Four years ago today, in the earliest hours of the morning, we lost Jimmy. Since that night, his absence has become the “constant” of all constants for me. Not a minute, hour or day goes by in which I don’t think of him, reflect on my unimaginable joy at his arrival and all the blessings he brought thereafter. I love him for all time.
But “constant” is a funny word. It can suggest that something is “solid”, “dependable” or “vigilant”. It can also connote irritation, resignation or simply an innocuous ambient condition. And sometimes, “constant” provides us the greatest feeling of comfort. With each February’s dawning, the pit in my stomach has grown as I realize this anniversary is once again imminent for our family and me.
Perhaps absorbed and distracted by my grief, it took me three years to notice that the anniversary of Jimmy’s passing coincides with my favorite — our family’s favorite — “constant”. Something that is woven through the fabric of our lives. This week, all across the Sunbelt, from Arizona to Texas to Florida, pitchers and catchers are reporting to spring training. For those who don’t know what that means, it’s the unofficial start of baseball season. New hope. Longer and warmer days ahead, playing a beautiful game that has no clock. This game, that’s originally American, connects generations and people from all walks of life. The sights and sounds, for those who haven’t been around it, conjure memories of our carefree youth and a time when all that mattered was sunshine, having some remaining daylight and what was happening between the lines. The unmistakable popping sound of a ball hitting leather in the back of a glove or the echoing crack of the bat as players take batting practice. The “shoosh, shoosh, shoosh” of the sprinkler on the new grass. But most of all, it is time spent with our children. I’ll never forget how lucky and proud I felt when Jimmy could sustain his first game of catch. With the romantic notion of Kevin Costner’s Ray Kinsella and his dad in “Field of Dreams”, I thought “we will do this forever.” I wish every dad and child in America would know this feeling. Baseball is a constant.
Perhaps because people know our “other” ballplayer has gone on to realize her dream in the game or perhaps because it was so long ago (before he became sick), many don’t know or remember that Jimmy was a ballplayer, too. He loved the game. Playing it, watching the SF Giants at AT&T Park and, in later years, watching all of his sister’s games as she advanced toward her goal of playing college softball. It brings a smile to my face knowing that the time of Jimmy’s passing was and will forever be the annual start of baseball. Somehow, it will make this time each year a little less painful and a little more hopeful. But what I wouldn’t do for just one more game of catch …
“Well, a-beat the drum and hold the phone
The sun came out today
We’re born again, there’s new grass on the field
A-roundin’ third and headed for home
It’s a brown-eyed handsome man
Anyone can understand the way I feel”
From “Centerfield” by John Fogerty