One of the unforeseen delights of working on a book about baseball is that I was able to indulge in my childhood.
Growing up in the San Francisco’s East Bay Area during the 1980s, I was fortunate to have Major League Baseball’s best and most exciting team in my backyard, the Oakland A’s. Led by First baseman Mark McGwire (years before he was associated with steroids), outfielders Jose Canseco (Canseco was already suspect) and Ricky Henderson, and pitchers Dennis Eckersley and Dave Stewart, the A’s were stacked at nearly every position. And for those players who weren’t household names, such as the late outfielder Dave Henderson or second baseman Mike Gallego, they even carried a God-like status. When the A’s swept the San Francisco Giants in the 1989 “Battle of the Bay” World Series, I was nine years old, the perfect age to have a full understanding of the game while still viewing the players as my heroes.
Although the research I conducted for Under One Roof: The Yankees, the Cardinals, and a Doctor’s Battle to Integrate Spring Training focused on an earlier era, there was still plenty of opportunity to re-experience the joy baseball brought during my youth. Yet, there was a tragic irony to it all. During this period, my mother was diagnosed with ALS, the terminal neurological disease whose best-known victim was, sadly a baseball player, the New York Yankee legend, Lou Gehrig.
This past January marked the one-year anniversary of my mother’s death.
January 8, 2015
When my phone rang at 6:55 a.m., I already knew who it was without looking at it.
“Hi Dad,” I answered it, standing in my kitchen.
“Adam,” he sighed. He skipped the familiar salutations and instead there was a moment of silence before he followed up with the two words I had dreaded but were inevitable: “Mom died.”
For three and half years since her diagnosis, I knew my mother’s time on earth was limited and limiting.
The symptoms may vary, but the outcome of ALS was always the same. Week by week, my mother’s muscles shut down—it began in her foot, then her leg, and then spread to her other leg, and eventually moved upwards until she could no longer breathe. Throughout her ordeal, my mom remained upbeat, especially when she spent time with family. But as she got closer to the end of her life, it was harder to disguise her feelings.
“Okay,” was all I could muster for my dad.
I hung up the phone and froze. I was supposed to get ready for work. My wife and two sons were on their way out the door, ready to start their day. The boys jumped around in the family room when my wife walked into the kitchen and saw me huddled over the countertop.
“Adam?” she said.
I walked over to her and, without saying a word, she knew my mom had died.
After we embraced, I had to get a grip on myself. I realized that before I could be supportive of my dad and sisters, I need to decompress.
Inexplicably, I turned on the TV and began watching segment eight of Ken Burns’ nine-part award-winning documentary series “Baseball.” Episode eight focused on the 1960s, the very era I was writing about in my forthcoming book, Under One Roof.
Still numb from the news of my mom’s death, I began thinking what an integral role she had played in my life. At one point, when she noticed that I wasn’t reading much, she purchased packs of baseball cards and cut a deal with me. I could have the cards, if I read aloud every word on each of them.
Hardly a baseball fan, but she knew how much I enjoyed the sport, and she went out of her way to connect with me keeping abreast of the lastest news: which players were traded, did the A’s win the previous night, and who was Jose Canseco’s latest girlfriend (Madonna, amongst them).
Until my mother’s funeral the following week, I was in a perpetual daze, walking around in a state of disbelief. But for those two hours I watched Ken Burns’ “Baseball,” I was able to compartmentalize my feelings and travel back to an age of innocence, when life consisted of being nine years old, baseball was my passion, and my mom was beside me.
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