Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Swinging Through the Change-Up

Verlon Walker, Don Kessinger and Ernie Banks (I think)
A few days ago I dreamed of him. We were sitting in a blue pick up truck drinking coffee. He was wearing a light brown hunting jacket with a dark brown corduroy collar. One hand on the wheel the other holding a Styrofoam cup. Steam rising. He was laughing---like in the picture above. It felt real. It was warm like flesh and breath. I woke up.

I closed my eyes tightly to put myself back in that truck, but it was gone. He was gone. The way dreams just whisk away once you realize they are dreams. Laying there replaying it in my head, it occurred to me that I had put flesh and breath there. Gathering up memories that have been graciously shared with me has made him real (as I have none of my own). Looking deeply into pictures, trying to be there too, essentially brought him to me. He isn't a flat idea anymore. He is real--and now I miss him.

The dream happened on Monday and on Wednesday night this happened.......

ESPN's Keith Olbermann did a story about me "Everything in Sports is Recorded" . He portrayed my "quest" with such beauty and emotion. Here I go with a baseball metaphor....It looked like a fastball until it slowed and dipped. I swung through the change-up. I didn't hit it. Instead it baffled me. A change-up delivered with precision and perfection. It left me breathless.Standing in my kitchen, thinking of the dream I had a few days earlier, my wonderful family and all the people who have given a damn about my quest. Thank you. I spent the next 24 hours in a state of blissful catatonic gratitude.

In baseball as in life, it's nice to know what's coming before it crosses the plate...right?  Preparedness increases a persons chance for success. I anticipate, prepare and execute. (See it-Read it-Hit it). Fastball-bring it, Curveball-I'm ready, Slider-seriously not fooled. I am a determined defiant stubborn dichotomy of softness and strength---just ask my husband. I stand at the plate taking my cuts in a frilly dress and inappropriate shoes.  Hell bent on doing it myself.

My weakness (every hitter/person has one) is the change-up. The element of surprise. My Baseball Love Story journey has been full of amazing curves, blazing fasts, enjoyable slides. I have had to ask for help which is not in my wheelhouse. I have had to be vulnerable when my tendency is to be guarded, glove over face. I have tried to control the entire effort in a managerial style (did I hear y'all laughing). Being surprised by a change up when I read fastball makes my insides tremble. I have had to talk, write, beg, wait, email, call and prove myself  throughout this journey. Olbermann just plucked my story out of obscurity shined a spotlight like only he could and delivered a beautiful change up. It was/is a game changer for me.

My Lesson Is This (because there is always a lesson)
Its the open heart, sweet dreams, unexpected kindness, and breathtaking surprises that help us grow-improve our swing (Oh, I am killing it with the baseball metaphor!)

And you thought baseball was boring. 

My dad met Frank Robinson in 1961. Here they are at Wrigley Field.
Verlon Walker & Frank Robinson 1961
I found this picture in a envelope in the bottom of a bag in a trunk under a bed. Like a buried treasure. A little surprise. Admitting to you now that I didn't know who #20 was.He looked to me like a young, smiling, fresh faced kid in stirrup socks. A guy my dad knew. Looking past the flat surface of the picture into the moment at the ground under foot, the imitating stance, corners of lips, folds in clothing, the fingers on the bat. Trying to evoke a sense memory. In that moment Frank Robinson didn't know what the future would bring, my father didn't know, I didn't know who Frank Robinson was...a floating moment. A convergence of time and space a split second before.........

I Googled him. IMPRESSIVE. The year that picture was taken (1961) Frank Robinson was voted National League MVP, hit 37 home runs and had a batting average of .323. In 1966 The Reds traded him to Baltimore saying he was "an old 30". Really?  It was a shocker (A change-up perhaps) for fans and players. I guess he showed the Reds. Having plenty of baseball left in him, he went on to win the World Series and be voted American League MVP--the only player to win that title in both leagues. Robinson (and this is my favorite thing I learned) would audaciously crowd the plate which means he got hit a lot or he was knocked down in an attempt by the pitcher to move him off the plate. He wouldn't waiver, instead he would stand back up and "lambast the next pitch" as he once told a reporter.  He had a 21 year baseball career and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1982.

I'm not comparing myself to Frank Robinson. This is where the metaphor ends. It's about being surprised, caught of guard, getting knocked down, and letting the journey sweep me away. I'm trying to be OK with that. Letting it unfold and reveal itself to me without planning, manipulating, or forcing an outcome.

Since the Olbermann story, I have had countless emails offering leads, words of encouragement, stories of grief and interview requests. I return all emails and follow up on every lead so please continue to send them. If you take the time to send me an email, I add your name to the ALERT list. Should I find a recording, I will let you know.

Here are a few leads I am currently following up on:
The Baseball Hall of Fame
Mesa Arizona- Spring Training Archives
WOR-Mets TV and Radio
Paris Illinois Lakers
The Detroit Institute of Arts
The Radio Broadcast Museum in Chicago
University of Georgia Media Archives

MLB.com is actively helping me.

Thank you for reading and following my story.

1 comment:

  1. My dear father has often mentioned to me that he want to school with both your father and his brother. The played baseball together on the High School team in Lenoir. He's in his early eighties now, and living in Lenoir after a career in the Army. You may want to contact him concerning some of his memories of your dad and uncle. His name is James Pate and you can probably find his telephone information in the white pages. Best wishes on your quest.