This is probably the most difficult thing I've ever had to write, so I just have to dive in and go.
My Father passed away this week. I would describe it as sudden, but not entirely unexpected, but that doesn't make it any less of a horrible thing to have to go through. To put it in some kind of perspective, I've basically spent the past 3 days feeling like Wilmer Flores did in the 8th inning on Wednesday night.
I'd like to say there was some great Father-Son-Baseball bond between my Father and I, but to be honest, there really wasn't. My Father had professed to being a Brooklyn Dodger fan in his youth growing up on Long Island, but the Dodgers moved and his interests turned elsewhere. That's not to say he didn't foster my love of the game. We certainly had plenty of opportunities where we'd play catch in Central Park or some similar venue, and of course he took me to countless Mets games at grand old Shea Stadium. But going to a Baseball game was never really his cup of tea. The last game we went to together was way back in 1996, on the final day of a mostly forgettable season.
In later years, I would often find myself back at his house after games, since he conveniently lived near the 7 train at Grand Central. He generally viewed my habitual attendance at games as folly; obviously it meant more to me. Generally, if I was at a game, he would listen in on the radio in bits and pieces, mostly to see when, or in some cases if, the game had ended and I'd be on my way home. He was very much a radio person. He'd almost never watch a game on TV if I wasn't around. It was always the radio. He would often listen to broadcasts of the other New York team, although it wasn't necessarily because he had any particular interest in the game, he simply liked listening to 770 AM and would find his program pre-empted. At one point, he did mention that he did like listening to their announcers, for reasons that escape me. Perhaps he simply liked needling me.
Needling me about Baseball could be seen as a bit of a family tradition. If the Mets blew a game late, I would come home and he'd be sitting at the kitchen table, grinning, and he'd say to me, "They put Franco in again, didn't they!!" His favorite, perhaps, would be when the game went into Extra Innings. When this happened, I could count on one of two scenarios. He'd probably have put the radio on, heard the game was in Extra innings, and waited for me to get home so he could laugh, or he'd have fallen asleep, woken up at some late hour wondering where the hell I was, and then put on the radio and laugh. On October 19, 2006, I'd returned home from watching the Mets fall for the final time that year, and the first thing he said to me was "Hey! Who won the game?!"
His view of Baseball in life certainly rubbed off on me in some way. I learned, over time, to accept the absurdity of Baseball in an already absurd world, and I guess you could say that this point of view has been the impetus for this blog in so many ways. Baseball is pretty absurd in its own right and perhaps that's why I view it as such an escape from life or work or whatever else I might need to escape from for a few hours.
Baseball had to take a back seat this week. I'd had tickets for Tuesday night's game, but didn't go. I missed the game completely. Wednesday and Thursday, too. I had some vague idea of what had been going on but to say it wasn't high on my list of priorities would be an understatement. It was only tonight that I was able to watch a game, and get myself back to that little bit of escape. And I really needed an escape.
The game itself was kind of a blur for me. I know how it ended, though, and it seemed so beautifully fitting that it was Wilmer Flores that came through with the winning hit. It might be a crude comparison but for some reason it makes sense to me, but I think Flores probably had the baseball version of my week. He'd basically been traded Wednesday night and found out because of fans and phones, not by being told by his manager. His reaction to being traded from the only organization he'd ever known was sadness, which I can certainly understand because it's easy to become comfortable with the familiar and friendly surroundings. But more than that, it was pretty obvious that he didn't want to leave. Not now, when things seemed primed to become so much more interesting than they'd been for several seasons. Not after he'd given his all and played so hard and strived to become better at his craft. But the prospect of being traded was too much, and he cried. But then he wasn't traded. And the trade deadline came and went and he still wasn't traded. And then he found himself back in the fray on Friday night, and all of a sudden he'd become the Mets newest Folk Hero. Here was a guy who wanted to be a Met so badly that the prospect of being traded turned him into a blubbering wreck. But there he was, coming up with a key play and a key hit behind Matt Harvey. But Washington tied the game late, and the game went into Extra Innings, and perhaps it needed to go Extra Innings. Exactly the kind of game I probably would have been sitting at while my father listened to the radio and cackled. Things dragged on until the 12th inning, when Flores found himself at the plate, and found himself catching up with a pitch and driving it over the fence to win the game. This guy had had a rotten week, just like I'd had a rotten week, but with one swing, he turned it around, and he turned my mood around because he got me jumping out of my chair and pumping my fist, which I hadn't been able to do in several days.
I guess the best way to describe Flores' Home Run was that it was the perfect reminder of just how wonderful an escape Baseball can be.
I think even my Father would have appreciated that.