Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Journey - Chapter 3

My mom turned 97 on January 8, 2015. Most of her last decade had been lost to ever advancing dementia. Her interaction with this world was connected by a thread, and my visits with her consisted of a pantomime in which I pretended that she could hear and see me and that the words which occasionally came out of her mouth made sense. It was heart wrenching and seemed as if it would last forever.

If my back was bad, my mom's was many multiples worse. While her constitution seemed impenetrable, her achilles heel was her back. The pain, at some moments, was great and it would be the painkillers keeping my mom comfortable, that would be the most likely culprit in her demise. But for each battle, each turn for the worse, there was a corresponding minor miracle. She was still alive, and if not wholly intact, at least she was amazingly resilient.

As I returned from my time on the road, I made a visit to my mom's apartment in the early afternoon hours of April 24, 2015. Several days before, the discomfort had returned with a vengeance. She was all doped up, and completely out of touch when I arrived. Her caretaker told me it had been worse than before. If she didn't respond within the next few days, there was fear that she would just drift away. I kissed my mom's forehead and told her of the adventure on which I had embarked. I left out any mention of my own issues, for it seemed it would be ludicrous to do so. Even if she couldn't hear me, and understood nothing of what was being reported, she was still my mother. I squeezed her hand, and I think she squeezed back.

On June 16,1997 the two New York metropolitan teams met for the first time in a regular season game. It was a ticket as valuable as the World Series. There was a fervor and excitement that belied any particulars. It was at a moment when the Yankee engine was in full force, all the young talent resulting in the 1996 World Championship, the beginning of that memorable five year run. In contrast, the 1996 season had been yet another disaster for the Mets, as the losses piled up and their final record was a dismal 20 games below .500.

Throughout the years, the teams had continued to meet during the regular season and once in the post-season, in the 2000 World Series. I was at the game, sitting along the third base line, when Roger Clemens threw the shards of Mike Piazza's bat in his direction. But time and repetition had dulled the senses. As the crowd wandered into the Stadium for the first game of this year's version of the rivalry, it was hard to even imagine the level of intensity from that first encounter.

The innings moved along without much notice until I realized that it was the bottom of the 6th and the Yankees were still hitless. The 7th produced the same results as did the 8th. The one and only time I had been present at a no-no was on May 14, 1996. It was thrown by a pitcher at the tail end of a career that had started out with the promise of unimaginable greatness and then dissolved, largely due to a series of bad choices. The name of that pitcher was well known to Met fans: Doc Gooden.

I remember the stands literally swaying as the last out was recorded that night. The opponents were the Seattle Mariners, led by Ken Griffey Jr. and  a young phenom named Alex Rodriguez. It was an emotional experience, as Gooden was struggling at that point just to remain on a major league roster. It would prove to be his saving grace and allowed him to extend his dreams a little while longer.

Now it was Jacob DeGrom's chance at baseball immortality, at least for one day.

The colors in the crowd may have been evenly divided, but the noise generated by the Met contingent was overwhelming as the first Yankee went down on strikes to start the bottom of the ninth. Jacoby Ellsbury was next to arrive. On the second pitch, fooled by a slow curve, he stuck out his bat and hit a  dribbler down the third base line.  The no hitter was gone, and the last remaining shred of Yankee dignity was saved.

But, as this is baseball and momentum goes only as far as the next day's pitcher, the weekend belonged to the Yankees and they limped on to a return engagement with the Rays at 7 wins and l0 losses. It was April 26 and the middle three hitters in the lineup had exactly one home run among them. Murderer's Row it was clearly not.

My wife seemed to be doing just fine in my absence, thank you very much. The sad truth is that I am more hindrance than help to her, like the child she never bore but was saddled with for the rest of her days. She had been able to keep up with her portion of the workload in our office in my absence and had been freed of the other responsibilities that my inept presence demanded. In fact, she was probably looking at the calendar to see when my next road trip began. If she was happy to see me arrive, she was equally as happy when the door closed behind me.

The baseball gods suddenly cast their light upon the home team in the next series. Home runs came from everywhere, 28 runs were accumulated in 3 days, and after the last game in April the Yankees suddenly found themselves in equipoise, 10 up and 10 down, and the proud owners of a five game winning streak. May, the second road-trip, and the Red Sox, awaited.

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