Baseball has been the backstop for some “best of times” as well as the worst. I grew up barely in Indiana in a rural community that couldn’t help but get swept up by the Big Red Machine in the mid-70’s. We bestowed the greatest honor we could think of on players like Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan — we named our cows after them. Reporting the score to my dad, as I met him with a cold RC cola at the end of a field row on a hot summer day, was just what we did. Thinking we were in trouble when he ran up the stairs after we were in bed, pounding on the top step and hollering for us to come down when all he wanted to do was share the moment of a big win. Knowing we were in trouble when, 40 years later, the hollering and pounding was not about a victory, but about something bigger.
As the mother of a player, I have spent a lot of time around baseball fields. Little league and travel teams and high school seasons followed by summer leagues and college showcases — all in the hopes of playing on. For 14 years and counting, I have loaded the car and the cooler and tried every concoction, under the sun and on the internet, to get white baseball pants white again. Somewhere on those fields in Middle-of-Nowhere, Indiana and in stadiums across the country, I nearly lost my son. But then, he found his way home, again, all for the love of the game.
The “season of our unraveling” was a year bookmarked and pockmarked by scenes played out around baseball diamonds. Funny, I can see why they call it that — a diamond — because the power of the game would either crush or harden us — either way we would never be the same. I say “us” because even though I wasn’t the athlete, what happened around home plate was a reflection of what was happening in our home. As a player, my son’s joy got sucked out by coaches, fans and a father whose actions flew in the face of decency in their desire to raise their own flag. As his mother, my breath was taken away watching him get used up by giving his all and taking a beating. But during this unholiest of seasons, a rain would come and give us a rest. Lightening would flash and send us for shelter. A delay, usually dreaded, would buy us the blessing of time — to recover and recharge just enough to go on. Another day. Another game. Until another season was in the books.
This photo was taken during one of those many rain delays in that season. I sat in my camp chair against the fence, holding the camera that was my constant companion. Waiting for the rain to pass, I noticed that the view of field was encapsulated within a single droplet of rainwater. The water blurred and distorted the image, just enough — removing the imperfections in the way that time or distance smooths over wounds. I knew, intellectually, that what I was seeing was just a small reflection of a bigger world skewed by the wonder of science. I knew, intuitively, that the big reflection was of a bigger problem that could not be washed away by rain and it was time I really saw it. The lens of time may turn a broken play or a broken winning streak into a curse but that same lens turns a broken child into a tragedy.
During that year, “cursed” was the lens I used to view my world as it fractured into pieces. But that glimpse of the smallest of hopes, tiny enough to fit inside a raindrop, was enough to shore up my faith. For another day. Another game. Another season of life. I count my victories differently than most — and at that time, simply being willing to show up was a win. Last night, watching the World Series, listening to the live feed on Facebook of the hollering of the crowd outside Wrigley field over the pounding of my heart, brought it all home.
The Cubs have shown us that showing up, day after day, even for 108 years, can lead to something. Watching them be willing to try and fail and then try and fail, again – in the quest to fly that big and final “W”? Well…it feels personal. And profound. And predictably satisfying. Because we are allowed to get frustrated waiting it out. We are allowed to want good things to happen. We are allowed to work for positive outcomes. We are allowed to stop expecting a curse to creep up and steal the basis for a moment joy.
17 minutes. After 9 innings of the 7th game with the score tied at 6’s, that’s how long the rain delay lasted. Time enough for the Cubs to recharge after the Indians had coming charging back. Time enough to renew their commitment to seeing this through. Time enough for “rewriting history”, as one player said. A single drop of rain, like a single tear, doesn’t contain the whole story just like a single “W” doesn’t define a team. But don’t try to tell a Cubs fan that. For today, anyway.