Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Journey - Chapter 9

On July 8th, the Yankees reached the half way mark in the season, at least in games played. They were still staggering at 36 wins and 45 losses, although there had been some slight improvement over the past several weeks. Not only was Travis Wade continuing to perform reasonably well, hitting close to .290 and making remarkably few mistakes for a 20 year old rookie, but another youngster emerged as a once and future star. His name was Jacob Lindgren.

Drafted in the second round of the 2014 draft, small in stature at 5' 11", he possessed a huge arm. In a truncated first year in the minors he averaged almost two strikeouts an inning. He was a year older than Wade, and  Lindgren jumped to the majors when David Robertson went down with the season ending injury. As they say, when one door closes, another opens.

Betances moved seamlessly into the closer role, throwing well when called upon, which was too infrequent given the futility of this team. Lindgren quickly moved up the pecking order behind him, and by early June he settled into the penultimate reliever's position. It was fun to watch Wade and Lindgren perform and it gave at least the hint of hope that there was, lurking in the weeds, the possibility of a new generation of home grown talent.

The weekend of July 10 through 12 brought another series in Boston. This time I chose not to stay with my earlier hosts, not because of their Red Sox bias, but because I wanted to spend time with a friend who was ailing.

I  met my friend several years before and immediately found him enormously interesting. He was forever a person of mystery, never revealing much of his past, making us guess as to what secrets were hidden under lock and key. From the bits and pieces of information that emerged, I determined that he had been a musician of some renown. But beyond that I didn't know if he had been a member of the CIA (a common guess) a trader in commodities or a minor league third baseman in the Brooklyn Dodgers farm system. He was very bright, always interested in my story, my children, my issues. And his own health problems were shrouded, kept under cover, as he held onto his privacy fiercely.

He had not been well in recent months, and it seemed clear that there was something very serious going on. So, I asked, with much trepidation, if I might bunk with him and his wife for the weekend while I attended the three games at Fenway. To my great surprise, and with my deep gratitude, he said yes.

The series had virtually no importance to me. I rushed to the games at the last minute and rushed back the moment the last out had been called. I just wanted the opportunity to thank my friend in whatever way I could for his friendship.

Over the years he had collected many autographs of ballplayers, and of others in various entertainment industries. Many were signed on baseballs. In fact, on one occasion, when my wife and I went to listen to Rachel Maddow speak, we came away from that event with a ball she signed that I handed over to my friend. Most of those balls had long since been donated to support various causes. But some remained, and we spent a long time on Saturday morning looking at them, my friend recounting tales of the hows and whens that each particular signature had been garnered. He also showed me an amazing photograph signed by all the players on the 1948 Brooklyn Dodgers. It only aroused more suspicions about his baseball background.

Sunday brought more stories, more self deprecating humor on his part and more glances by me at his wonderful and devoted wife. I could see the toll that these past few months had taken on her and I worried for her well being. But she was a rock for him, always at his side and always there to lift his spirits. She was a remarkable human being in her own right.

It was with a heavy heart that I boarded the flight back to New York on Sunday night, as I wanted nothing more than to be able to linger a little while longer. I hoped my friend understood how much our time together that weekend had meant to me.

When I arrived home that evening, I discussed the events of the last few days with my wife.  I found myself in tears, overcome by the emotions I had tried to suppress when in the presence of my friend. Before heading to bed, I unpacked my bag. Hidden beneath my clothes was something that made me break down once more. It was the autographed photo of the 1948 Dodgers.

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