0 hits. All year long: nothing, and when it was over his major league career was over too. He got into some games that year as a defensive replacement, others as a pinch runner. In others he warmed up the pitcher if the catcher was busy switching into his gear. He sat. He perhaps occasionally held a bat, remembering what it felt like to connect. He waited.

My father is in the tiny scribbles of his handwriting on small white pieces of note paper in virtually every one of his books in his bookcase, his writing so tiny that it’s virtually unreadable, except you can always read enough to know that he was grappling deeply with what he was reading, all his life long wrestling like Jacob with the biggest ideas, the unknowable and unknown, wrestling for understanding, illumination, blessings. My father is in the tiny scribbles on pages in two folders now in my possession, one of the folders titled “My Jottings” and the other titled “My Musings.” Last year he ushered me into his room and showed me where he kept these folder. He knew it was getting near the end of the line, and he wanted me to know about his musings and jottings. The musings are handwritten and thus difficult to decipher, but the jottings were transferred at some point to a computer file that he then printed out on a dot matrix printer that makes all the lines faint and every third line seem italic, randomly emphasized. These jottings are his diary, starting in 1970 and running to 2011. It’s a slim folder. The entries themselves are usually short, and months and even sometimes years go by without an entry. The heaviest period is in 1979. The flurry of entries start with this one:

6-24-79
On June 24, upon getting up with her rocker mom fell and broke her hip.

Two days (and two entries) later, there’s this entry:

6-26-79
I am witnessing the unraveling of personhood, of the sweet and loving soul that is my mother. How she fights its dissolution, increasingly obsessed with her few possessions—her book with the names and addresses, birthdates, etc., her sweater, photographs. . . .

I weep uncontrollably . . . . 

I still haven’t wept uncontrollably. I haven’t really wept at all. I stare at baseball cards. In this one the distinct outline of the player’s worrying face stands in stark relief against a ghostly background. This creates a sense that Sergio Ferrer is not even really there at all but instead is a cardboard cutout. He could be lifted directly out of the purgatorial blur. Who would be left? There seem to perhaps be some figures in the background, but you can’t be sure. And anything happening here at this stadium that no longer exists in a year of losing and nothingnness might just as well not be happening at all.

h1

Johnny Bench

February 23, 2018

Johnny Bench

It’s my father’s birthday. I would call him. He would begrudgingly accept the call. “We didn’t celebrate such things when I was a child,” he would say. “We didn’t have gifts.” Then he would turn the conversation away from himself. He never really had anything, not as a kid, not as a young man, not as a middle-aged man, not as an old man. He lived more or less like a monk, except monks don’t have a closet with five identical blue button-down shirts to wear to work in the office of a city agency. Up until his retirement he worked, always. When I was a kid the other adults in my family were often “finding themselves,” which is a term from the 1970s meaning “not making much money,” but my father worked. Picture his years as having the year-to-year repetition of what you see here in the 1979 and 1980 baseball cards of Johnny Bench. You fall into a line of work. One year gives way to the next. There’s a repetition of tasks, a constraint of motions. All the money my dad made grinding out a modest living as a researcher went to his family. What did he ever spend any money on? Wheat germ? He barely even owned any cups. When I called my old high school friend Bill to tell him my dad had died Bill remembered my dad serving him some milk in a bowl. He had plenty of books, but most of them were bought on the cheap from the Strand. At some point before my memories started up he bought a huge desk that he hunkered over until the day he died. I went through that desk a few weeks ago. There were a lot of toothpicks and hearing aid batteries. He was a wealthy man in terms of toothpicks and hearing aid batteries. Also: vitamins. In his bathroom there was an arsenal of vitamins, enough vitamins to bury a hippo. He must have spent several thousand dollars on vitamins throughout his life. He wanted to live. He wanted to keep living. In the end his life was taken from him quickly, which was a mercy, because a few years ago when it looked like he might be teetering on the edge, I flew down to rush to his hospital bedside and saw terror in his eyes. And why not? Death steals everything, even when all you have is some toothpicks and the collected works of C. Wright Mills. It steals every memory, every thought, every touch. What the fuck is all this about anyway? This senseless coming and going? One year gives way to the next. You fall into a line of work. Johnny Bench slugged home runs and gunned down baserunners. Johnny Bench knew glory, maybe even transcendence. My father went to work in an office every day. I go to work in an office every day. There’s a repetition of tasks, a constraint of motions. I sit down on the couch at night after the boys are asleep and try to think of something to tell my wife that happened that day that seems worth telling, but the last thing I want to do is talk about work. I have books, most of which I got on the cheap. I’m reading a book about William Blake right now. My father liked William Blake. He used to come up to visit us in Vermont when I was a kid and look at our sheep and quote William Blake: “Little lamb, who made thee? Dost thou know who made thee?” William Blake had visions. I don’t have visions, not anymore. When I was a kid I had night terrors. It was like seeing through the flimsy facade of this world into what lies beyond. You might think you’d want to get a glimpse of something like that but you don’t, at least not when you’re a child. These glimpses started when I was six or so, right after we moved away from my father, right before I started collecting baseball cards. I still have those baseball cards in my possession, and I guess I will until I die, two shoeboxes of fragmented cardboard scaffolding over the absence of my father and the terrifying face of God.

h1

Larry Murray

February 11, 2018

Larry Murray

I look and have always looked to these cards for the comfort of facts. Here are some facts:

  1. Hall of Famer Eddie Murray had a brother who played major league baseball, but it wasn’t Larry Murray. Larry Murray was just some guy named Larry Murray.
  2. Larry Murray spent parts of six seasons in the majors, his last coming in 1979, when he recorded career highs in many categories, including home runs, RBI, and batting average. These personal bests were 2, 20, and .186, respectively.
  3. The last time I’ll ever talk to my father was over the phone this past Christmas.
  4. This is Larry Murray’s only baseball card. He takes his stance before a sky of blue, but the heroic blue-sky pose, a signature of the prolific bay area Topps photographer Doug McWilliams, is deflated somehow by the bulky green windbreaker collar jutting out from under Larry Murray’s uniform. Anyway, heroism is beyond the realm of facts.
  5. My father kept talking about the end of the world. I was at my in-laws’ house, and my young sons were downstairs playing with their new toys. I wanted to be with them. I kept looking for an opportunity to wrap things up. My father kept talking about the end of the world.
  6. Ecological ruin
  7. Poverty
  8. Famine
  9. War
  10. 108 losses. That total by the 1979 Oakland A’s would have been the most games lost by any team in the entire decade of the 1970s had not the Toronto Blue Jays amassed 109 losses in that very same year, but the A’s were the inferior of the two outfits, based on the following subset of facts:
    1. The A’s scored 40 fewer runs and allowed only 2 fewer runs than the Blue Jays.
    2. The teams played a weighted schedule with more games against intra-divisional opponents, and the Blue Jays were in a division in which every other team was above .500, including one team with over 100 wins, two teams with over 90 wins, and one two-time defending World Series Champion, the Yankees, who had 89 wins; the A’s, by contrast, were in a division in which the winner, the Angels, would have finished fifth had they been in the AL East.
    3. The Blue Jays beat the A’s 8 out of 12 times they played them in 1979.
  11. I can’t remember with exactitude any of our last words together. But near the end of the long catalog of ruinous facts there was something like this: “Do you, Josh Wilker, pledge to fight injustice and inequality every day for the rest of your life?” Before waiting for an answer, and perhaps sensing that I was on the verge of blurting an annoyed reply, my father continued, “Do I, Louis Wilker, pledge to fight injustice and inequality every day for the rest of my life?”
  12. Larry Murray is a murmuring, comforting sound. Nothing too dramatic is at stake. No great heroism, no great loss. Larry Murray. Larry Murray. Larry Murray.
  13. In 1977 or 1978, my father, who was not a sports fan, saw Reggie Jackson in a ticker tape parade in New York City and was impressed. There was a larger than life sense emanating from Reggie. Most of us are nobody special, at the mercy of historical forces that dwarf us, erase us. Not Reggie, or so he believed with such force that everyone in his path believed it too.
  14. I felt relief when I was finally able to press the hang-up icon on my cell phone.
  15. A couple of years before my father marveled at Reggie, Reggie had been the heart of the glorious Oakland A’s dynasty. That glory left when Reggie left. He was traded after the 1975 season along with Ken Holtzman and minor leaguer Bill VanBommel to the Baltimore Orioles for Don Baylor, Paul Mitchell, and Mike Torrez. Mitchell pitched five games for the A’s and then was purchased by the Seattle Mariners. Baylor played one season for the A’s and then left in free agency for the California Angels. Torrez pitched one full season for the A’s and then early in the following year was traded to the Yankees for Dock Ellis, Marty Perez, and Larry Murray. Ellis pitched seven games for the A’s before being purchased by the Texas Rangers. Perez played a full season for the A’s and then was released part way into the next season. The last echo of Reggie Jackson on the A’s was Larry Murray.
  16. Larry Murray, Larry Murray, Larry Murray.
  17. I still have the record of the call on my phone. It was shorter than I thought it had been.
  18. Dec 25
  19. 1:06 PM
  20. Outgoing call
  21. 29 min 50 sec
  22. Larry Murray’s last appearance on a major league diamond occurred before 2,583 people in late September 1979. Actually there were probably fewer than that number on hand by the time Larry Murray entered the game. It was the bottom of the ninth, and the A’s were losing by two to the Kansas City Royals. Jeff Newman drew a two-out walk. Larry Murray was summoned to pinch run. A Wayne Gross single moved him to second. Jim Essian lined a Dan Quisenberry pitch to left. The left fielder Willie Wilson glided toward it. Larry Murray was running toward home, presumably. But how would I know? And what does it matter?
h1

Jim Palmer

February 6, 2018

Jim Palmer

My brother met me at the Asheville airport three Saturdays ago and told me our dad wasn’t going to wake up. We were standing at the back of his running car, breathing in the exhaust. I cried for about as long as it takes to sneeze and my brother put his arm around me and I stopped crying and I haven’t cried since. It was late. We drove to the hospital in the dark and walked past an ER waiting room packed with people coughing into surgical masks and we looked at him on a bed in a brightly lit room full of machinery and tubes. I touched his hand and his leg moved. It was an involuntary thing. The stroke had wiped his magnificent mind clean in the time it takes to sneeze. He was moved to intensive care that night and in the morning a doctor met with us and assured us that the clear choice now was to “move toward comfort.” Maybe I’ll write more about the rest of it later, the last hours, the last breaths snoring out of him, his thin chest rising and falling. I don’t want to get into it right now. The next days, in a kind of trance, I cleaned his room like someone possessed, clearing out the clutter and litter and straightening up his beloved books and excavating diplomas and papers and military records and several pairs of his glasses, which I laid out on his shelves as if to make them available for him should he come back and need to see something more clearly. After a week I flew home, walked into my house and was dazzled by the beauty of my wife and young children, but still I didn’t cry. I went back to work and for a few days it was like carrying a backpack jammed with broken chunks of concrete but gradually the weight seemed to go away, which is somehow worse. So now every night when I’m done with work and the kids are in bed I look at the Jim Palmer card on the top of the stack of cards that I pulled from my box of cards at the beginning of 2018. My intention was to make my way through the year one card at a time. I’m stumped now: can’t cry, can’t write, can’t make it past Jim Palmer. Jim Palmer! When Jim Palmer was born in 1945, my dad was already a man, at least according to the U.S. Navy, which had him among its ranks by that time. Jim Palmer was born in New York City, same as my father, and was adopted at birth by a wealthy Jewish man named Moe Wiesen and his wife, Polly. Moe died when Jim was 9, and Polly remarried a man named Max Palmer. My father was working in advertising by then, in research. His crowning achievement in that field, which he left not long after a young Jim Wiesen, beginning to distinguish himself as an athlete in youth ball, decided he wanted to have the same last name as his stepfather, was an interview-based analysis of the brassiere market. I found it in his belongings. It had the interview questions he asked the subjects about brassiere fit and comfort and appeal, along with statistical analyses of the data. Jim Palmer also had a sojourn in the land of undergarments during his career. That was in the 1970s, when Palmer was considered the best pitcher in the American League as well as the most handsome and became a model of Jockey underwear. By then my father was on his own after a short stint as a man dazzled by the beauty of his wife and young children. After that stint, perhaps the happiest days of his life, his family moved to Vermont and he moved into a small studio apartment in New York City. My father didn’t wear Jockey underwear. When my brother and I visited him in New York City in the summers in the 1970s we would all sleep together on foam mats on the floor of his apartment, and at bedtime our father would lurch around in his boxer shorts. My brother and I didn’t wear boxer shorts. Jim Palmer didn’t wear boxer shorts. But our father the sociologist wore boxer shorts, more evidence somehow that he was beyond our understanding.  Eventually he would turn out the light on his desk and the apartment would go dark except for the lights of the city seeping in through the one window. The sounds of the city would also drift up to us six stories high, the traffic, the sirens, the kinds of sounds that are presented in movies as a signifier of loneliness and vulnerability in the big city, but to me those sounds have always felt like safety. I hear those sounds and I am lying in the dark near my unfathomable father, and I’m so close I can hear him breathing.

h1

Tim Crews

January 29, 2018

Tim Crews

Someone broke into our car last night. We didn’t realize it until my wife got a phone call from a stranger who said he found an emissions test receipt with our name on it on the sidewalk several blocks away. He said he was coming by our neighborhood and dropped it off. We looked at it on the counter, baffled at how the receipt could have wound up where it did, and then Abby went out to the car and found that the glove compartment had been emptied. A cellphone holder, a charger, and cord that allowed me to play music from my phone through the car stereo had also been taken. A box of tissues had been taken. The hood had been popped.

I started writing about this Tim Crews card a week and a half ago, when all the people I love the most were still alive. I didn’t know exactly what I’d write, but knowing the story of Tim Crews I’d knew I’d probably cook up something about what gets taken, about what disappears, about how there’s this world and then there’s the invisible world, the one you can’t see and that everything comes from and is taken back into. You can’t do anything about it.

A couple days ago, Saturday, six days after my father died, I put on some borrowed hip-waders and lurched around behind my big brother in a river. He tried to teach me how to cast a fly-fishing line out into the water. We didn’t stay out for long, having to get back to our mom’s house for the last night of our improvised half-Jew version of sitting shiva. Right near the end, Ian caught a fish, a brown trout. It took him a while to get the hook out. When he finally did and placed the fish in the water it disappeared instantly.

“He vanished,” I said.

“Amazing, isn’t it?”

I kept scanning the river, but he was gone.

h1

Louis Wilker

January 24, 2018

FOR YOU Louis ver 1[1].2

Louis Wilker, 92, of Asheville, NC, died on Sunday, January 21, 2018, at Mission St. Joseph Hospital in Asheville after a stroke.

Louis was born on the Lower East Side of New York City on February 23, 1925, the sixth and final child of Charles and Lillian Wilker, who had emigrated from Galicia, a region in the Austro-Hungarian Empire that is now a part of Poland. Three of his siblings were also born in Galicia. One sibling (name unknown) died in early childhood in Galicia, and another, Molka, died in infancy in New York City.  Louis was also preceded in death by his sister, Helen, and his brothers, Joseph and M. David.

Louis married Jenny Squires in Wilton, Connecticut, on July 4, 1964. He is survived by Jenny and by their two sons, Ian and Josh, and by their four grandchildren, Evan, Theo, Jack, and Exley.

In 1943, Louis graduated from Stuyvesant High School in New York City. The following year, he enlisted in the United States Navy, where he completed radioman school and served as a Seaman, First Class. He was awarded the American Theater Medal and the Victory Medal and received an Honorable Discharge in 1946. In 1949, he graduated cum laude with a bachelor of science in social sciences from the College of the City of New York (CCNY). Upon his graduation he was awarded membership in the Phi Beta Kappa society and won the Alvin Johnson Prize Scholarship for graduate study at the New School.

Instead of pursuing graduate studies at the New School, Louis entered the work force, working for five years as a project director in the consumer research department at Grey Advertising, where he headed up such projects as a 1955 interview-based study of the consumer brassiere market. In 1957, he began graduate studies at New York University. At NYU, he served for several years as an associate research scientist supervising a large-scale statistical-ecological study of juvenile delinquency in New York City. The project would have been the basis of his doctoral dissertation, but several years into the study, funding for the study was suspended. Louis completed all requirements for a PhD except for the dissertation.

Throughout his career as a sociologist, he used his deep understanding of sociology and his prodigious abilities as a researcher and team leader to help make society better and more just for everyone, focusing his efforts especially on helping those beset by the pronounced poverty he had experienced while growing up in the Depression on the Lower East Side. From 1970 through 1976 Louis worked as the Assistant Director of Research at the New York City Department for the Aging, where he supervised the implementation and analysis of a major social survey of the elderly living in poverty and developed techniques for assessing the needs of the elderly in these areas. From 1976 through 1980, while serving as the Director in the Performance Evaluation Program at the New York State Division of Criminal Justice, Louis supervised a research team providing recommendations in such areas as family court, juvenile corrections, and child abuse and neglect. From 1980 until his retirement in 1990, he was the Director of the Program Planning Unit for the New York City Agency for Child Development, where he led a team that researched, evaluated, analyzed, and developed agency response to state and national legislation impacting child care in New York City, most significantly providing scientific, data-driven advocacy for the Head Start program.

Louis was also a highly valued mentor to many fellow social scientists, scholars, and political activists. “He was my sociologist,” remarked Theodore D. Kemper, author of the groundbreaking sociology book A Social Interaction Theory of Emotions. As Kemper wrote in the preface to that book, which pioneered the field of the sociology of emotions, “The first definite formulation of the theory of social relationships of this book emerged for me in conversations with my friend and colleague Louis Wilker. Without the many occasions when he and I sought to obtain a clearer understanding of social psychology, this book could not have been written. I owe him a debt of deep gratitude.” A similar sentiment was expressed by his wife, Jenny, in the preface to her doctoral dissertation on the artist Honoré Daumier, Daumier’s “Histoire Ancienne”: “To Louis Wilker, for his knowledge of social theory, exceptional skills as patient and critical listener and reader, and stalwart encouragement, I dedicate this work.”

Louis played the recorder and loved to listen to classical music, most especially the music of Bach. He loved movies from the time, as an eight-year-old, he saw the original King Kong in the theater. He also enjoyed going on long walks ever since he was a child, his favorite walk from childhood onward being the one that took him from Lower Manhattan all the way to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the Upper East Side. At the Met, throughout his life, he liked to silently and deeply “converse” with his favorite painting, the 1660 self-portrait by Rembrandt. He continued his love of art, music, movies, and even long walks all the way to the end of his life, when he made his way up and down the hills of Asheville to get from the home he shared with Jenny all the way to the Greenlife Grocery Store to have a coffee, perhaps read a little from a massive tome on Marxist sociology or World Systems Theory, or perhaps just reflect on the beauty and mystery of life.

The family will be planning a memorial gathering in Louis’s honor in the spring so that family and friends from far away might be able to come. In lieu of sending flowers, please consider donating in Louis’s honor to one of the organizations Louis supported:

h1

Dale Berra

January 18, 2018

Dale Berra

The Indo-European root of the word euphoria seems as if it could also be the root of the word Berra. It’s bher. According to my American Heritage Dictionary, it means “to carry; also to bear children.” On October 8, 1956, the player shown here was being carried within Carmen Berra, who was attending a baseball game. The conclusion of this game offered up the template for baseball’s most resonant entry into the language of euphoria. The game was one of those rare instances in which the win itself is so staggering that it doesn’t seem to count until men are leaping on one another.

I’ve watched the end of this game and its aftermath several times. The pitcher, Don Larsen, perhaps still in the state of deep trance that allowed him to suddenly upend a relatively nondescript career with stunning brilliance, with perfection, shows little reaction at the moment of victory. After the final out, he takes two steps toward his dugout and then, as if sensing and wanting to avoid the maelstrom swelling up around him, begins to break into a slow loping jog.

Fortunately, Larsen’s catcher is up to the unique demands of the moment. After bouncing out of his crouch, he quickly motions with both hands, like a conductor or a choreographer, as if he’s trying to direct Larsen to follow the miraculous illogic of the moment and start floating. As he continues bounding toward Larsen he senses that his pitcher will not be capable of the unprecedented manner of rejoicing required, so he’s the one who leaves the earth.

We do this sometimes. We don’t stay up forever. We fly into one another arms.

We are carried.

***

No son can ever be free of the ghost of his father. Consider this 1980 card featuring a confident, handsome young man ready to take on life on his own terms. The back of his card lists a number 1 draft pick distinction alongside some promising minor league stats, but these intimations of future glory are crowded out by a large, artless cartoon sporting the obvious information connecting the young man to his father, who in addition to catching the only perfect game in World Series history and then creating with his leap into Don Larsen’s arms the template for baseball euphoria was also the winningest, most beloved player in major league history.

Dale Berra was himself a World Champion at the time this card came out, the recipient of a full share in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 1979 World Series prize money despite being a September call-up who arrived to the team too late to be eligible for postseason play. In fact he was barred from even sitting on the Pirates bench in the playoffs. In the remaining seasons of his decent but unspectacular 11-year career, he wouldn’t get anywhere near a title again. Like the rest of us, he’d never get the chance to catch the final out of a season and leap into a pile of roaring euphoria.

***

My six-year-old and I sit side by side sometimes and yell and laugh and curse and bring one another back to life. We hold devices in our hands that allow us to control the movements of two cartoonish avatars of presumably Italian descent with mustaches not altogether dissimilar to the one worn by the young man shown here.

“Pop me out of a bubble!” my son squeals. And I jump up and free him and together we go on. But really it’s much more often that he’s freeing me. He has a knack for staying alive. I die easy, again and again, and because he’s alive I get to go on.

I thought about the two of us sitting side by side and playing and laughing tonight as I was sifting through the online traces of Dale Berra. Right up at the top of the Google pile for Dale Berra is an ad he’s in for Atari back in the mid-1980s, just when that kind of virtual living and dying was starting to take hold in the world. In the ad Dale Berra’s electronic altar ego, a hungry circle, is ceased by a ghost.

***

Dale Berra’s father was, among other things, a mediocre major league manager, at least by the measure of his lifetime record, in which his failures slightly outnumbered his wins. His final major league win as a manager brought his lifetime record to 292 wins and 293 losses. He went on to lose three more games before, as often happened with people in his position, i.e., the manager of the New York Yankees, he was abruptly fired. That final managerial success by Dale Berra’s father was surely heightened by the contributions of Dale Berra himself, who that year had become only the second player in major league history, after Connie Mack’s son, to play for his father in a major league game. Dale went 2 for 4 at bat and started a key double play in the field.

That was in 1985. Later that season another lasting association would get attached to Dale Berra’s name when he admitted to cocaine usage while he’d been a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates. From then on, schmucks such as me with blogs and Twitter feeds and all the other ways in which to disseminate our shallow associations would think Dale Berra? 1. Yogi’s son. 2. Cocaine.

He tried it first as a very young man at a New Year’s Eve party to kick off 1979, a year that would crest with his team at the very top of the world. He liked the feeling. Who wouldn’t?

“It made me feel euphoric,” he explained.

***

My father was a brilliant student and scholar. I heard this from the friends he made in the 1950s and 1960s.

“We were all in awe of him,” his friend Marty said.

He had grown up very poor during the depression. His family had to suffer when his own father was unable to find work. The lack of work itself seemed to eat most deeply at my grandfather, who eventually took his own life, leaving my father without a father before he’d reached his teenage years. Who can say what burdens this puts on a person? All I know is that there were a couple of times along the way when my father came to a fork in the road, and down one road was a life of scholarship and financial uncertainty, and down the other road was a steady job. I believe the last of these forks came with the arrival of my older brother. My father had been in graduate school at NYU, but he stopped short of earning his masters, instead focusing on working full-time to support his new family.

Many years later, after he retired from a long and useful career as a sociological researcher for various state and city agencies, he used his NYU alumni status to get a card that allowed him entry to the NYU library on the south side of Washington Square Park. The card included a certain number of guest passes.

One day we went to the library together. I was gathering information for a young adult biography I was writing about Confucius. My father was researching whatever he was interested in, probably something having to do with Marxism or World Systems Theory. We sat at a table by a window several stories above Washington Square Park, both of us with tall stacks of books beside us, both of us silent, both of us reading. We were up above the trees, side by side, trying to understand, trying to know. We were both very much alive, and as long as I’m able to carry the memory we always will be.

***

The person I’m most drawn toward in the clip of the final pitch and ensuing celebration of Don Larsen’s perfect game is not Larsen or Dale Berra’s father but a figure who disappears almost as soon as the clip starts. It’s the pinch-hitter, who stands there for a moment in disbelief as the pitch is called a strike. It’s a somewhat famously blown call, but it was decided in that instant and forever after that we won’t really care so much about that. But the pinch-hitter does. He looks befuddled. The moment is famous for perfection, for joy, but life is not defined by those things. Life is for us most often what it is for the man at the plate whose name, according to an interview with Dale Berra by the baseball historian Bob Hurte, would be seized on by Yogi Berra’s wife, Carmen Berra, at that moment as just right for the child she was carrying.

Dale Mitchell checks his swing and, knowing the truth of the pitch he’s just let go by, turns toward the authority behind him, the ump, as if to appeal to him, but it’s too late. It’s just the same as if there’s no one there at all to look to, to beseech, to implore. And then this Dale is gone from the clip, leaving behind for the player on the card at the top of this page his name, to be joined with the other much more famous name from that moment, a preposterous combination, as if to be human is to be suspended in a thin bubble in midair somewhere between euphoria and knowing.

h1

Nelson Santovenia

January 14, 2018

Nelson Santovenia

Every once in a while Nelson Santovenia shows up somewhere unusual. A few years ago, he appeared inside my guitar. And here he is now in my garbage. Why, you may ask, is there a baseball card in my garbage?

There are baseball cards in various places in my home. The cards from my childhood in the 1970s are in a couple of shoeboxes. My sons now each have a shoebox of their own, filled with some cards that have split off from two large plastic bags of random cards from the 1980s onward. Those bags are now buried in a closet, because I’m tired of cleaning them up. My sons aren’t card collectors yet, and I tend to doubt they ever will be. They like to dump the bags of cards out and fling them around the room. They’ll eventually “help” gather the wreckage, but I always get impatient with the pacing and unfocused nature of this effort and end up angrily lurching around and stuffing the cards back into the bags. This will probably loom large in my sons’ associations of baseball cards with their father: a frustrated ogre snarling vows about this being the last time anyone plays with baseball cards.

Inevitably, I miss a card or two. Later I’ll find it stuck under a chair or in the crack between couch cushions. In the past I’ve then most often placed them on a bookshelf, an intermediate step toward getting them back in the plastic bags that usually gets stretched out for quite a while and bugs me on some level. My life is always partially undone. I’m always rushing from one thing to the next, one kid needing food, the other needing help to climb up to a terrifying height atop the treadmill, my face needing a shave before work, work, a novel in unrealized chunks festering in notebooks in my file cabinet, an appointment to make with a doctor to jab his finger up my anus because it’s finally about time for that glorious rite of passage, etc.

So I made a new policy—any baseball cards from those bags that don’t make it back into the bags at the first cleanup are no longer part of my world. What’s the big deal? I have no deep association with any of those cards. They came to me after childhood as thrift-shop gifts or occasional nostalgic purchases of packs at Target or whatever. They didn’t fuse my goddamn psyche. And they certainly aren’t worth anything in a monetary fashion. They’re garbage! Right? No more nor less than the drier sheets, tissues, and packaging for a pair of tension pulley things that my wife is incorporating into her workout regime. But this morning while playing with my sons, I was pretending to be Megatron, who I guess is a foe of the Transformers, and my sons were blasting me off the bed to the ground via various means such as fart blasts and pillow pummelings and pro-wrestling style leg launches, and down there on the carpet, a smoldering and defeated robotic hulk of villainy, I noticed Nelson Santovenia where I’d discarded him, among the trash, and he didn’t seem to fit in with his surroundings. I couldn’t make him fit in with his surroundings. I could not make him mean nothing. So I took him out. He’s on my desk right now, yet another item in that messy, forever unfinished collection, my life.

h1

Ken Holtzman

January 11, 2018

Ken Holtzman

What lasts? Not mustaches, not dynasties, not childhood, not life. It’s all pretty much like the clouds shown here that disassembled soon after the photo was taken. The sky got bluer or grayer. The sky is always changing. At some point there won’t even be a sky.

I don’t know the names of clouds but I know Ken Holtzman pitched two no-hitters, won three World Series in a row with the A’s, and collected more wins than any other Jewish player in history, including a win over his idol, Sandy Koufax in the latter’s last regular season start.

I know my grandma was born in the 1800s in Austria-Hungary and died in a Jewish nursing home in the Bronx called something like the Daughters of Judea. My dad took my brother and me there once. She tried to foist a banana on me. Eat, eat, she implored. She’d had six children but only four lived beyond infancy. But no fucking way was I eating that banana. I hated and still hate fruit. Someday there won’t be a sky but until I croak, perhaps of scurvy, I’m clinging with all my might to my bizarre childhood aversion to the very symbol of this world’s sweet bounty. My god was I disgusted by that bruised banana thrust at me by my age-crumpled grandmother. She loved me, and all I wanted was to leave and buy several packs of baseball cards and open the packs and jam all the gum into my mouth and never have to look old age or love in the wrinkled face again.

Now, decades too late, I wish I’d realized then how deeply indebted I am to her. She kept my family alive, kept them going. Without her, I’m not here. My boys aren’t here. Someday there’ll be no sky, but that’s nothing in the face of the gratitude and love I feel right here and now for my family, old and new.

I like how in this card Ken Holtzman’s glove is unseen, so you can actually believe that he doesn’t have a glove and is not aping a pitching follow-through but extending his left arm to escort you on a promenade. I wish I could have thought to reach my arm out to my grandma the way Ken Holtzman is reaching his arm out here.

But it’s far too late, so instead I take Ken Holtzman’s arm, just the way I did back in 1975. I’ll always take his arm. Someday perhaps I’ll be as old as my grandma and I’ll have trouble walking and I’ll be lonely and institutionalized. I’ll still have Ken Holtzman. I’ll take Ken Holtzman’s arm. Wispy clouds behind him will remind me of something, but I won’t be able to put a name to it. He’ll be cheerful and respectful and soft-spoken. He’ll be steady. He’ll support me. We will take a long, slow walk out into the day.

h1

Red Sox Future Stars

January 7, 2018

Red Sox Future Stars

The other night I surfaced into consciousness at 4 or 5 in the morning and worries about my job seized me. I couldn’t shake them—nagging chaotic anxieties about all the thousands of things flying at me on deadline. I’m gonna miss something, I’m gonna fuck up. Eventually I just got out of bed and meditated for a while in a chair in the kitchen. It helped a little. There’s a basic goodness in us, in everything, shining beneath the lacerating illusions. We are stardust, we are golden. When Jack woke up and came out to the kitchen, I was able to listen to him, to see him. He was smiling and looking at me with his bright blue eyes.

“Daddy, I had the craziest dream,” he said. “I was flying.

I remember having a dream that I was flying when I was a kid. I can’t really place it in time, but it could have been in 1980, the year I met this card. I was twelve then. I’ve come to think of that dream, where I bounded up into the sky and flew around my town, as a response to an increase of gravity in my life. The years leading up to 1980 had seen me bounding every morning up the road to a multi-age free-school classroom where we made animated movies and wrote plays and learned Russian and sat in a circle sometimes or lounged around sometimes. By 1980 I’d shifted to a junior high several miles away with desks in rows and time sliced up into anxious chunks. Instead of one warm teacher and a lot of long-haired parent helpers I was now under the glancing authority of a collection of grown-up strangers who identified me in one way or another as a problem.

Meanwhile the Red Sox were also crashing to earth. They’d come close in 1975, 1977, and 1978, but in 1979 they’d finished a distant third, and it would get worse in the years to come, a little worse every year, more or less, throughout the rest of my descent through junior high and high school, where I went from Cs to occasional Fs to, finally, in my senior year at a boarding school, expulsion. That was the year I discovered getting high, thank fucking god. Thank god for marijuana! Getting expelled was no fun, being driven home from that school for two hours by my poor grim mom was no fun, taking the GED was no fun, but getting high with my friends saved my life, if you define life by the notion of having some interest in living it.

When you’re a young child, if you’re lucky, as I was, you get this sense that the future will include stardom. I’m not talking about fame but rather the same feeling you get when you’re a kid and you open a new pack of cards and find a card featuring a player or, in this case, players, from your favorite team. Connection to some kind of brilliant glory. A kind of flying. A high. By 1980 I had probably felt the gravity of the world just enough to not believe the proclamation that the players in my hand were future stars. I knew who they were already, as they’d all made appearances with the Red Sox in 1979, and Chuck Rainey was the only one who’d shown any glimmers of hope, but even his promise seemed subdued, as he seemed no better than a Bob Stanley type, at best. But still, it was a brand new card that I could add to my beloved stack of Red Sox, and I’m sure I felt at least a little of the pulse of the stardom at the core of this life.

I was talking on the phone the other day to my best friend from boarding school, Billy Z, the one with whom I rediscovered that life could have some laughs in it, some highs, some joy. For the last twenty years or so he’s been a Montessori teacher. I was telling him that we’re homeschooling our boys.

“Dude, that’s the best thing you can do for them,” he said. I was glad to hear him say that. I said something about how I love following their lead, seeing where they want to go with their learning.

“That’s the basic idea at Montessori, right?”

“Yeah, the tough part for my kids is when they get to junior high and it’s suddenly all about nothing but punishments and rewards. A lot of them just shut down.”

After I got off the phone I thought about how that was exactly what had happened to me. And I thought about how meeting Billy Z was one of the most important things that ever happened in my life. By the time I met him, in 1983, all the Future Stars featured in this card were gone from the Red Sox, all out or on their way out of forgettable major league careers, and I had completely stopped collecting baseball cards, releasing that habit and joy of childhood as if I didn’t deserve it. I was learning nothing in school except to believe that I was a problem, and I really didn’t have any friends. My mom saw this light going out in me and thought boarding school might help, and though I didn’t rediscover learning there, and in fact became even more buried under a feeling of academic failure, I did make a friend, Billy Z, with whom I laughed like I hadn’t in years. We’d sit there in our dorm room beds in the dark laughing and high, all the failure falling away for a little while. It felt like there was life to be lived. We were flying toward future stars.

h1

Dick Lange

January 1, 2018

Dick Lange

The truth about Dick Lange surfaced in 1970 but like most truth is mostly if not entirely obscured. I certainly never noticed it all the years I’ve been in possession of this unassuming 1975 card. In 1970, while in his first year in professional baseball, pitching for the Angels’ rookie league team in Idaho Falls, Dick Lange was perfect. He went 13 and 0.

Tonight as I was getting my older son ready for bed he started asking me about how he could keep himself from having bad dreams about Bowser, this spike-backed monster who is the last hurdle to clear in his Super Mario video game. My son worries a lot about monsters and guns and bad dreams and meanness. I tried to tell him not to worry about bad dreams, but tears started streaming down his face.

The perfection didn’t last for Dick Lange. He lost about as many as he won throughout the rest of his career, which included parts of four years with the Angels, all of them on the same pitching staff with Nolan Ryan. Ryan, somewhat famously, also did not win that many more than he lost, which of course says more about the dubious nature of win-loss totals than it does about Ryan’s talents, which were the stuff of myth, as evidenced by the first three years he shared a dugout with Dick Lange. In each of those years, Ryan struck out well over 300 batters, a feat equaled at that point by fewer men in the 20th Century than had walked on the Moon (and over twice as many as Dick Lange managed in his entire career). The point is, even Nolan Ryan was a loser, repetitively, constantly, so what chance do mere mortals such as Dick Lange have to hold on to any kind of perfection?

I wiped my son’s tears with the sleeve of my sweatshirt. I read him some Curious George. He went upstairs to his mom and fell asleep. My younger son was still awake, up later than usual because he’d had a nap this afternoon. He’s three and has been moving away from a daily nap, that last echo of infancy. This was the first time the nap happened in weeks. So he was up with me this evening for a while, and the two of us passed the time by, at his request, “playing chess,” which just meant that we pulled the pieces out of this magnetic travel set we have and then tried to put them back into their places. Each piece fits snugly in a felt indentation.

“Do you see one with a horse shape that could go here?” I said.

He tried to put the knight in its place in but had it facing the wrong way.

“How about this way?” I said, gently turning the piece around and handing it back to him. He got it in.

“You make this game fun,” he said. He fell asleep a little while later with me rocking him and singing him Hank Williams’s “Lost Highway” really softly. I kissed him on his curly head and carried him upstairs.

You began perfect. That hasn’t been lost.

h1

Roy White

December 27, 2017

Roy White

Roy White was a philosophical conundrum: Roy White was a Yankee and Yankees suck so Roy White should suck, but he didn’t. Reggie, Nettles, Gossage, Piniella, Steinbrenner, most especially that feathered-haircut shithead at shortstop: they sucked. But Roy White? He seemed OK. He seemed like the kind of guy who would help you out if you lost your mom in a supermarket. He’d at least take you over to where they could call your mom on the store PA. He’d probably say something fairly reassuring and stand around for a little while as you waited. Anyway, I like this card, which is not nothing. Our world seems pretty messed up these days, a fractured thing, divided, maybe unfixable, so I’ve decided to celebrate the fact that it’s possible to say something positive about a card featuring a Yankee. Honestly I find myself reluctant to say simply that I like this card, as if the meaning I’ve carved out for myself in this life rests to some extent on the duality I embraced as a child that was based in the ineluctable truth that Yankees Suck. But I can at least say that I like some things about this card. I like that Carlton Fisk is on this card. His birthday was yesterday. Roy White’s is today. I like that odd near-connection, as if they almost share something happy and irrelevant and invisible. I like the red helmet on Fisk. I like the look on Fisk’s face, which seems in its relative placidity and the angle of his gaze to suggest that the batted ball is on its way to Rick Burleson at shortstop, no trouble at all. But it’s not only Fisk that I like here. I like the tendons standing out on Roy White’s neck, and his expression too, which is so alert and awake as to suggest that this moment and any moment can transcend hope and whatever is the opposite of hope, that if you’re devoting yourself fully enough to paying attention to what’s unfolding in front of you, the beauty of life can manifest everywhere, even in a routine grounder to short, even on the card of a New York Yankee. I like his footwork, not only in that he is wearing Pumas, to me the coolest brand forever and always, but in that his front foot is cocked and turning toward first and no matter the relative likelihood of reaching base Roy White is about to break into a run. What is more beautiful than that feeling of running as fast as you can to first? Maybe only the possibility itself of reaching first safely, which I would never wish for a Yankee but which I am able to nonetheless ponder in its abstract by virtue of this card and most specifically by the somewhat bulky object in Roy White’s back pocket. I think this must be the soft cap he wore while manning the outfield. Back in those days players could still choose to discard their hard batting helmets once they reached base and replace it with their cap. Roy White was ready for this, and I find myself feeling that readiness too. Good things may yet happen in this world.

h1

Jerry Hairston

November 7, 2017

Jerry Hairston

Jerry Hairston is smiling here, who knows at what, or why. There’s a gleam of sunshine on his batting helmet, and sunshine too on parts of his away uniform and on the blurry crowd behind him. To me it’s a quietly happy moment, a man thinking about something amusing as he takes a lazy fake swing in the sunshine.

There may be some baseball card detectives who can pinpoint the location of this photo. I can only take a guess that the photograph was taken in Oakland, based on my general sense that a lot of card photos back in those days were taken by a Bay Area photographer named Doug McWilliams.

Jerry Hairston split time between the majors and the minors in 1975, when the photo for this 1976 card was probably taken, and in fact a possible angle for this essay, or whatever it is, could be that Jerry Hairston split time between the majors and the minors every single year of his career from his first call-up in 1973 until 1977, when he split time between two major league teams, and then after that year he dropped out of the majors altogether and played for three years in the Mexican League, a departure from the majors that must have seemed to anyone paying attention, if anyone was paying attention, which they probably weren’t, to be evidence that Hairston’s habit of periodically dropping out of sight throughout the course of a major league season had become permanent, but amazingly he returned to the majors in 1982 and stayed there for several more years, never once during that improbable resurrection suffering another demotion to the minors: the onetime utility infielder became a bit of a fixture, a pinch-hitting specialist, an expert, a pro. Yes, that could have been the point of this appreciation, and maybe it’s part of it, but really all I was going to say was that though Jerry Hairston shuttled between the minors and the majors in 1975, he was with the team during a late-September visit to Oakland, where perhaps this photograph was taken. If it was taken there, Jerry Hairston could conceivably, pun intended, have been aware at this moment that he was about eight months away from becoming a father of a child, boy as it turned out, who would be named Jerry Hairston, Jr.

The awareness of this kind of news is certainly something that can make a guy smile. It made me smile too, when it was my turn with that knowledge. It made me do a lot of other things, too, most of them in the family of panic. But there’s a certain feeling of something taking hold inside you, a more powerful tugging than you’ve felt before, as you walk around through sunshine and darkness, through the unstoppable flickering between major and minor, certainty and doubt, rising and falling. You take your usual swing and it feels empty, strange, unlike anything you’ve felt. But you know, ultimately, that now you have to keep swinging.

That casts a light on Jerry Hairston’s three-year disappearance from the majors that I never thought about before. Most of my words about these cards came years ago, before I became a father, so I’ve never really considered that a lot of the men on the cards in my shoebox were young fathers who were working at a job to support their families. Yes, Jerry Hairston kept swinging—and he must have also kept smiling, because otherwise how do you go on?—as he kicked around in the Mexican Leagues. What else was he going to do? He had a toddler and then, in 1980, another boy, named Scott, to support. And of course Jerry Hairston swung his way all the back to the majors. This is what you do if you’re a Hairston. There have been five members of the Hairston family in the major leagues, which I believe is the record for cross-generational families (there were also five Delahanty brothers in the majors, but that dynasty did not carry over to another generation). First there was Jerry Hairston’s father, Sam, who started out in the Negro Leagues before playing for the White Sox in 1951, and then Jerry’s older brother John, who had a brief stint with the Cubs in 1969, then Jerry Sr., who was followed several years later by his sons, Jerry, Jr., and Scott.

How this all relates to me is hard to say. I too am a younger brother and a father of two boys, so there’s that, I guess. But also, and more directly, Jerry Hairston’s smile made me think of the dance contest scheduled for this weekend at my house. My older son, Jack, had the idea a couple of nights ago.

“Let’s have a dance contest,” he said.

You never know where your life is going to go. Minors, majors, across some far border and back again.

So last night Jack and I made a trophy out of construction paper. It had handles and a support column and everything. The competition will include just the four of us: my wife, Jack, Jack’s brother, Exley, and me. Everyone has been practicing their moves. A few times this week I’ve been at work, in the middle of some problem or other, and I’ve remembered the upcoming dance competition and imagined all of my loved ones and me dancing and I smiled.

h1

Joe Ferguson

November 1, 2017

Joe Ferguson

When I was a kid I associated Joe Ferguson with my Uncle Conrad and a recurring character on Star Trek named Harcourt Fenton “Harry” Mudd. The three men didn’t look that much alike, but all were jolly, cherubic types with jaunty handlebar mustaches. You had the sense that they knew how to wrestle some joy out of life.

Mudd turned up in at least a couple of Star Trek episodes, though it seemed like more than that due to Captain Kirk’s preexisting revulsion for him every time he saw him again (“you again”). Mudd, a loquacious intergalactic grifter, seemed like he’d always been around, showing up all over the universe with some new scheme. His most memorable appearance came when the gang from the Enterprise stumbled upon him enjoying being the lone human man among a legion of beautiful female robots. I probably first saw the episode around when I got this Joe Ferguson card, which was just before I started caring about girls. As the years went on I continued watching Star Trek compulsively, and gradually, as the growing ache of finding myself on the far side of a vast gulf from real girls grew, I began to imagine what it might be like to have my loneliness absolved by a legion of sexy brainless androids.

***

I like to think of you naked.
I put your naked body
Between myself alone and death.
–Kenneth Rexroth

***

The Joe Ferguson type that I knew the best, my Uncle Conrad, wrote poetry. He still does. He’s the one who gave me my first book of poetry, The Selected Poems of Kenneth Rexroth. But more than that he was the first person I knew who was a writer, and because he was also a warm, familiar part of my life, it was surely a lot easier for me than it is for some to imagine being a writer too. I’ve been grateful to him for a long time, and my gratitude is continuing to grow now that I’ve got a family and a full-time job to support the family. When I was a kid Conrad was supporting his family by working full-time, but he was always writing poetry too. He found a way to carve out moments for beauty.

Joe Ferguson carved out a moment of World Series beauty. It started somewhat discordantly, with Ferguson, pulling a Kelly Leak before there ever was a Kelly Leak, cutting in front of teammate Jim Wynn to snare a fly ball that Wynn had been camped under. In the same motion, Ferguson unleashed a searing missile toward home plate. The ball arrived an instant before the runner, Sal Bando, drove his shoulder into the catcher, Steve Yeager, who went sprawling but held on. It’s the kind of play that feels like life and death, and death is defeated not by any particular outcome but by perfection, by beauty. Joe Ferguson’s throw had to be beautiful, and it was.

***

A few years after Joe Ferguson pulled a Kelly Leak, he was among a group of Astros making a cameo in The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training (he ambles into the dugout at about the 1:35 mark of the clip below). That was a big movie for me, as you may be able to tell by the ad for my book about that movie in the right-hand margin of this blog. I wonder if one of the reasons it was so big for me was that it symbolizes the moment just before my life started getting more complicated. I was ten then and loved baseball, just baseball. I certainly didn’t care about girls. But soon enough I would. The simple primary rainbow of life would get murkier.

The world is not perfect, and no one is going to absolve you of loneliness or stand between you and death. But there are spaces for beauty. There’s a Game Seven of the World Series tonight. Let Them Play.