I can directly trace my love of baseball back to my maternal grandparents. I can vividly remember sitting between my grandmother and grandfather watching baseball on television. We lived in rural Idaho and the nearest Major League Baseball stadium was over 1,000 miles away but every Saturday we would be glued to the television watching the NBC Game of the Week. My grandparents would take turns teaching me the various nuances of baseball and instilled upon me that this was more than a game, it was the national pastime interwoven with our lives.
When I became old enough to play ball myself my grandparents would rarely miss a game. And regardless of how well or how poorly I played they were there to encourage me and gently coach me to become a better player. I could not ask for two more loving role models and ambassadors of the game than my grandparents. While other kids turned their attention to football or basketball my love was always baseball. The names of the games greats were engrained in my psyche as a result of one generation passing on their passion to another.
When my grandfather passed away my grandmother lived alone in the house I always visited as a boy. I would try to call her regularly or stop to see her whenever I made it back to Idaho. When grandma answered the phone she would immediately recognize my voice and within a few short minutes we would be talking about baseball. I cherished these talks and I will admit I needed to be at the top of my game when talking to my grandmother about baseball. She seemed to know all the players and would give me her take on the state of the game.
A few times we would invite grandma to visit us in Idaho. She didn’t like to travel but loved her family and would relent after us pleading with her to come. It was always an easier sell if I could somehow schedule her visits during baseball season; in particular Spring Training. She loved going to the ballpark and watching the veterans and the rookies get ready for the upcoming season. We would always talk about the roster battles and she never ceased to amaze me with her insight.
When I began writing for Diamondbacks Insider magazine it was my grandmother who was my most avid reader. I had to promise her that I would send her each issue as soon as it came off the presses. While my column was only one page and 600 words she made me feel like I was a featured writer with whole issues dedicated to my writing.
I would visit her house and she would have a binder containing each issue of the magazine that my column appeared. This binder sat in her living room front and center on the table. Anyone who visited would have to endure her talking about her grandson who was writing about the greatest game on earth.
When grandma turned 90 years old we made the trip to Idaho to see her. I had with me a special gift for her. When I gave her the box she eagerly opened it to find an Arizona Diamondbacks away jersey with her name embroidered on the back along with the number 90. Tears of joy fell down her cheeks as she put the jersey on and proudly modeled it.
Although the Diamondbacks were 1,500 miles away they were her favorite team. She would watch each and every game that was televised. Partly she watched so that she knew all the players I was writing about but if the truth were to be told she was hoping to catch a glimpse of her grandson sitting in the stands enjoying the game she had introduced me to so many years ago.
This past autumn I made the trip to Idaho to take my youngest daughter to college in a nearby school. As I always did I stopped by to see my grandmother. After and excited greeting and one to many hugs she sternly looked me in the eye and told me that she was not happy with my. I was surprised and taken aback. She quickly chastised me telling me she was disappointed in me. She explained that when she turned 90 I had given her a Diamondbacks jersey and promised that if she lived to be 95 she would get a matching warm-up jacket. I had completely forgotten that promise and she was here to remind me that I owed her a jacket. I made a note to make sure that I visited the Team Shop and got her a jacket and promised I would send it up for Christmas.
On November 27, 2013 I received a call from my mother. My grandmother had passed away. The news left me in shock as I tried to comprehend that my biggest fan and oldest friend was no longer here. My grandmother helped raise me as a boy and now she was gone.
My mother explained the details of her death and along with that told me grandma’s dying wish. She wanted me to give her life sketch eulogy at her funeral. All those years of writing this blog and covering baseball never prepared me for delivering such an important article.
Our family loaded the car and made the 15-hour drive to Idaho to be there for the funeral. With each passing mile I thought about all of the many lessons this great woman had taught me and about my own mortality and how I would want to be remembered.
The funeral was a very emotional time not just for me but for everyone in attendance. I looked over the packed crowd and was amazed to see how many people my grandmother had touched. When it was my turn to speak I slowly walked to the pulpit praying that I could keep it together long enough to deliver the hardest talk I had ever written. Within just a few sentences I broke down as did most of the congregation. No matter how strong I thought I was, it melted away when I had to say good-bye to the greatest baseball fan I had ever known.
In the days that followed we had to set my grandmother’s affairs in order. Walking into her house one last time and going through her prized possessions was hard but manageable. I was not prepared to see that empty Diamondbacks jersey hanging neatly in the closet patiently waiting for another baseball season to start nor was I ready to see that binder lying on her table; its cover worn out where she flipped through each article in each magazine issue that my column appeared. In the back of my mind I will always remember the broken promise I made to get her a Diamondbacks jacket to go with her jersey. There won’t be a day that goes by that I won’t imagine how happy she would have been wearing her jersey and jacket watching the Diamondbacks on television hoping to get a glimpse of her biggest fan enjoying the game she introduced him to.
Now it is my turn to take the next generation fan under my wing and teach them the things my grandparents taught me. That’s what baseball is about, bridging generations and keeping the passion of the game alive. Despite my loss I wouldn’t have it any other way.