Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Say It Ain't So, Joe!

“Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise, they won’t come to yours.”
-Yogi Berra

Dear Yogi,
I've thought about you, on and off over the past few years. I’ve wondered how you were. I’d reread the bio on your website because it was comforting to know that you were still on this earth.

Until today.
Everyone always managed a good chuckle at your famous quotes and they get thrown around the internet every so often. You were always so gracious when people poked fun at you for the crazy things you said.
Except I never thought they were crazy; they made perfect sense to me.
I got you, Yogi.
I always knew what you meant.
I was a huge baseball fan as a kid and because I grew up in N.Y, that made you a part of my childhood memories. I loved the Mets AND the Yankees.  They were my teams and part of my city.  I didn't understand rooting against either.  Maybe it was because I did not grow up during the days of the cross town rivalries and subway series of the Yankees vs. the Dodgers or the Giants.  I can’t really speak to that, but, dear Yogi, that doesn’t really matter.  I’ve moved away from NY, and been gone a long time.  I’ve drifted away from baseball too, although deep down I still love the game.  Baseball is part of me.  It’s part of this country in many ways and I know that as a WWII veteran, as a man who faced the guns and blood on the beaches of Normandy, you knew that too.
You knew what was important.
Then you came home and found yourself playing baseball. I can’t imagine how much easier it must have been to stand at the plate against a Bob Feller fastball, compared to Normandy.  Anything you did after that must have been a joy by comparison.
And so it was for you, because it showed. We could see it.
Everything you did in baseball, was done with gratitude.

You were a real screwball but you loved the game, and you played it well.  But there was more to it.  It was as though, every time you stepped up the plate, or caught the ball, you were amazed that you were able to make your living doing something you loved.  It showed.  Your joy and wonder, yes, wonder is the right word, was ever present. Every time you stepped on the field, to hit, to catch, to coach or manage, your sense of wonder was palpable. Everyone could see it and feel it.  That’s what made you special.
You loved the fans, and they loved you back.  You acted the way most of us would like to think we would act, if we suddenly found ourselves in your place, with your special gifts. You were not the slick, handsome celebrity-type, like Joe DiMaggio. He was a great Yankee, and everyone admired him, but you Yogi, were beloved. Your down to earth manner, humility and sense of humor endeared you to everyone, including your rivals.
We saw ourselves in you, Yogi.  
You never disappointed us.
Baseball is full of metaphors for life and they are so much a part of our language that most people probably do not realize just how pervasive, how embedded in our thought processes, “baseball speak” is.  Every time we “swing for the fences”, or ask for a “ballpark figure”, because we want to make sure we have “all our bases covered”, or we pray never to get “thrown a curve” because” there’s two strikes against us”, that’s baseball talk.

We know we have succeeded in life when we are “ready for the majors” or someone calls us a “heavy hitter”.  When we want to “touch base” with someone because we haven’t heard from them in a while, or we decide that some crazy idea came from “out of left field”, we are speaking your language.
You taught us many things.  You were notorious for being a "bad ball" hitter. You always said, "If you could see it, you could hit it".
It’s true, that in baseball, as well as life, you don't always get the perfect pitch to hit.
Swing anyway!
Always go down swinging and never watch the 3rd strike go by.
To be honest, in some crazy way, I never thought you would or could die.  Strange I suppose, but true.  Perhaps I do not want the wonder of it all to disappear.  It’s been hard for me to watch baseball lately.  The game has changed. Not entirely, but change is always inevitable and baseball fans are known for their reluctance to evolve.
I’m proof of that.
It’s been over 40 years, and I’m still bitching about the designated hitter.  Maybe I need to let that go.  I was sad when they built a new Yankee Stadium and I cried when they tore the old one down, but life is constant change and it’s all happened before.  
Maybe I’m the one that needs to make a few adjustments.
I need a reason to watch baseball again.
I’ve been looking for one.  Every once in awhile I flip on a game.  I don’t even know who the players are anymore.  I used to collect all the baseball cards. I used to know everyone’s batting average, but now, I don’t even know their names. Doesn’t matter really.  The moment the pitcher begins their windup, I still hold my breath.  It’s one of the greatest dramatic moments in sports, and it happens over and over, every inning of every game.
After the shock and horror of 9/11 we looked to baseball as a way to heal.   We knew we were going to survive as a nation because we started to play ball, once again.  Maybe I’m being foolish. It’s only a game. But it’s more than that, isn’t it?
Just a few short weeks after the attacks,when President Bush threw out the first pitch at the first World Series game in Yankee stadium, I’d like to think that for that one moment in time, that we as a nation, united in our emotions-set politics aside, and began to recover.
Why does baseball have such a dramatic impact on us?
I can’t speak for everyone, but it always brings tears to my eyes whenever I hear the National Anthem before a game. No one will ever convince me that the words “play ball” are not officially the last two words of that song. It doesn’t matter who plays or sings it, I still cry, because you see Yogi, it’s all jumbled together for me, baseball and childhood and America and you, and I don’t want to lose any of it.
“It ain’t over til it’s over,” you said. You were right.  

It never really is.
You knocked this life out of the park Yogi; I hope your game goes well into extra innings.
Maybe baseball still has something to teach me. Perhaps that’s the excuse I need to start watching again.
I suppose it’s time I got out of the on deck circle and stepped up to the plate.


Judy Greenwald said...

Well said about a great Yankee and a great all-around guy!

Kristin Prentiss Ott said...

Great tribute!

Packer said...

Really really good, better than the local write ups . At Montclair State University the Yogi Berra Museum is out next to the ball field. The Jackals play there, a semi pro team in a semi pro league. There is nothing better than a 5 dollar seat and a summer nights game.