Monday, March 31, 2014

Anything is Possible . . .

Or Baseball's Opening Day as a Metaphor for Life

This may actually be news to some of you, but I'm a HUGE baseball fan. Today is Opening Day and every year for the past 12 years, I'm reminded of this day in 2002 when I flew home from Germany and that same evening, went to the Oakland Athletics' Opening Day game. So today, as I wait to go out to the ballpark, perhaps even sit in the rain (!), I feel compelled to post my story about that day, April 1, 2002. I hope you enjoy it.

It’s another miserably cold Opening Night at O.Co Coliseum in Oakland. I’m sitting with my German born husband in our outfield seats, layered in thermal underwear, jacket, hat, scarf, covered in a blanket and I’m still cold. But I’m extremely excited because baseball season has finally arrived. My husband, however, is slightly less enthusiastic. Unlike me, he was not born into the love of The Game. He has come to it through me, and I have to say, has become an educated fan, understanding most of the nuances and general managerial strategies. However, don’t ask him to explain the infield fly rule, or expect him to sit happily through a nine-inning blowout or pitchers’ duel. He’s usually ready to leave the park by the end of the 7th inning (which, not coincidentally, is when they stop pouring the beer). He also appreciates baseball more at day games in the summer months when he can sit in his shirtsleeves in the warm sunshine, down a cold one and savor a Saag’s sausage.

I, on the other hand, was born in the Steel City of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, home of the three time World Series Champion Pittsburgh Pirates (1960, 1971, 1979). My dad was a huge baseball fan. He always listened to the Pirates when he wasn’t at work, only turning the radio off in disgust if the Pirates were losing in a complete rout. My earliest memories of The Game are as a five-year old waiting for my dad to join us from his downtown office and go to a glorious Saturday afternoon double header at Forbes Field (two games for the price of one – heaven!) When he would suggest we leave at the end of the 7th inning of the second game, I was the one who would say, “But daddy, we don’t know who won yet!” During the more difficult adult years when I was estranged from my parents, the only way I could have a civil conversation with my father was if we talked baseball. The season after my dad died, I often went to the A’s ballpark alone two hours before the game started, just to be able to sit quietly in the stands, take in the evocative smell of the freshly mown greener-than-green field, listen to the crack of the ball off the bats during batting practice and feel the excitement build as game time approached. At times I’d feel closer to my dad in those moments than I did when he was alive.

Tonight, dressed in his well-worn down parka with an $8 beer in his hand, my husband turns to me and says, “You know the only reason I’m here with you tonight is because I remember the look on your face the Opening Night we were here after your breast cancer surgery. The look, those tears welling up in your eyes . . . well, how could I refuse?”

“I know,” I answer, so softly I’m not sure he even hears me over the din of the baseball announcer booming, “LET’S HEAR IT FOR YOUR 2012 OAKLAND ATHLETICS!” as the team takes the field.

It was ten years ago on April 1, 2002, baseball’s Opening Day, when I arrived back home from my six-week journey of mastectomy/reconstruction surgery and healing in Germany. Was it the height of optimism or a stupid April Fool’s joke that made me buy my A’s tickets weeks in advance of the surgery – optimistic not only that all would go well but that I would be up for a night at the ballpark on the same day as the flight home from Europe?

During most of the 11 hour flight from Frankfurt to San Francisco I was sitting with a pillow between my stomach and the seatbelt to protect the still tender scar which traversed from hip bone to hip bone where the surgeon took my perforator vessels and stomach fat to create my new breast. But mostly, I was thinking about finally being home in our wonderful light-filled house in the Oakland hills with our dear dog O’Keeffe, and yes, soon to be cheering for my Oakland A’s.

When my husband helped me through our front door I was still walking gingerly so as not to make any unexpected moves that might aggravate any of my freshly healed scars. O’Keeffe came bounding over, wiggling and whining excitedly. He expected I would bend down and give him more than the usual huge hugs and endless tummy rubs all over his happily shivering furry body to make up for all the ones he missed over the long month and a half I was away. But try as I might, all I could manage were soft loving pats on his head. When I looked up from a slightly disappointed O’Keeffe, I wasn’t sure WHAT I was seeing. As I finally focused, I saw Kim and Jennifer from my husband’s office in the kitchen arranging platters of food, other friends milling about in the dining room and living room, flowers in vases everywhere – a party was happening and I was the guest of honor!

I was completely overwhelmed! No one had ever given me a surprise party, and here, my sweet husband had arranged it all while he was with me in Germany. I was at once flabbergasted, amazed, touched, overjoyed, and thrilled – all mixed together with the pent up emotions of being “done” with breast cancer, being truly healed, being whole in my body again, being able to start living my “real life” with the heavy burden of breast cancer left behind in Germany along with the suspect breast tissue.

It was 5:30 PM, the house was full of well-wishers all enjoying the food, drink, each other and seeing me home, healthy and happy albeit a bit tired from the trip, when I made the announcement:
“I’m sorry, but we have to leave in a couple of minutes to catch BART to the Coliseum. I have tickets to the A’s Opener tonight,” I said in an almost apologetic tone.

I don’t think there was anyone in the room who could believe what they had heard. But also, I don’t think there was anyone there who really knew me who was truly surprised. My closest and dearest know my passion for The Game, how every spring I am energized by getting to know about all the new players; sinking into the familiar sounds, sights and smells of being at the ballpark; enthused by the possibilities of a new season and the thought that “anything can happen” really. Anything is possible from a young team with good pitching and good hitting.

“But, hey, if you want to continue partying, please feel free. Just lock up when the last one leaves,” I added with a smile.

On that note, my husband and I layered on our warmest clothing, put the bag of peanuts in the backpack and headed on out to the ballpark. I may have walked a little slower than normal up the stadium steps to our seats right behind home plate in the Plaza level, but I couldn’t remember when I felt more alive, or more grateful to be just another fan supporting her “2002 Oakland Athletics”. The tears came a moment later, when, settled in, with the blanket over us both, we watched the first pitch thrown by then A’s starting pitcher, Mark Mulder.

“Steee – rike!” The umpire‘s call rose above the cheering crowd.
Yes, a new season of possibilities, the perfect start to my “real life”.

A's Opening Day Festivities at the O.Co Coliseum 
Ten years later, I turn to my husband, put my hand on his leg and squeeze. It’s another A’s Opener. We’re freezing our butts off, but its baseball!  And yet, I’m feeling warm down to my bones, knowing, like this time every year, anything is possible . . . even being cancer free. 

“Steee – rike!”
Brandon McCarthy, Oakland’s new “ace” just drilled one over the plate.

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