This post is the sixth in a nine-part series from Joshua Murray on his reflections on baseball, on his grandfather, and on finding God in every blade of grass. For Part Five, click here.
My grandfather wasn’t a huge baseball fan. There wasn’t a team he followed fully. But he used to play sandlot ball, and he was on an all-star softball team in World War 2 with his Anti-Aircraft battalion.
And in going through his little apartment after he passed I found a softball, weathered and beaten up, with faded writing on it. It was sitting there like a pearl to a diver to me. Others walking past it. I snatched it up fast when others were focused on watches and fur coats. I keep the ball on the ledge by the door to my apartment. The faded signatures of everyone on that team.
The Christmas after my grandma died and the Giants were the World Champions for the first time in over 50 years, my Poppy brought me a big box of baseball cards. And smaller decks of cards about the 2010 Giants. I put some in plastic containers to protect them. Others I use as bookmarks, just so that they are being used and close by. In those months, even though the season was over, we dove headfirst into baseball together. He told me of the Hot Stove and all the trades that happen. His eyes were very poor at this time and he needed a magnifying glass to read the newspaper. But he read it every morning. And combed it cover to cover each day with the magnifying glass to find any mention of the Giants. If it was a box score, he’d cut it out. If it was an article on a player, he would take out the whole page. If it was just a sentence he would cut out any surrounding sentences so I could have context for it. And he saved them all. Every day.
When I lived at home he would bring them over. When I moved he saved them in an envelope for when he saw me again. There were times he felt silly doing it because he felt I didn’t appreciate it. In hindsight it makes me wonder if I could have done more to show him how much I did. I already knew the scores and the news from listening to the radio and watching TV, but I’d let him tell me things as if it was the first time I heard it because I knew how much he wanted to tell me—with the excitement of a kid that gets a good grade at school.
And it was infectious.
After work when the weather was warmer me and my mom and Poppy would go in the back yard, my mom and I tossing the baseball around, and Poppy would tell me stories of the old players. He couldn’t play with us cause he’d lose the ball in the sky with his eyesight. And he would recreate plays like a sportscaster if I dropped a ball. “…and the ball gets away, he scoops it up and makes the relay throw…is it in time?!…and NO it is not! The run scores!! And they will score that an error on the fielder”—the run always scored on me because that’s how Murrays are. We bust chops and never stop.
Even when he was dying of congestive heart failure and we were in the process of turning my folks’ kitchen into a Hospice room, we never saw that as a reason to stop. I would walk in and there was construction happening and furniture moving and I’d go up to him, “Good ol’ Poppy boy, you’re making quite the commotion over here. What, you think you’re special or something? A little problem with the ol’ ticker and the whole house is upside down.” I remember the Hospice nurse and some family members being horrified by some of our joking around but we didn’t care. One of my favorites was when everyone was feeding him Ensure and fruit cups and mushy food that he hated and I was eating a bag of sour gummy worms and I offered him one, the way I would when I ate them while playing catch—and he looked at me and smiled. I thought my cousins and nurses would strangle me for it. But sometimes a man just knows the score.
In Game 6 of the 2014 World Series in the second inning, the Kansas City Royals put up 7 runs—the Giants looked in poor, poor shape. So knowing the score, Bochy took out his key players, subbed them out for second string. Used the players in his bullpen who are notorious for giving up runs but also need post season experience. Sometimes a man just knows the score and needs to plan for the next game. So when a man knows he’s not much time left and he’s sitting there eating mush to prolong what he only agrees to prolong because he feels sorry to leave his family, he knows it’s not helping and man wouldn’t it just feel so good to have a piece of candy.
Those catches in the backyard were a little slice of heaven. A catch in the backyard, in that strange hour between day and night, is just magical. Sometimes I regret the times I was cranky and just wanted to vent to my mom about things and didn’t feel like I could in front of Poppy so maybe I wasn’t as welcoming on those days. But I suppose these are the type of things everyone deals with in hindsight.
But in the right setting, the right time of day, the right company—to hold a baseball in your hands and grip it, feel the threads. It feels holy. It feels holy the way a snowy yard feels holy before anyone makes foot tracks across it. There is nothing distinctively religious in it, but at the same time… I don’t know, it’s like if you breathe it in it right can feel like you’re looking God.
I told Poppy of a Giants player that next season who was playing a game at home on his wife’s birthday, and she asked him to hit her a homerun. That day he hit 3 in one game. He loved that story. Because he loves any story of a man loving his wife. I found super slow motion of Lincecum’s pitching mechanics—we watched that video a lot. Him, standing close enough to the screen to see it. He’d comment on how hidden the ball was until the very last second to hide the grip. And I told him of how his dad taught him to pitch, and worked out mechanics based off of previous great pitchers. And how they call him The Freak because he doesn’t have to ice his arm and it takes him only 15 pitches to warm up for a game.
He loved “Timmy”—we called him that as if he was our friend. And man we would talk about him a lot considering he only played every five days. When he struggled we were sad, when he prevailed we loved it. Most conversations started with him asking “Did Timmy pitch today?” We really did get an attachment to him. There was one time, I believe it was a day or two before Poppy passed, he was getting very confused, there were a lot of things happening and a lot of strangers around the house. I came to visit a lot then because sometimes a man just knows the score. And my folks were telling me how confused he was getting with people and names. I was one of the only people he consistently remembered. He did a good job of remembering my immediate family because he was living with us for years by that point. And he always remembered Timmy. But in that one day we had a cousin come out and Poppy was smiling and nice and asking questions, and when my cousin walked into the other room, Poppy looked to me and asked, “Who was that?” Once I told him he knew—the confusion wasn’t dementia, it was just confusion. But in that same sitting when it was just me and him and he was asking about family members and who they were and saying, “I just don’t have any idea what is going on anymore.” I saw his frustration and I told him it was okay. Then I said the only thing I could think of to say: “Timmy cut his hair short.” And hearing this, the man who was having a hard time remembering family members smiled big and said, “Our Timmy boy, how’s he looking?” He looked different, I told him. And we talked about how we couldn’t wait to see him pitch again and he commented again about his mechanics and keeping the ball so well hidden. I admit because of this I take it personally when people jump on the train of talking ill of Lincecum and that he’s fallen off. Or his move to the bullpen. Cause he’s more than a pitcher now. He’s Timmy boy. And I feel like I’ll never give up rooting for him.
It is in this way that baseball is more than a sport or a past time. There is a thrill in the grass that can’t be explained. In every blade. There is a holiness in holding a ball and there is God in the skill of the pitcher. And in the clutch single that beats the shift to find the gap. That goes deeper than confusion and dementia. And if I had all the time in the world and infinite supplies I still could never write enough about it. But I’m not done trying yet…