Baseball has always been a meeting place for fathers and their children, a place to play catch, to sit and enjoy a game, and to share stories. But for me, it is also a place where I connect with my mother again.
My mother forged my first baseball memory. I can still see her on that October day in 1955. I was walking home from first grade at my New York City public school and my mother was waiting on the stoop. As I approached her, I asked: "Did the Yankees win?"
Her answer established my emotional connection with the game. "No," she said with disappointment. "The Brooklyn Dodgers won the World Series." Nevertheless, with an overriding sense of sadness, I adopted my family's loyalties and became a Yankees fan.
Now, nearly 50 years later, they are no longer my team, but they are surely hers. Her cable company offers every Yankees broadcast and she sees nearly all of them. I don't think she would watch as many games if my dad were still around. But when he died a number of years ago, my mom found herself with months full of quiet evenings, and the resurgence of the Yankees helped to fill part of a large emptiness in her life.
In my dad's absence, she became a truly knowledgeable fan. Hideki Matsui has gained her respect with his professionalism and consistent play. She also has unshakable confidence in Joe Torre and his coaching staff. But my mother reserves her warmest sentiments for the homegrown veterans and refers to them on a first-name basis: Derek, Bernie, Mariano. That familiarity says it all.
Invariably when I call her on the phone, I ask about her team. So I don't hear much about her doctor visits or her medications. But the pleasure of talking baseball with my mother is worth it. Her understanding of the game impresses me. She knows the standings, the statistics, and assesses front-office maneuvers with insight and accuracy. George Steinbrenner should be calling her.
I asked her recently how her team, loaded with pricey free-agent talent, could play such uninspired baseball. Once again her answer took me by surprise. In her inimitable fashion she replied, "You know, if someone gave you a $1,000 to buy a new outfit and you went out and bought the most expensive Calvin Klein skirt and Prada shoes, and a Donna Karan top, they wouldn't necessarily work well together. That's my worry about the Yankees."
When I heard that answer I knew that my mother needed her own radio talk show. Her perspective on baseball was both sound and refreshing. I could just hear her call-in show on the air -- Mike and the Mad Dog and My Mother. She'd be great and we would all be proud of her.
Now, with a future celebrity in our midst, we are in the postseason and I know that the phones will be ringing. She'll call my brother after every game, even the ones that end after midnight. She'll call her grandchildren in Boston and Atlanta, especially if the Red Sox are still in it. She will call us all and we will feel even more closely connected and cared for. For in our baseball-loving family, she is the perfect matriarch.