Had you told me five years ago that my mom would become a baseball junkie, I’d have assumed that you confused her with someone else. My growing-up years heard her disparage professional sports — all sports — as pointless wastes of effort and money; glorification of an unsustainable lifestyle riddled with the seediest of human tendencies.
You can perhaps understand my surprise when, on one of my visits home this spring, I found the San Francisco Giants playing at full volume on the family room TV. Even more shocking was when Mom started spouting off facts about players: that Brian Wilson (who?), the Giants’ closer (their what?), had had Tommy John surgery (doesn’t Tommy have to have his own surgery?) and would be out the rest of the season.
I assumed she was feigning an interest so she would have something to share with my brother, whose brain seems to have unlimited space for sports knowledge. But as the season went on, she started watching games even when he wasn’t home. She started explaining terms like “double play” to me. And then, somehow, for her birthday I got her tickets to the Giants at the Cubs. I’m still not entirely sure how THAT happened! (I did have to explain to her why I wasn’t about to hold a sign that said, “Gamer Babes from Fresno,” on it.)
However, I was all about the neon orange French tips.
I was terrified that as Giants fans, she and I were going to get booed out of Wrigley Field. Not only did we survive our first major-league baseball game (and the greasy pizza that accompanied), but we enjoyed it so much that we went again when I traveled to San Francisco for a journalism conference. I even subscribed to MLB.tv so I could tune into the games on my laptop and text my family about it while it was happening. It was a very unexpected, but very powerful way to feel close.
Passive engagement with a sport is one thing. But I’ve always joked that I throw like a girl. And ever since I was little, I’d duck whenever something came flying at me. Neither tendency lent itself to the pursuit of athletics. So a couple of days ago, when Mom suggested that I go out with Dad and Carson and hit the ball around, I stared at her. Was this the same woman who listened empathetically about my failed attempts to play volleyball?
Grumpily, I got up and shuffled outside, intending to watch for a few minutes before wandering off to play with my horse. Somehow, I found myself standing with an aluminum bat in my hands, swinging at a ball that hit me in the shin.
“Hold it with your knuckles lined up,” Carson told me.
“You’re swinging high,” observed Dad.
“This is why she was on the equestrian team,” said Mom.
I hit the next ball. And the next one. And the next. It was the first time I’ve hit a baseball in my life. I hit until my shoulder hurt. Then I played catcher while my brother hit, which mostly involved running after balls that the rosemary hedge caught and throwing them back to Dad. And by “throwing,” I mean, “launching them into the air only to fall several feet short of his glove and cause everyone in front of me to run in panic.”
Carson told me not to throw with my wrist so much.
I tried it. It worked. Really? All this time and that was the big trick?!
One of the things I’ve come to appreciate about baseball is the dedication between teams and fans. SF’s slogan is, “Together, we’re Giant.”
My parents always told us they were our biggest fans. Getting older has taught me that I’m just as big a fan of theirs, and that makes us all a better team.