Saturday, May 14, 2011

A Loss for the Home Team

As a kid, professional baseball held an appeal for me that with nearly six decades completely run beneath the sun, I'm hard pressed to explain or even comprehend. I was such a dope when I was a kid. I'm so (much) smart(er) now but not smart enough to figure out why I'm not happier than that dope I used to be. Maybe you've been there?

As a Yankees fan, I rooted for Bobby Richardson but could be unswervingly loyal to Moose Skowron and Yogi Berra and dreamed of growing up to be Whitey Ford. That would have been a VERY neat trick as he was a left hander and I used my left hand basically to keep the blood in my left arm from dripping out at the wrist. They had names like no one else I knew, or would ever know, but they were my guys and I cheered them on against all the Joes and Jacks and Toms and Daves on everybody else's roster.

One of the guys, and ironically, he, too, had an out of the ordinary name, who'd hammer Whitey especially when they came to town to play the Yankees was #3, Harmon Killebrew. He moved with the then-Washington Senators to Minnesota and became a Twin, though thankfully (as a Yankees fan) there was only one of him. I have NO memory of "The Killer" (cool nickname, innit?) while he played in Washington. Jimmy Piersall going into the stands one afternoon (baseball played a lot of day games back then) and getting into a fistfight with a fan-him I remember.

Killebrew was an amazing player-he's still in the top twenty of all-time home run sluggers and he hasn't played in my childrens' lifetimes-and he was a great fielder as well and enjoyed a reputation as a gentleman. He was a classic craftsman who showed up every day and played to the best of his ability in the era before the love of money made players into millionaires, owners billionaires and fans disillusioned and bitter about it all.

I was shocked to see Killebrew's name back in the news yesterday for all the wrong reasons. His gallant and courageous battle against esophageal cancer is nearly over. Of course it was classy the way his news was reported yesterday. He was the epitome of suave and understatement all the years he played the game. Watching a news clip of the announcement made me sad because I saw The Killer but more clearly the man whose strength is nearly gone.

I was thinking of Dunbar in Catch-22 and his desire to live forever because 'what else is there?' He knew he couldn't and wouldn't, but still.... I don't know that there's anything beyond this life but fear the secret heartache to forever alive is how often you ache watching all you know and remember fade to leave you only memories as company for the rest of your journey. Everyone I know goes away in the end. Beneath the stains of time, the feelings disappear. You are someone else, I am still right here.
-bill kenny

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