Thursday, March 10, 2016

From Devastation to Exaltation: Oct. 2011 - Baseball as Therapy

This meme has been going around awhile. I first saw it right after David Bowie died. I'm not sure if that was the origin or it had been floating around a bit, but I like it. Of course, you could fashion around any great person or event at any point in time in history. But the point is, I think: appreciate this time because its the only one you've got and amazing things are happening all around you. 

I was fortunate enough to not only exist at the time of Game Six but to be present. One of the 47,000-strong citizens of Cardinal Nation, clad in red, hoarse by the fourth, literally standing in the stands for the duration of one of the greatest games in baseball history. Greater still because my team won, but among those talking heads, pundits and experts paid handsomely to talk and write about the game of baseball, it stands as one of the best games ever. 

I was there by happenstance. I didn't have tickets to the World Series. Baseball, while one of my passions, was barely on the radar in 2011. Oh I knew my Cardinals were vying for World Championship supremacy and had watched every inning. But over the preceding few months, I had also been watching my mom fade away-  a long, slow, painful death. 

She had been sick for awhile with a laundry list of ailments, and her time had finally come. She passed away early morning October 23rd, probably just after midnight. I wasn't there. I was out watching the game. 

It was a resounding 16-7 Game Three victory. Cards first baseman Albert Pujols singlehandedly destroyed the Rangers, clubbing three home runs among his five hits and a World Series record-setting 14 total bases. I was out with friends celebrating the victory. And mom was gone by the time I got back. 

The Rangers took the next two games, putting the Cardinals' proverbial backs against the wall by facing a three games to two deficit. I got a call from a good friend who knew me well. She knew I was devastated by mom's passing and also knew beer and baseball would be a much-welcomed respite from the crushing grief I was experiencing- at least for a few hours. She pulled some strings and got some sweet seats to the hottest game in town. We had no idea how hot a game it would turn out to be. 

Mom didn't love baseball as much as I do, that's a tall order. But she was always willing to discuss the game and the Cardinals . She would always get mad when they lost, assuming it was somehow a team deficiency and giving no quarter to the fact the other team was doing everything its power to win as well. A native of Germany, obviously she didn't grow up a baseball fan. But she recounted upon first moving to the States that she went to game in the then-new Busch Stadium in 1966 and instantly felt connected to the team, its fans and the city of St. Louis.  

We attended a few games in her final years. She was always asking questions and trying to figure out strategies. Not necessarily game strategies, like the right time to steal a base, but why the batter steps out of the box after every pitch to spit and adjust their batting gloves. It was evident that she wasn't there for love of the game but for love of her son.   

Game Six was a roller coaster. Five ties, six lead changes, over four and half hours of nail-biting drama. Dizzying highs were followed by crushing lows. I remember being physically and emotionally exhausted after hometown boy David Freese sent a Mark Lowe fastball deep into the St. Louis night for a walk-off win. 

My head hurt from screaming for 11 innings. My buzz was wearing off since they quit selling beer after the eighth inning and every subsequent inning seemed to last a half hour. None of those could dampen the sheer joy of what I'd just witnessed. Even though a deciding Game Seven was still to come, Cardinal Nation knew it was just a formality. 

While not exactly a formality, the Cardinals handled a shell-shocked Rangers squad in Game Seven by a score of 6 - 2. I watched the final out on that Friday night in mom's house, surrounded by family, texting with friends and celebrating the occasion. It was kind of anti-climactic. Saturday morning was mom's memorial. 

I feel bad about not being by her side as she drew her last breath. But I know she would have wanted me to be out having fun and living my life. She was selfless like that. Like only a mom can be. My only regret is that she would never get to meet the wonderful woman that would become my wife, Michelle. She reminds me a lot of my mom; whip smart, independent, kind, nurturing and supportive. I met her just three weeks after mom passed, and who knows, maybe she had something to do with it. I like to think so.