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Point of View: ‘All We Played for Was Love’

Wed, 09/21/2022 - 12:00

Autumn has its music too, Keats said, though it’s not all that melancholic at the moment to my mind because, with 11 high school teams to cover, I must be nimble.

“You’re a fixture,” someone told me the other day. Like a sconce? I thought, but I knew she meant it in a good way. It reminded me of what Ellis Kinder, the great Red Sox pitcher, said to his wife near the end of his life, after predicting his and his teammates’ successors in the Major Leagues would make millions of dollars: “All we played for, Mama, was love.”

“Just like you,” my wife said (with a smile, I’m happy to say) after I’d read that excerpt to her from David Halberstam’s “The Summer of ’49,” which she had left out on the kitchen table, and which I had picked up, doubting that she, though the most avid of avid readers, would see it through to the finish.

Well, as far as my vocation goes, I’ve made my bed and I’m lying in it — supremely happy except for the fact that because of a sagging mattress my back’s been aching lately. When I told Rob Balnis of East End Physical Therapy about it, he asked how long we’d had the mattress. “About 20 years,” I said. “Get a new one, or a thick piece of plywood to put under it,” he said while showing me a stretch I could do that might ameliorate the problem.

It was baseball, baseball, baseball in the 1940s, in the days before television and video games and iPhones transfixed everyone, David Halberstam said, and it certainly was so in my case, a 9-year-old in the summer he wrote about, though I was a fan of the Dodgers and, following my parents’ divorce and my removal to Pittsburgh, of the Pirates rather than of the Yankees or Red Sox.

My indifference to material things can be traced, I think, to the fact that, after having been bequeathed the signed photos of all the 1948 Brooklyn Dodgers, I lost them. All those baseball cards that are worth so much now? We, totally oblivious, flipped them up against walls, and of course in the process ruined them. Later in life, when Mary, with whom I’d begun going out, took pity on my penury and gave me a used yellow Ford LTD, I told her it was “too grand.”

“Exactly,” she said.

The Pirates were awful in the early ‘50s, though it made no difference because every now and then Ralph Kiner would hit a home run. “Raise the window, Aunt Minnie!” Rosey Rowswell would say. My dad — cigar smoke still reminds me of walking with him to the ballpark — had front-row box seats just behind first base, the best seats in the house for the worst team in baseball. It doesn’t get much better than that.

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