June 1996 - Willie, Mom & Me

Mom always took credit for me being a baseball nut. She watched Game 1 of the 1954 World Series, pitting the Cleveland Indians against the New York Giants, less than a month before I was born. It was in this game that Willie Mays made the fabulous play that will forever be known simply as The Catch. Ma swore that her excitement at Willie's heroics set off some kind of prenatal chemical reaction in my little brain, and at that moment, I was instilled with my love of baseball. A fan before birth. When I met Willie, I told him the story. He looked at me with a knowing eye, grinned, and said, "'54, hey?"

Ma was quite the baseball fan herself. She was captain of her high school softball team. The photo of the league captains shows her to be the most athletic-looking, and by far the cutest. She was a regular at my little league games, but I took her presence for granted. Dad frequently worked his second or third jobs during game times, letting a few extra bucks take priority. It was always a treat if he showed up. With Mom, it was routine. It took me a long time to appreciate her support.

She took my sister and me to lots of Denver Bears games as kids. I returned the favor in adulthood by taking her to several Major League parks. On her way back to Colorado from Europe one year, she landed in New York, so I flew down to meet her and spend the weekend. We did the typical tourist stuff: The Empire State Building, dinner at the Rainbow Room, a Broadway show. But we also made the Sunday double header at Shea. Priorities, y'know. Last August, we hit Coors Field in its inaugural season. The seats I bought over the phone were crummy, so unbeknownst to her, I made a big stink about it and got the tickets exchanged. She couldn't have been more thrilled sitting in the first row, next to the dugout. It was our last game together.

Late in September, I got a message that Mom was in the hospital. I immediately called her, and had a heart-to-heart. I told her I was heading to the Sox game. She told me not to worry, and to have a good time. Even though Boston clinched the Eastern Division that night, I left Fenway in the midst of the whooping and horseback riding, only partly because I didn't think winning the watered down division meant much. I just didn't feel like celebrating.

The next week, the Sox dragged their sorry 0-2 playoff tails into Fenway to face the Indians one more time. Mom had gone home, but was now back in the hospital. I talked to her right before I left for the game. We laughed and joked, and talked baseball. She told me to have a good time, and that she wished she was coming with me. The BoSox folded their tent, and their season was over. Somehow, I felt relief.

Mom started to fade. I hopped on a plane, and made it to the hospital the night the Indians opened against the Mariners, seeking their first World Series since 1954. Mom was not conscious. I was tempted to turn on the TV just to have baseball in the room. Not usually one to worry about what others think of me, I was afraid that if someone saw me watching a ball game with my mother on her deathbed, they just wouldn't understand. Instead, I sang to her. Take Me Out to the Ball Game.

Mom died peacefully the next morning. At the cemetery, I was asked to tell our Willie Mays story. Somehow, I was able to pull it off. People managed to smile. Mom and I went full circle -- October, Willie Mays, the Cleveland Indians. Baseball.

Whenever I told Mom I was going to a ball game, she always said she wished she could come with me, but thousands of miles made that difficult. She'd tell me she'd be there in spirit, sitting right next to me. And she was right. Even if I go to a game by myself, I'm never alone. Thanks, Mom.

©1996 - 2007 Douglas T. Dinsmoor


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