By Camille Minichino
My friends know me as a middle-aged scientist whose interests
run from Italian opera to French Impressionism and back. Not much
in between, certainly nothing that might involve sports, active
or passive, indoor or outdoor. I am hardly recognizable as the
same woman who nearly let the tides of professional baseball determine
her choice of college forty years ago. But following the Braves
to Milwaukee, which I had never heard of, was my only positive
thought on the gray March day in 1952 when the headlines announced
that the team was leaving Boston.
I threw myself across my bed that day and wept so loudly that my mother shuffled in and bent over me, hands on her wide, aproned hips, like some black-padded umpire, and ordered me to stop. At fifteen, I had never dis-obeyed my mother, so I stopped crying and tried to focus on something in my room that wouldn't remind me of the end of my world. I longed for my father, who was still at work, probably high on a ladder securing a rain gutter or patching a damaged roof.
My walls were covered with baseball--the official chart of National League logos; southpaw Warren Spahn warming up; Sam Jethroe, black and fast, sliding in to steal second; autographed programs and laminated ticket stubs-- "like a boy's room," my mother said, with a click of her tongue.
The sounds of the park rang in my head--John Kiley at the organ, not quite drowning out the rustle of dungarees and jackets and the creaking of the old green wooden chairs, raised and lowered as people filled the bleachers. The smells from the battered concession stands filled my room, sweet cold drinks and ice cream, the pink, white, and brown kind I never saw outside the park.
My father had introduced me at age seven to the lively, struggling Braves, who became my perfect friends. In their white uniforms, trimmed in red and blue, they always tried their best to win, to please me. As soon as my mother left the house for shopping or visiting, my father and I, two short, dark figures, came to life in front of the old Philco radio. His strong calloused fingers, never quite free of grime and paint stains, drew the ball field on a brown paper bag and diagrammed every play for me. We heard other programs, too--Inner Sanctum, The Shadow, The Answer Man. But first priority was always for Bump Hadley's raspy voice, tones which became even less crisp as the game wore on (he did, after all, advertise lager ale).
My father would let me stay up until we heard my mother's steps on the front porch. Most often she was returning from helping a neighbor with a new baby or chatting with friends while they clipped coupons from box tops and newspapers. At the first jingle of her keys, I would race to my bed and pretend to be asleep, like the inmate who hides an escape attempt from a prison guard.
I used the Braves to direct the rest of my life, too--if the Braves beat Brooklyn I'll get all A's and my mother will love me; if I finish three Hail Mary's before this inning is over, she will not find out that I sat next to a boy at the matinee of High Noon; if Mathews is safe at second, then I will be safe at home and in this world. I had no plan for If the Braves leave Boston.
At school I drew tomahawks in the margins of my notebooks and wrote with pens and pencils shaped like tiny bats that said, "Sincerely, Tommy Holmes." One time I signed a card to Paul, whom I loved, secretly, of course, Merry Christmas from Lou Perini and the Boston Braves, as if my own name had too little weight to hold ink. Other girls were thin, pretty, confi-dent. They had the right to say "hi" without apology. I could only say, "Did you see that third inning catch last night?" or "I'll take Earl Torgeson over Ted Williams any day." (Don't think I expect you to notice me or acknowledge me. I'm just here as a messenger for the Braves.)
Now, how could I face life without the Braves? Without my father and our wonderful conspiracy, was my real question. Without a way to talk to other kids, was another.
I ground the terrible newspaper into my chenille spread and wondered what I could have done to prevent this loss. A novena to St. Anthony? No candy during lent? An urgent letter to Tom Yawkey, the Red Sox owner who refused to help the Braves by sharing Fenway Park?
The same papers and newscasters that brought word of the future of the Boston Braves that spring told of anti-British riots erupting in Egypt, of Albert Schweizer giving his life to others, of H-bomb tests in the Pacific. But current events did nothing to give me perspective, to help me with my struggle.
The next day, I barely heard the voices around me. "It's your father's fault you're this way," from my mother. "I guess now you'll have to be a Red Sox fan." This from classmates who did not understand that existence is not like a baserunner, sprinting from one anchored sack to the next, around to home; it is like a whisper of wind under a fastball, waiting to be named by the umpire. "They ain't nothing 'til I calls them," says the umpire.
My father understood. I listened carefully and believed his simple message--"We did that long enough, cara, we'll find something else." And through the next thirty years until he died, we did indeed find "something else" in our adult relationship.
But, more amazing, Paul (with unparalleled genius he had figured out who sent him the card) also came through. "Now you can come to your own high school basketball games," he said, "and let the Braves go west."
I did even more than that--I let all of baseball go west and never followed it again.
From time to time through the last forty years, I have watched baseball games out of the corner of my eye and sometimes allowed the cheers of the crowd and the crack of the bat to carry me back to the old Philco. When friends hear the story of "my life as a Braves fan" they mistakenly think it would take little to turn me into a 1990s fan. They offer tickets and invite me to tailgate parties. But reentry into baseball cannot unearth the passion I felt in the 5Os, exulting in Bickford's hot August no-hitter, moping when Antonelli popped up (pitchers took their turn in the batter's box back then!), defending my underdog Braves with all my energy.
The shapes and motions of baseball are part of my past, in scrapbooks and on closet shelves with my saddle shoes. The comings and goings in the ballpark, inning by inning, game by game, season by season-even city by city-introduced me to the rhythms of life. Baseball and the Braves have already done all they ever needed to do for me. -Elysian Fields Quarterly, April 1993