“The one constant through all the years…has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of [the] past… It reminds us of all that once was good and that could be again.”
− Terence Mann, “Field of Dreams”
I don’t know much about baseball. But I do love the game. I also have a deep-seeded hatred for it.
My father loved the Yankees. I remember him vividly lying on my parent’s bed, leaning casually on one arm, watching the games with quiet delight, completely at peace, if only temporarily, from the rest of his worldly pressures. It was my father who took me to my first baseball game at Yankee Stadium. I still remember the awe I felt as I contemplated the field’s grandness for the first time. It was larger than life, and I felt tiny in its wake, but like any piece of a jigsaw puzzle, I knew even then that somehow I belonged to baseball and baseball to me.
In the tradition of my father, my brother began playing tee-ball when he was five. That spring, and every spring after, my father would toss a baseball ball with my brother on our front lawn. A neighbor with her baby daughter in the stroller would frequently wave as they passed by on their daily walks, the baby laughing giddily as she watched the father and son team busy at play.
My father continued to watch his son with pride each spring as a new Little League season began. He would come to the games, cheering from the bleachers as he proudly watched his son play, the son who was named after his own father, my grandfather, who died years before his time, but was still old enough to see his son grow into a man.
When my brother was 10, my father died, and my brother’s fan club decreased by one. Attending Little League games with only my mother transformed those unremarkable occasions of which happy childhoods are made to remembrances of profound sadness. Every other kid on the team had their dad there to cheer for him, to run on to the field and help with his swing, and to go out for ice cream afterward to celebrate a big win. That same spring, our little neighbor, out for one of her walks, passed by our house and looked up at her mother longingly, questioning, who would now play catch with my brother. It was after that season my brother stopped playing baseball. Baseball had been stilled, if not stolen, from my childhood, and I was glad to see it gone, the pain of its altered state unbearable.
A few years later, baseball re-entered my life when I returned to Yankee Stadium with my boyfriend, the man who would become my husband. My ex-husband, like my father, is a Yankees fan, and it was he that reacquainted me with the familiar and comforting sounds of the game. Over the next 24 years, we attended games, first as a couple, and then later as a family with our children. Following our separation, my ex-husband began taking the children to games on his own. I was no longer invited, now a mere spectator to my former life. Baseball was, again, quieted from my world.
When my son turned eight last March, he, like his father and grandfather before him, began playing Little League. Doing so is a notable rite of passage for any kid, and a milestone worthy of celebration. Yet, there I found myself, again, sitting at a game watching a small, innocent boy play baseball without his father to cheer him on, but this time not because of death, but because of divorce; a consequence of choice, not of Fate.
It was during this season, the season of my divorce, that I failed my son.
Because my children’s father lives and works 8,000 miles away and, as a consequence, attended only one of his games, I felt the pressures of single parenting more than ever. I was overwhelmed and sad, unable to focus. Yes, I was there physically as I sat behind third base. But I didn’t cheer. I stared straight at the games, but I didn’t watch. My thoughts were elsewhere, anywhere else, rather than on the reality that, there I was, alone, no husband, no father for my children to share in their day-to-day lives, my family seemingly beyond repair.
As my son’s team began to win game after game, my eyes began to flutter and I was slowly lured from my slumber. The championship game was a nail-biter, a scene straight out of a feel-good movie. There stood the parents on pins and needles, hands clutched to the chain-linked fence in anticipation, cheering on the team. Parents exchanged hugs and words of congratulations with one another, as each and every child contributed in his and her own right to the win that eventually came on that beautiful sunny morning.
But it was on that day I won, too. Although I wasn’t yet aware, it was to be the day when I would reclaim my family, my team, now with me as its head coach.
After the game, my son stood with his team for pictures and collected his yearbook. But I was saddened at how unexcited and withdrawn he looked. This was not a child whose team had just won a championship game. Family Day was to immediately follow, a celebration for every team in the league to partake. But my son only wanted to go home, and pleaded more and more fervently with me to leave, as I even more vehemently urged him to stay.
As we headed to the parking lot, amidst the many happy families heading toward us, I once again felt defeated by divorce. But I knew that letting my son dictate the course of that day could potentially impact the course of his life. This was a day to be remembered, savored, a day to be recognized for hard work, achievement and comradery, not a day to wallow alone in self-pity. So, with one quick call to a friend, she and I coaxed my son back to the field and he stayed for a few hours, happily eating and socializing with neighbors and friends, young and old. It was on this day that I showed him baseball is not just a game. It’s happiness. It’s family. It’s home.
In a few short weeks, baseball season will again be upon us. The past year has been long, and I have been working hard at building my life anew. In so many ways I know that my children’s perceptions turn on my own. But I am confident that as I find my happiness, so will they. Today, I’m proud to say that my head is back in the game.
Baseball has indubitably marked the innings of my life. But it’s not the bottom of the ninth just yet. And this team still has a lot of playing left to do.
How are you keeping yourself and your family strong following the end of your marriage?