My mother was a baseball fan.
She wasn’t an avid fan. Mom didn’t sit around with Sunday morning coffee studying weekly changes in pitching and batting statistics. She never checked out the box scores in the agate section of the daily newspaper. And, she didn’t look ahead to see if a specific team she followed was playing an upper-tier team or a less accomplished one, and therefore be able to guess if that favorite was more or less likely to win.
I don’t even know that she had a favorite team. As the family lived out its life in western New York during my childhood she merely sat on the couch and rooted for whatever team was the recipient of her offsprings’ cheers. And, late in the 1950s and early in the 1960s, that team almost always would be the New York Yankees.
My dad rooted for the team that was the underdog, which usually in those years and in our region was the team the Yankees were playing. Frequently in games televised in western New York, that opponent was Cleveland. Dad liked Cleveland teams – Indians, Browns, Barons – in a household dominated by New York fans.
I believe this offsetting partisanship was my parents’ version of planned parenthood. They made a point to keep us open-minded. In politics and other areas of life, they didn’t influence our choices by forcing upon us their preferences. They kept us thinking by showing us their own divergent opinions. Dad joked they just “canceled each other out.”
Ignored most sports
This is not to say that my mother was a fan of all sports.
Sundays, when professional football dominated the only television we had in our house, or Saturdays late in the year when college football might be telecast, mom mostly stayed in the kitchen, working on dinner for the evening or baking some treat that might warm and sweeten the air wafting through her home.
Basketball in the winter? It was not of her interest unless one of her children was playing it at the time.
Golf and tennis and snow skiing? Neither my dad nor my mom participated in any of those sports in an era when most attention was placed by parents on family activities instead of personal ones.
Rodeos or boxing, and to some extent hockey? She would look away to avoid seeing the violence.
She sometimes would watch bobsled or luge racing when they were broadcast on “Wide World of Sports.” It was a lot like watching her children ride rollercoasters at the amusement park. Ski jumping? It only mildly interested her, in the sense that I believe she had thought she should stop them, the way she stopped us from jumping around like monkeys on the swing set in the backyard.
But, during a baseball game she would sit on the couch and sew clothes or darn sox, crochet doilies, or work on knitted garments or quilts throughout an entire nine-inning game. She sat quietly. She would leave it to one of her sons to jump up and shout disappointment at bad plays.
Still, she would keep track of the action on the field. She might not have completely understood or have been interested in the subtleties of strategies, such as hitting the cutoff man or giving a hit-and-run sign. But she would know the status of the game, or at the least she could sense it from the sadness of her sons when their favorite team or players would slide into a slump.
“A lot of time left in the game,” she might observe. “Anybody want a cookie?”
Memories return for playoffs
Accompanying the start of the Major League Baseball playoffs come memories of my mother watching baseball. I almost can see her sitting on the couch with her thimble and thread or knitting needles and yarn.
There were no playoffs in baseball during those days my family watched the post-season games together, of course. Championships were won on the merits of World Series performance alone before 1969.
New York was in that World Series nine times during the 10 years from 1955 to 1964, which means Mom and her sons rooted for the Yankees an equal number of times in that decade. My sister was only an infant early in the 1960s, so I don’t think she had a preference, other than perhaps enjoying standing in front of the TV and pointing at random players.
Dad? I’m pretty sure he would have been on the side of the Brooklyn (and later Los Angeles) Dodgers, Milwaukee Braves, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cincinnati Reds, San Francisco Giants, and St. Louis Cardinals during those years. Sometimes, the chagrin of his sons, he would celebrate in the end.
We watched together through the years, each favoring his own – or her own – team.
I won’t go so far as to say baseball was America’s game, but in my house it certainly was the family sport.
Reach Gary at [email protected]. On Twitter: @gbrownREP.
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