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
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
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
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.
Fields Quarterly, April 1993