Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Journey - Chapter 14

Masahiro Tanaka had the most remarkable season ever witnessed in major league baseball. Pitching for the Tohoku Rakutun Golden Eagles, his 2013 regular season record was 24 wins without a loss and a microscopic ERA of 1.27. He was the Next One. Flexing their financial muscle, and the allure of their franchise, the Yankees signed Tanaka to a long term contract beginning in 2014.

The initial results were impossibly impressive. He began with six victories, unsullied by human expectations. Then reality began to creep in, first slowly and then on July 9, 2014 with more force. On that day, after a bad outing, he went on the disabled list with elbow inflammation. Never a pitcher's friend.

While he returned to the mound before the season's end, the picture that emerged was much different, much less other worldly. In his final start, he lasted less than two innings and had allowed seven runs to cross the plate. Against the Red Sox, of course.

And so, 2015 was, for him and for the team, full of questions. While Tanaka avoided the surgeon's knife, something was not right. By the middle of August his record stood at 9 wins and 11 losses, his ERA was a bloated 4.15. On August 26, 2015 after the Yanks finished another desultory home stand, they announced that their star pitcher was being shut down for the rest of the year.

After taking some extensive ribbing from my family on my return from the road over my "near death" experience in Cleveland, I took some time to study the remaining schedule for the season and decided to make another fundamental shift in my approach to my undertaking. I would be inviting my children to join me on my next road trip.

Maybe it was a response to being alone and sick in a "foreign" world. Maybe it was the realization that this was not an individual journey but a collective one that involved everyone who was part of my universe. Maybe it was just my comprehending that this undertaking was of little value if I couldn't share it, not abstractly, but in its everyday detail, with the people who had been with me nearly every step of  the last three decades on my life long baseball trek.

There were only three road trips remaining as of August 28. The first would take me to Atlanta and then, where everything somehow seems to lead, to Boston.

My daughter's travels earlier that year had been to Taiwan and Hong Kong. She had a wondrous adventure, filled with sights and sounds that would remain with her forever. These were places that were unique, astounding, overwhelming and the pictures she took and the stories she told were remarkable. She spent several days in youth hostels in Hong Kong, stayed at the home of strangers who opened their doors to her and her friend in Taipei. She met people who were bright, charming and remarkably hospitable. At the conclusion of her journey, she was more anxious than ever to replenish her pockets and continue her exploration.

Atlanta and Boston should have been a tremendous let down by contrast. She had attended school outside of Boston during college and so was intimately familiar with that area. For her birthday in 2004, during her second year in college, I had promised to try to get her tickets to a Yankee - Red Sox playoff game. I failed, although I was able to obtain seats for her to a game between Oakland and the Sox in that magical, terrible post-season year. The chasm between that experience and this was more than enormous.

Yet, both she and my son seemed genuinely excited about spending time together, and with me, as part of a new and different exploration. It was with an overwhelming amount of joy that I found myself settling into my seat at both Turner Field and Fenway Park that last weekend of August and the first two days of September. Spending those evenings, those days in the company of my children made the events of the last several months fall into much clearer perspective. It had all been leading to this moment in time.

Each of the games on that trip have already faded from my mind. In truth, there was little that could have transpired on the field that would have taken my focus away from those to whom I gave my undivided attention. The hours sitting in the stands, the days exploring parts of the towns together, even those areas that my daughter knew so well, Boston Commons, Faneuil Hall, the Museum of Fine Arts, all of it thrilled me. We took an excursion to visit her college, the same college I had attended more than 40 years before. My son always reminded me that my memory was so bad that I was convinced that I had resided in the admission offices for the first two years of my college career.

Upon our return home, I received beautiful e-mails from both of my children, thanking me for allowing them to take part on my crazy trip to nowhere. My son wrote that a road trip each season was now an essential part of the fabric of our family and that he was anxiously awaiting the 2016 schedule so he could tell me where we would next be headed. My daughter wrote of feeling like daddy's little girl once more, and that it had been such a treat for her to be able to spend an uninterrupted week with her brother, far from the obligations and distractions of everyday life.

This was a trip in which baseball was merely an asterisk. This, it turned out, was what I had been searching for since I went through the turnstile on opening day of 2015. This was perfect.

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