On October 15, 2015, forty-three days after my wife died, I smiled and I cried.
Today, Major League Baseball should be opening its 2020 season. Unfortunately, like life everywhere, it is on hold as the world wobbles off its axis and addresses the COVID-19 pandemic. Then, like now, I am unsure and hesitant, worried about those I love and unsure about the future. Now, like then, I look to baseball to bring structure, excitement, comradery, and normalcy.
Today, MLB.com offered full-length games from its storied past. Without knowing why, I clicked on the American League Division Series Game 5 between the Rangers and Blue Jays. A winner-take-all game, it is better known as the game in which Jose Bautista flipped his bat after homering late in the game.
It started as a great game between pitchers Cole Hamels (Rangers) and Marcus Stroman (Blue Jays). Tied 2-2 going into the seventh inning, Rougned Odor singled for the Rangers and ended up at third after a sacrifice bunt and groundout. After Rangers’ right fielder Shin-Soo Choo took a high pitch, Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin attempted to throw the ball back to pitcher Aaron Sanchez. Unbelievably, the ball hit Shin-Soo Choo’s bat and rolled down the third baseline. Odor took off and easily crossed the plate while the Blue Jays wondered what happened.
After a long conversation between the umpires, Odor was granted home plate as the ball was considered “live.” Needless to say, in a tight game, the Toronto fans erupted in protest. Bottles, cans, and trash were thrown onto the field. Play stopped for what seemed forever. After such a close game, I, too, was upset to see a team lose a playoff series in such a meaningless manner. After failing to save my wife from the relentless attack of cancer, my sense of life’s unfairness seemed to distill itself into this moment. I was incensed. What happened next, through baseball, I still can’t properly process.
In the bottom of the seventh inning, through a series of errors that almost made me believe in (at least a baseball) god and righting the wrong from the previous half-inning, Jose Bautista stepped to the plate. With the fans (and me) standing and on a 1-1 count, pitcher Eric Dyson threw a meatball that righted my world. The monster blast that Bautista hit into the upper deck released every pent up emotion I had no way of handling following my wife’s death 43 days earlier.
With my children back at school, finishing their senior year at the University of Texas at Austin, I was living alone at home with my dying dog who would not see Opening Day the following season. My days at work were blue and my lonely nights and weekends utter blackness. Fortunate enough to have cable and splurging on the MLB package, baseball was my roommate, the television conversation.
To have the game I love bring a sense of fairness, where doing the right thing is rewarded in positive results, meant the world to me. To see the Blue Jays (and Bautista) win the game and set straight a correct but unnatural technicality somehow made me weep as if I had beaten cancer for my wife (or was even a Blue Jays fan). I watched that game today and realized how soon after my wife’s death that game took place and how much it meant to me then and why.
That day, baseball showed me a flicker of fairness. That day, Bautista did something I could not. That day, baseball brought me back.
When it is safe, baseball will bring us back again.