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Susan Madrak

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A Ballplayer Hangs Up His Glove

Posted: 03/12/07 09:11 PM ET

I don't know if I ever mentioned this, but my best friend used to own a baseball team. Not own it, exactly - she was their corporate sponsor and as a black woman and student of history, enjoyed the irony of being called the "owner" of a string of white, mostly Republican men. She also happens to be the only female child of a sports-crazy clan and has already forgotten more about baseball than most people will ever know.

We met many years ago when I was in love with her team's junkball pitcher, who eventually went on to break my heart several times before I gave up. (As a lifelong Philadelphia sports fan, the habitual fixation on a losing cause was bred in my bones. The pitcher, however, did win her a couple of national championships, so there's that.)

Back when I was still in love with the pitcher, the team was my friend's life. That was okay with me, because that was when I still believed there was something romantic and almost heroic about grown men who left their everyday lives behind to play baseball. The fact that most of the players seemed to leave a long trail of broken relationships behind them didn't really sink in - I thought it meant the women in their lives simply didn't understand their love for baseball.

Later, I realized that grown men who spent all their spare time playing ball were actually not grown men at all. They were men who mostly couldn't handle their grownup lives, and ran away to the ballfield to avoid dealing with them, just as the long chain of exasperated ex-wives had insisted.

But I digress.

My friend went to a ballplayer's funeral yesterday - one of her old team who'd killed himself. He was chronically depressed and his drinking didn't help. (He hung himself with a stretching band, the kind ballplayers use to condition their arms.)

"It was really sad," she said. "He had a little boy who adored him."

Yes, I said, it's awful, what suicide does to the survivors.

"Apparently he did manage to leave 'fuck you' letters behind to his wife and girlfriend," she said.

"Wife and girlfriend," I repeated.

"Well, yeah. I mean, he was a ballplayer," she said by way of explanation. And yes, I understood all too well.

"It was really sad. The church was filled with sobbing ballplayers, grown men crying," she said.

I observed that middle-aged men do get quite emotional when faced with the inevitability of their own deaths, reflected in someone they know. I remember thinking to myself that I wished I could see the world through the same innocent lens as my friend does.

"Yeah. Plus, you know ballplayers," she said. "Bobby's upset because now he has to find another outfielder."

 

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