Thursday, July 22, 2010

Sammy and Bob

Two years ago when he was eight, my grandson Sammy started coming to Rhode Island to spend a week or ten days with Deb and me during the summer. He made his third visit this July, flying as an unaccompanied minor from his home in Portland, Oregon.

The first year he came was also the year he turned into an avid sports fan. Some developmental leap took place and rather than baseball and football being activities he participated in, they became his lens for viewing and understanding the world.

One day he went to work with Deb at the Alternative Food Coop. They waited on a very small woman who was shopping there. Deb noted that Sammy was scrutinizing this person. When her order had been rung up and she left the store, Sammy said, “I really like small people.”

“Why,” Deb asked.

“Because they have such small strike zones,” Sammy replied.

I believe this change was due to a new level of physical skill that allowed him to really play the games and to know kinesthetically what was going on when he watched professional sports. Also, he learned to read. He knew all the teams, all the players, and all the statistics. He immersed himself in strategy, history, and endless speculation. There was no fact too obscure to be of importance to him and no rule too arcane to get his attention. In fact, the more obscure the more arcane the better. Moreover, he wanted to talk about it endlessly. He wanted to engage in deep discussions of the repercussions of a particular trade the Sea Hawks had made. He wanted to think through, week by week, how an injury could be accommodated to minimize its impact on a team’s chance at the pennant.

Neither Deb nor I had the knowledge to participate in these discussions. We didn’t have the interest either. But I knew who had both: Bob Cohen. Bob has been my friend for more than thirty years and he is the only person I know whose passion for sports matches Sammy’s. I recruited him to be Sammy’s sports buddy during the summer visits.

Here is a scene that took place about 20 years ago. If my memory serves me right, it was probably 1990. Bob Cohen and I were both between relationships. I was forty-five and he was a couple of years younger. His marriage with Suzie had ended for the second and final time. I was near the end of my long, painful unraveling with Mariellen. We were having a beer on the deck of the Coast Guard House on a sunny afternoon in the middle of the summer. I don’t usually go there, but I remember it was hot and the breeze off the ocean felt great.

As we sat there drinking and talking, a woman approached our table. She was dark, pretty, a little round, and a decade younger than us.

She slipped Bob a business card and said, “I’ve been watching you for the last half hour. You’re the best looking man I’ve seen in along time. I decided that if I left without giving you my number, I’d kick myself later.”

Bob gave her a big smile and said, “What a great compliment! Thanks you so much. You made my day. Unfortunately, I just started seeing someone.”

The part about just having started to see someone was a lie, but a generous one. It was more like a gift than a lie.

Bob likes them skinny. I could have told the woman she didn’t stand a chance. Me on the other hand… she could have had me at ‘”I’ve been watching you…”

This guy who gets approached by strange women and turns them down in a gentle, chivalrous manner is part of who Bob is to me. However, I doubt my grandson Sammy will ever recognize that part of him. To ten-year-old Sammy, Bob Cohen is the old guy, his grandfather’s friend, who goes to Red Sox games with them.

During his yearly visits, Sammy sits next to Bob at Fenway Park and they talk baseball.

July 17, 2010. Red Sox vs. The Rangers

Sammy: Lets say Ortiz hits a high fly ball right down the third base line, you know. And Josh Hamilton goes to catch it just before it goes into the stands, but it bounces off his glove and it goes fair, you know. Like if he hadn’t touched it, it would have been foul, but it bounces off his glove on the fair side of the line, you know. Would that be a home run?

Bob: Yes that would be a home run. And that has happened. What a sad moment that would be for the left fielder. Can you imagine how he’d feel making an error like that?

The Ranger’s catcher, Bengie Molina came up to bat.

Sammy: Oh, this guy is so slow!

Bob: He says himself he is the slowest guy in the world.

Sammy: He’s not that great a hitter.

Bob: True, but you can’t forget yesterday he hit for the cycle. He’s a threat.

Sammy: Yeah. Even if he’s slow he can win games.

Bob: It’s a good lesson. You can use your strengths to over come weaknesses.

Sammy took an inning out of the game to cruise the souvenir stands with Deb. He was looking for something to take back to Portland for his younger brother and sister. However, he ended up spending $2.50 of his money on a grab bag of baseball cards for Bob. He presented Bob with a brown paper bag that contained about fifty cards.

It was a great game. Maybe the best game I’ve ever seen. Certainly the best I’ve ever seen in person. It was full of tension, possibility, hope, disappointment, and finally triumph. The Sox won in the eleventh inning. A sacrifice fly by Kevin Youkilis with the bases loaded brought in the winning run.

It was late, about 11:00. We walked to the T station that took us to our car parked at the last stop. On the crowded train, Sammy stood in front of Bob and they went through the grab bag of baseball cards. They conversed about each card. Even if the player was so obscure neither had heard of him, they talked about the teams he had played for, looked over his stats, speculated about what had become of him.

An old guy and a young boy, sharing affection, the afterglow of a great game, sleepiness, and a deep understanding of how baseball informs life.

The Portrait: This is a portrait done of me by the artist Jane E. Harrold, A.K.A. Calamity Jane. Besides being a terrific artist, she also makes amazing cowboy shirts, and has a radio program. Look for her on Facebook.

1 comment:

  1. What a great piece!! I love it. It made me cry. Thanks John for all of it and more! Debby