Part IV: New York Baseball, Dad, and Me
By Joe Rini
Early this May, the Mets had a long slog of a Sunday night game against the Phillies where closer Edwin Diaz gave up an apparent game-tying ninth inning home run that became a double after replay review allowing the Mets to escape with a win. I wanted to call my Dad during replay review to vent about the game but I didn’t; old age was catching up to my Dad and I figured he’d be resting since it was late, about 11:00 pm. I’d talk to him during the week.
I called my family on Monday night to say hello but Dad didn’t come to the phone; my sister and Mom told me my father wasn’t feeling well. A few hours later, my sister called to say he was in the hospital. Two days earlier, he and I had laughed that he was sharp enough to pick the longshot winner in the Kentucky Derby while I wasn’t sharp enough to place the bet and now he was in intensive care facing surgery in a matter of hours.
Surgery was performed and while the doctor was hopeful initially about my father’s prognosis, it became apparent in the following days that my father was dying.
When I saw him in the hospital, he couldn’t speak and wasn’t very responsive, except for one eye that opened a slit at times. I was there with my sister and brother and later my wife. What do you say in such a situation? I said things that were mundane and profound; I laughingly said things and choked up saying other things; I reminisced about things we had talked about for years and said other things you’d only say the last time you were seeing someone. While he wasn’t so responsive, I’d like to believe he heard everything I said.
I mentioned Ebbets Field to him and said maybe we’d get to go to a game at a stadium that had been torn down for sixty years. Before seeing him at the hospital, I thought of those Brooklyn Dodgers of the 1950s and I leaned towards my father in his hospital bed and said:
“Welcome to Ebbets Field…at first base, number 14, Gil Hodges…at second base, Jim Gilliam…at third base, number 42, Jackie Robinson…at shortstop, number 1, the Captain, Pee Wee Reese…in left field, from Cuba, Sandy Amoros…in center field, number 4, the Duke of Fallbrook, Duke Snider…in left field, the Reading Rifle, Carl Furillo…behind the plate, number 39, Roy Campanella…and on the mound, the pitcher, left hander Johnny Podres…and here’s the pitch…it’s a ground ball to shortstop, Reese fires it to Hodges and the Dodgers win the 1955 World Series!”
My father died on a Monday, the Monday after I called to say hello.
I discovered that it’s easier to be mentally prepared versus emotionally prepared for the death of an aged parent. Intellectually, I could see his physical health had been failing in recent years and knew this day was inevitable; unfortunately, I didn’t appreciate it was also imminent, perhaps because he was still sharp mentally. I was blessed to have him in my life for so long. When you’re the youngest of five siblings born in your parents’ fifteenth year of marriage and then you have both parents in your life until you’re in your late 50’s, then you’re a lucky guy. I’m not only lucky; I’m blessed.
Due to circumstances, it was a small wake and funeral. I must admit, as sad as I was to say good-bye to my father, I was happy to see my four siblings, my nieces and nephews, cousins and friends I hadn’t seen since before the Covid-19 pandemic. My father loved family gatherings and this farewell was appropriately, a family gathering.
The night before the funeral, it occurred to me because my Dad was such a baseball fan, perhaps I’d have everyone at the final viewing sign a baseball to my Dad that I’d leave in the casket with him. My siblings went along with the idea and everyone signed this baseball. My sister-in-law joked to me about what my father would’ve said and I could picture him joking, “Sure, give me the ball. I have a game today.”
As a World War II veteran who served in Europe, my father was buried with military honors, and when the color guard soldier presented the flag to my family and said “On behalf of the President of the United States, the US Army, and a grateful nation…” I really felt their gratitude for his service.