Today is the fifteenth anniversary of two pretty important events in my life: on August 12, 1994, Major League Baseball players went on strike and my grandfather died.
I lived down the street from Grammy and Gramps from the day I was born to the days they passed away, but we were never close. Consequently, I don’t have many firm memories of either – Grammy loved professional wrestling and always, always, ALWAYS gave me cookies when I visited; that’s about as concrete as it gets – but much of what I can recall about Gramps revolves around baseball.
One thing in particular is a memory without sound, a silent film that plays only in my head and only when I let it: my grandfather, perched on his stool in the kitchen of their little house on Central Road, listening to his beloved Red Sox on the radio. I never saw him watch a game – only listen. He loved the modern game in a very old-school way.
It was always fitting to me that Gramps died on the day the players walked out, because he loved the game dearly. Not long after, in an assignment for school, I imagined him sitting up in heaven, lamenting the greed of everyone involved with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig (I was young and naive at the time and didn’t realize that Ruth loved money as much as the next guy and would’ve been right there with his fellow players had there been strikes in his day; I also somehow missed the irony of him talking baseball with a couple of Yankees). I’m sure he’s still there today, worrying over steroids and other scandalous issues.
My mother tells me that before Gramps died following a lengthy battle with lung cancer, I told him that I was going to hit a homerun for him someday. I was in high school by this time, the glory days of small town Little League falling further and further into the distance, and I had no right to make such a boastful comment. The words were, in fact, empty, no doubt a meager attempt to lend some comfort to a dying man’s last days, to let him know that some good would happen in the world he was leaving behind.
As it is, I forgot all about the promise, until the day I actually did hit a homerun, in the last game I ever played, in the last time I ever came to bat, and my mother reminded me of the words I had said. (Or at least what she remembered I had said.) I responded by finding a ball – not the original ball, mind you, just a replacement – writing the game info on the side, and leaving it at his grave site.
I lost baseball for awhile, but got it back thanks to the exploits of guys named Ripken, McGwire, Sosa, Pedro, and Ortiz. Our family lost Gramps for awhile, but got him back when my nephew was born and my sister decided her kids should call her father the same thing we had called his father. I resisted that at first – there was only one Gramps and it wasn’t right to call anyone else by that name – but it wasn’t long before I relented. As the years have passed, it has become more and more clear that my father isn’t really my father anymore – he has, with the addition of more and more grandchildren, seven now in total, become Gramps.
Fifteen years after the worst August 12 I could ever imagine, we have recovered. Once again, our family has baseball. Once again, we have Gramps. Life, as they say, is good.