Why Opening Day Always 'Strikes' A Wistful Chord

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I know there are certain things I'm not rational about and one of them is my husband playing baseball.

It all started when we were dating. He was playing baseball after work. I was spending quality time with my two young sons after work. I never got to see him play baseball. I've been waiting patiently ever since.

There were many busy summers in the years following our marriage -- summers filled with three more babies and a time-consuming and demanding job for Steven. I had to content myself with being regaled with Steven's baseball stories from high school and college, watching him wistfully oil his mitt, and nostalgically show me pictures of a very macho and focused young man involved in the great American pastime of baseball.

Two months before our 45th birthdays, 17 years after we met, my husband bounced into the kitchen one day and proudly announced he was going back to baseball. He had joined an "Over Age 30 League" and his first practice was in two days. I don't know who was more excited -- him or me.

I watched him once again oil his mitt, but this time he also tried on his old cleats, bought new batting gloves and assembled his practice sweats. I hovered nervously at the door as he drove off to his first practice with the team. I reminded him to be careful of his knee, his previously broken finger and the degenerative disks in his back. I paced the floors until I heard his car pulling back into the garage two hours later.

He said that practice was great -- the guys friendly -- the atmosphere loose -- but his knee was acting up and he reluctantly (and maturely) decided to sit out the first game. My frustration was building. I felt like I'd never get to see him play baseball.

The knee slowly mended. The days crept by. The second game was upon us. I rushed down to the field. I got there just as he was getting ready to bat. He swung anxiously at the first pitch, popped it in the direction of third base. His knee gave out and he practically fell flat on his face. So much for my macho man!

I never got to see his great play at third in the fourth inning. And I never got to see his solid base hit deep into center field in the fifth inning. I had already reluctantly left to pick up my son Sam from his baseball practice. By the time I got back, it was dark and the game was over. But I didn't care. I had finally seen my husband play a little baseball and the season was just beginning. I was euphoric.

My euphoria didn't last long. When we got home, my husband showed me a swollen, jammed finger -- the same one he had injured years before and foolishly never had set.

"You'll never be able to play again," I wailed. "The season's over (for both of us)!"

"Get a grip," he said impatiently. "I am going to play. You are going to watch me play. This year. I promise."

"Okay," I said, somewhat mollified. "Okay."

I ran to get the ice bag and watched my husband soak his finger in ice -- in between flexing it, examining it and praying over it.

The very next morning, I found a blood soaked tissue on the kitchen counter. I quickly followed the trail of blood to the half bath, where I saw a pale, middle-aged man holding a bloody finger under the water faucet.

"What happened?" I asked dully.

"I cut my damn finger while I was slicing a bagel," he hollered after me. "I'm going to the hospital for stitches."

"And," he continued, now worked up to a frenzy, "I'll be okay next Monday night even if I break my leg and have to drag it after me as I run to first base!"

I smiled.

My rookie of the year.
My most valuable player.
My 22-year-old 45-year-old.

"He might just do it," I thought. "In spite of weak knees, a quirky back, a chipped bone in his left index finger and a stitched right middle finger, he just might do it."

The above column was written 25 years ago. Though my husband's baseball playing days are long over, my wistfulness continues.

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