It is BASEBALL in OCTOBER and here in Cleveland, we are ready!
The excitement is building and the superstitious rituals that often exist with sports have begun. You know, sitting in the right spot, wearing a certain outfit, eating certain foods or chanting phrases. Apparently, I too, have developed my own superstitious ritual.
Last year, at the age of 105yo and just before the playoffs began, I lost my grandmother and Cleveland lost its oldest and most cherished fan, Nana.
Roger Angell, a writer for the New Yorker magazine wrote, ”Within the ball park, time moves differently, marked by no clock except the events of the game. This is the unique, unchangeable feature of baseball and perhaps explains why this sport, for all the enormous changes it has undergone in the past decade or two, remains somehow rustic, unviolent and introspective. Baseball’s time is seamless and invisible, a bubble within which players move at exactly the same pace and rhythms as all their predecessors.”
When I read this piece, I finally understood. Baseball represents all that Nana cherished. Her sport fosters opportunities for all to find a way to be successful despite unique differences. A philosophy that guided her through her life. The baseball field is a place where success is not dictated by the time on a clock but by each and every play --much as her 105 years of living were played. She spent a lifetime living her life in the present focusing on each moment with only a casual glance at the clock.
Today, Nana’s place on the couch sits empty for another playoff series and her baseball hat and empty popcorn bowl serve as a reminder that her favorite time of the year will be starting once again, without her.
So, in keeping with the rituals that are woven into our baseball heritage, I will imagine her in the living room with me. I will see her smile, hear her laugh and her words “awhh shit” and “that’s my boys!” And I will, once again, repost a blog that I shared last year to keep her story and spirit alive.
Nana and October ball go together and sharing her passion and envisioning her as our #rallyangel has become my superstitious ritual for her tribe!! #nanastribe
This was a blog that I wrote last year and most of it still holds true this year-- except for the ending.
Post-season baseball brings a thrill like nothing else, according to my 104-year-old grandmother, Nana. The colored leaves and crisp evening air stirs up a baseball memory for her. She can still describe, with great detail, the picnic basket and the snacks she put in it for her road trip from Pennsylvania to Cleveland, Oh. The year was 1948. Together, squeezed in tight on benches in the Municipal Stadium with the other 86,000 in attendance, my grandparents watched as the Cleveland Indians won game 4 of the World Series.
The love of Cleveland Indians baseball runs in her veins. She reads and listens about the trades in the off season. Debates at the dinner table on issues surrounding the starting line-up, pitching match ups and who’s hot and who’s not. She defends every decision that Tito makes during a game—even when others may disagree. The debate can get heated. But when Nana shakes her crooked, arthritic finger the room concedes to her opinion.
On game day, she begins to plan and prepare her meal with a snack tray in front of the television. Perched in her lucky spot on the couch next to my husband, Jay—inches from one another, popcorn in their lap, the room begins to buzz. Unfortunately, her macular degeneration makes it hard for her to see the faces of the players with great clarity. To compensate, her private sports announcer, Jay begins the play by play with the added benefit of colorful commentating on questionable calls while she shoots back expletives that can be heard in the neighbor’s yard.
As the oldest and most devoted fan, she has been blessed to receive the VIP treatment from the Dolan family. Honored to throw out the first pitch when she turned 100 years old--but not just any pitch. Determined not to throw an “old lady” under handed toss, she practiced her wind up, over handed pitch for several weeks in the front yard. With the help of five generations who tossed the ball in a line from the pitcher’s mound to get her closer, she successful threw a high and tight heater to Zach McAllister.
When asked why baseball is so important to her, she answers, “For three hours, we get to watch America’s Game—the game that makes time slow to a pace where we can savor each moment. Other sporting games are fast paced and aggressive. I like the rhythm of baseball- the sharp, crisp and joyful movements. It is like being a child again—playing for the fun of the game,” she says. It is why Omar Vizquel is still her favorite player. “Watching him play was like watching a very talented kid have fun,” she laughed. To honor Nana, Omar signed a personal message on a jersey for her and for her 102nd birthday, she was invited on the field when he was inducted into the Cleveland Indians Hall of Fame.
Now, at the ripe age of 104 years old, she wears a shirt that says, “Just One Before I Die.” The owner’s laugh saying they want to blow up that picture and put it in the locker room to motivate the players. But Nana believes that there is something already very special about this group of young men. She thinks they are motivated as a team—no egos on this squad. She prays each night for the health of the players that this special group of “young men” will get to experience a World Series victory together as a team. For herself, she hangs on to the desire to live long enough to just once more feel the thrill of watching her beloved Cleveland Indians win the World Series. Then, with her raspy voice, she laughs hard and says, “After that I will be ready to die---I think."
At the age of 105, during game 15 of the 22 game winning streak for the Cleveland Indians, Nana took her last breath. The night before, in a faint whisper she asked us to tell “her boys” to win it all for her—she will be watching from a different seat.
Nana was laid out with her Carlos Santana signed bat, a bag of popcorn and with the song, Take Me Out to the Ball Game playing, she was led to her final place of rest.
Now, with each amazing play in the outfield or close call at the plate, we wonder if our Nana is taking matters into her own hands and offering an occasional assist to “her boys”—inching us closer to the final victory.
For those of us who loved her, October ball feels bitter sweet. We find ourselves sitting near her spot on the couch and trying to imagine her watching with us. We eat popcorn that she always insisted remain stocked in our cabinets --to share with anybody who might stop by to watch a game or two. We watch last year’s video clips of her interviews with Al Roker and the Cleveland news teams. But mostly, we reminisce about her sheer passion and love for her Cleveland Indians.
This year, we will be rooting for her team and actively looking for signs that our precious Nana is in fact watching from another seat.