Monday, February 28, 2011

(DON'T WORRY DADDY) I'LL NEVER ROOT FOR THE YANKEES


This weekend Richard was watching the Yankees on TV in a pre-season game and, sadly, this weekend Duke Snider died.  As I mourn “my” boys of summer slipping away along w/ my youth, I thought I’d post a baseball memory piece I wrote over a decade ago for the New York Daily News sports section:

(DON’T WORRY DADDY)
I’LL NEVER ROOT FOR THE YANKEES

I came out of the womb thinking women were smarter than men.  There I was, ready to be born, when a male intern instructed my mother to cross her legs until her obstetrician could be found.  The result was an out-of-body experience for her and a difficult breech birth for me.

So, you think that’s where I got all my anger toward men?  Well, even I don’t hold a grudge that long!  Ever pragmatic, I chalked it up as one of life’s unsolved mysteries, until the night I was jolted awake by an epiphany – baseball.

In the dark I stared at the ceiling as an announcer’s voice echoed in my ears. “Sixth inning. 2-0 Brooklyn… Berra waits for Podres’ next pitch … CRACK … it’s a long, high fly ball to left … it’s going, going…. NO!  NO!  He caught it.  Sandy Amoros just made the catch of a lifetime!  What a heartbreak for the Yankees!  What a glorious day for the Dodgers!”

Childhood memories flashed on my bedroom ceiling like a home movie.  There I was, a little girl from Queens running home from school, my mother yelling out the window, “Brooklyn won!”  When my father came home from the game, we danced in the streets, my baby brother waving his Dodger pennant.  There was joy in Mudville, as my father’s heroes became mine: Robinson, Reese, Snider, Campanella, Hodges…

The following spring, joy deserted Mudville when I raced into my father’s arms crying.  “They” wouldn’t let me try out for Little League just because I was a girl!  I begged him to change the rules.  A liberated man for that era, he told me things would change and I could be or do anything I wanted… someday.  Then, as he watched the innocence fade from my eyes, replaced with the gestating look of a feminist, he held me closer and said, “Promise me you will always love baseball.”

One night sitting at the dinner table listening to my Brooklyn-Finnish grandparents and father loudly debate politics (a “Finnish” tradition in our house), I blurted out… “They can’t trade Jackie Robinson!”  Silence.  I turned to my father hoping he could fix it, but one look told me he couldn’t.  With my jaw set stubbornly I announced, “Men are so stupid!”  That belief hardened like cement the morning my heartbroken father read me the day’s headline:  “Bums Exit Brooklyn.”  To comfort him, I solemnly vowed I’d never root for the Yankees.

It suddenly dawned on me that throughout my young life, I’d always had one man who understood, who kept a balance between disappointment and hope… even if he couldn’t fix everything.  But I couldn’t hold on to that memory just as I couldn’t hold onto my father forever. 

I stood very still, dressed in my best Sunday clothes, my braids peeking out of my hand-knit bonnet.  My mother, wearing her black ‘dress’ coat, held my hand.  My brother, in his winter Sunday school suit, held her other hand.  My grandparents, bundled up in overcoats, sat on bridge chairs.  It was mid-March and the many bright floral arrangements stood in defiance against the bleak, half-frozen gravesite.  My brother left my mother’s side and placed his tiny hands squarely on the coffin. 

“Don’t worry daddy,” he whispered “we’ll never root for the Yankees.” (Finns are myopic people… probably because they come from too little sunshine and too much vodka, or maybe it’s just genetic.)

Without the Dodgers and without my father, summer and life would never be the same.  I took up tennis.

Years later when I met my writing partner, baseball re-entered my life.  He was wearing a Yankee cap.  I instantly became a devoted Met fan.  Despite the fact that he was a fanatic Yankee fan, we became partners, even got married and, like the Dodgers, deserted New York and moved to L.A.  Nobody’s perfect.

That first summer when the Mets came west, I found myself, the girl from Queens, sitting in Dodger Stadium talking to a Giants fan from the Bronx.  He dared me:  You wanna meet Roy Campanella or not?  Never able to refuse a challenge from a man, I agreed.  At the VIP level he turned on his Bronx charm and persuaded the security guard to let me through the cyclone fence.  As the gate closed behind me, he yelled, “Say, hey.”  Then, there he was looking frail, but beautiful.  Roy Campanella!  As he approached me in his wheelchair, I struggled to keep back the tears, remembering how devastated my father was after Campy’s career-ending accident.  Campy noticed a pin on my jacket.  “See you’re a Yankee fan,” he said. 

Horrified, I looked down and smiled.  I had thrown on my husband’s jacket.  “Never!” I told him and then showed him my vintage Brooklyn Dodger pin fastened securely to my tee shirt. 

“Ah, so you’re really a Dodger fan,” he continued.

I shook my head, “You broke my heart when you left Brooklyn.”

He nodded and asked, “But you still love baseball?”

I smiled again, as it struck me for the first time in years that I’ll always love baseball.  Now that Campy is gone, I treasure the fact that I got to tell him that.  I felt happy.  At one with the world.  Safe with the memories of my father, who taught me so many things in those few timeless summers.

Of course, I still believed women were smarter than men (Gil Hodges is still not in the Hall of Fame!).  But things were changing.  Girls can play in Little League and women were getting more respect.  My father knew they would… (He would have loved Hillary Rodham Clinton, three names and all)… And, at that moment, I realized why baseball made me a feminist.  Baseball introduced me to the inequities of the sexes, to prejudice, injustice and heartbreak.  How can you not love a game that did all that?

But I’ll still never root for the Yankees.


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