Kathy and I last visited Jetblue Park in Fort Myers, FL back in March, 2012. We bought the whole package tour complete with four tickets, official T-shirts, barbecue, and autograph session with a manager and three players, all of whom exited the Red Sox within the next two years. I like to think we did not hasten their departure.
It was bucket-list quality: sitting in the Florida version of the Monster, getting the pep talk from newly-minted manager Bobby Valentine, getting an autograph from my new hero, Jacoby Ellsbury, and sharing it all with my true love, who took up baseball in my honor.
I am returning to Spring Training without her, unless there is Spring Training in heaven. If there isn’t, there should be.
Two die-hard Jewish baseball fans promised each other that the first one to die would report to the other what they found in heaven. Bernie preceded Morty across the celestial boundary, and one night Morty awoke to the faint call of Bernie,
“Morty, Morty. I made it to heaven, and it’s wonderful up here.”
“Bernie, it’s so good to hear from you, but please tell me: Is there baseball in heaven?”
“Morty, I have some good news and some bad news. There is baseball in heaven. The ball parks are beautiful. Sandy Koufax and Hank Greenberg are here.”
“That’s so wonderful, Bernie, but what’s the bad news?”
“Morty, my friend, you’re pitching tomorrow.”
I love that silly story. I like to think Kathy would stop by the heavenly ballpark for old time’s sake.
Now I am bound for Fort Myers to get the first glimpse of the Red Sox, 2017 Edition. I miss the one who would pepper me with questions, until she finally got bored and took out a book. You appreciate these things more when you realize you won’t be doing them again.
Spring Training warms the soul without agitating the spirit. I watch these games with a more sane passion, a tranquility more congenial to my late wife. My favorite sportswriter, Roger Angell, said of Spring Training: “Big League baseball on the west coast of Florida is a spring sport played by the young for the divertissement of the elderly– a sun-warmed sleepy exhibition celebrating the juvenescence of the year and the senescence of the fans.” When I was young, Spring Training seemed like a senseless delay to the games that counted in April. Now they seem like a leisurely anticipation of serious competition, which will begin soon enough.
Q: What are the last two words of The Star-Spangled Banner?
A: Play ball!
“That’s funny,” Kathy would say.
“Then, how come you’re not lahhfing?” I’d say, with the mid-Maine broad “a” she preserved wherever she roamed.
“I’m lahhfing inside.”