Friday, May 3, 2013

Stealing Home

Last night I went to see "42". The movie about Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in baseball. Major League Baseball has declared April 15th Jackie Robinson Day. 66 years after his debut. His number has been retired too. Nobody but Jackie, can wear that number again except on Jackie Robinson Day when EVERY player wears 42. Its' too heavy for a single player. The abuse, name calling, constant belittling, death threats, roaring boos, fastballs to the skull.....42 lived that. I watched the movie knowing I didn't have that kind of courage, strength or elegance to endure what he did. Not many of us do. He was chosen to blaze a trail that transcended baseball. With the weight of a society's scorn on his shoulders, he stole home.
Jackie was known for his quickness. Stealing 2nd or 3rd base is one thing, I mean, the pitcher likely has his back turned to the runner. The pitcher has to respond, rotate and release the ball which will buy the runner a few seconds. Home-plate is another situation. Everyone is looking at steal it, the player has to have good instincts. Jackie did it 11 times in his career.

My uncle and Jackie Robinson crossed paths in 1951 when they both played for the Brooklyn Dodgers.  I've always been proud of this. Feeling I was just one degree of separation from Jackie. In 1955 when Jackie was 36 and my uncle was 26 the Dodgers finally won the World Series The Brooklyn Bums did it! I have this picture and have always been happy to point out that my uncle is standing next to Jackie Robinson.

The 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers beat the Yankees to win the World Series. My uncle was back up catcher to Roy Campanella. Jackie played 3rd Base that year.
My uncles' 50th Anniversary card (1955 Brooklyn Dodgers)
Jackie Robinson's 50th Anniversary card (1955 Brooklyn Dodgers)
The allegorical imagery of Jackie taking the field, emerging from the darkness into the light. The courageous steps into truth. A shining example of bravery which then makes us all examine our belief's. It's Plato's Allegory of the Cave. We grow comfortable in the "cave" looking at shadows on the wall. Believing the shadows to be real, truth, our reality. As we venture (or maybe we are coaxed) out of the cave into the light, we see for the first time what is real. That light (TRUTH) can be painful, it can hurt our eyes at first making us yearn to return to the cave; the shadows, the comfort, the old beliefs. Change, rites of passage; painful yet necessary. One must turn toward the truth taking symbolic steps into the light in order to grow. Jackie took us all on that truth journey. One man's impact on us all.  "42"  is that kind of ride. Some people's lives were meant to be on the big screen so we can affirm their value.

Jackie's loneliness must have been immense. I am an only child whose father died before I could remember him. Loneliness has been my companion too. I have felt left out and misunderstood and with those feelings I join the ranks of the human race. I think when Elvis sang "Are You Lonesome Tonight" he was terribly lonely which is why that song is so powerful. Me and Elvis have nothing on Jackie. The lonely maverick changed society...he just happened to be a really good baseball player.

Once he retired from baseball he tirelessly worked and fund raised for civil rights issues and leaders. Equality was his destiny. He was certain of it. He showed us how to be better, walked us out of the cave using baseball as a catalyst. My 11 year old son has grown up with integration. When he saw the movie I noticed a reversal. He was as shocked at the treatment of Jackie as the whites were at seeing Jackie take the field in 1947.  Three generations later... it worked.

 His grave stone reads, "A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives". True.

That got me thinking about the impact I have in my small world and how grateful I am to the brave who have gone before me.

"Stealing Home: The Jackie Robinson Story" is a available on amazon.

1 comment:

  1. Leigh Ann, your posts here have given me a lot to think about and be grateful for. Like you, I lost my father when I was almost too young to remember him, and have spent the ensuing years - 55 of them already, as I am now 60 - trying to reconnect with him as best I can in order to heal the gaping wound his disappearance carved in the soul of a six-year-old girl. But you and I have an even more profound connection via your uncle Rube, who was a pitching coach for the Mets when I started umpiring in 1981. Four years later, I landed an umpiring gig at the Mets fantasy camp where your uncle was a coach, and he introduced me to a player who later became my fiancé (albeit a very short-lived one.) Rube was a gentleman in every sense of the word, and I have many fond memories of him as well as a priceless photo that I cherish, of me sitting between him and Tom Seaver in the dugout at Port St. Lucie. I remember your uncle's voice very well; he had a low, gravelly southern drawl that totally enchanted me the first time I heard it. If your dad's voice was anything like your uncle's, it will make your heart swell with happiness if you ever get to hear it. I have a good friend named Moe Resner who is kind of a repository of information about the Cubs, and I'll ask him if he can give you any leads about finding a recording of Verlon's voice. Best of luck to you in your quest, and keep in mind that in your case especially, it's not the destination that matters, it's the journey. And thank you for the wonderfully evocative writing about your search - joining you in that journey is an epic and soul-stirring experience.