Baseball memory is a sparkling 'diamond'

Tom Kirvan
Legal News, Editor-in-Chief

Several years ago, I made the trek up north to attend the funeral of a longtime family friend. A prince of a fellow, he was a man known for his smarts, upbeat attitude, and welcoming ways, and was one of the few remaining close friends of my late parents, who outlived most of those in their inner circle.

In most respects, it was a solemn occasion, a time when friends and family members offered heart-felt tributes of the departed. At times, it was anything but sad, as stories were told that brought roars of laughter from those gathered for the funeral service.

When it was time to say a final farewell to my Dad upon his death nearly 8 years ago, I decided that I better stick to a script at his memorial service. It was not a time for ad-libbing. After all, there was only one member of our family who was truly gifted at that.

Before we honored and remembered him that day, I offered a special thanks to my three sisters for their roles in helping provide care and comfort to our Dad over the three-year period when his health was in a serious state of decline. At times, it was difficult and heart-breaking work as we watched a man with a razor-sharp wit and keen intellect reduced to a mere shadow of himself. It wasn’t a pretty sight.

But even during the most challenging times, we could always look to each other for support. That, in contrast, was a very pretty sight, as we each gained a special appreciation for those engaged in caregiving as a way of life while we traveled down Alzheimer’s road with our Dad.

And as fathers go, I humbly ranked him as the best. He was my hero, my mentor, my role model, my trusted confidant. He was all those things and more to me. He was always there for me.

As proof, I related one anecdotal story from my teen-age years that told those gathered a lot about the man of the moment that day.

It revolved around the baseball diamond. My sisters will attest that over the years I’ve had many ignominious moments in various athletic endeavors, including an unintended strip-tease act at a high school track meet in Ann Arbor. I’m sure they are saving those various gaffes to spice up my funeral service.

But back to the matter at hand.

In this instance, I had just been called up to the varsity baseball team at Ann Arbor Huron. I was a sophomore on a senior-dominated team. I was subbing for our regular third baseman who was sidelined with an injury. I was anxious to prove my worth and to show that I truly belonged in the lineup.

As fate would have it, I cost our team the game that day. I botched a late-inning play, letting a ball roll through my legs as the tying and winning runs scored. I wanted to dig a hole at third base and never appear again. For those of you who know baseball, it was my “Bill Buckner” moment.

Suffice to say, it was a long bus ride home from Jackson Parkside. My Mom was waiting at the school to pick me up. I nearly burst into tears when I saw her. She did her best to console me. My Dad, unfortunately, was out of town on a business trip that was scheduled to last several more days.

Little did I know my Mom would be busy that evening, calling my Dad – long distance – to report about my troubles on the baseball diamond. She must have told him that we had another game scheduled the next day, this time in Battle Creek, a half-hour or so west of the scene of my baseball crime.

That next day, as our mighty team trotted out onto the field for pre-game practice in Battle Creek, I looked up in the stands and spotted a familiar face. There was my Dad, miraculously back a few days ahead of time from some God-forsaken place in Missouri. Suddenly, all was well again in my little world. My Dad was there to make it all better.

Now I wish I could report that I slugged the game-winning home run that day in Battle Creek or that I made a couple of sterling defensive plays at third base. As best I recall, I never got off the bench that day. I believe the coach had seen enough already.

But it didn’t matter to me. I’m not sure it mattered to my Dad either. What did matter was that he was there in one of my many moments of need. It would be a lifetime pattern.