Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Dodger Blue

There were few things Joey loved so much as a Dodger Game. Here he is a few years ago on a Dodger night, with part of his second family, Tom and Kevin, with the stadium in panorama behind them.

Joey grew up with the Dodgers. We shared season's tickets with our neighbors, with prime seats behind home plate, so during the season we were at the stadium four or five times a month. We had our food favorites there, our secret spots for parking, and Dodger giveaways filled our kids' rooms. Joey and Jaime had even caught a couple foul balls, and they were proudly and prominently displayed on shelves in our home.

Those warm summer nights, downing mustardy Dodger dogs, cracking peanut shells and dropping them in piles under our feet, watching the jumbo screens and fireworks on the special nights, and cheering on our team...our whole family loved the details and rituals of Dodger night.

Joey also played Little League as a kid and baseball was his favorite team sport. It too became a family pasttime. His dad took him to the batting cages, and I learned how to be the official scorekeeper. I spent many springs and summers at the Little League field, up in the announcer's booth, recording hits, runs and errors for league statistics.

His major league team won the championship three years in a row. Joey played the catcher position, but he would also pitch and play shortstop. We all know how maniacally competitive Little League coaches can be, and he definitely had one of those, but the assistant coach was a gem. He was actually a sports writer for the Los Angeles Times, and he had a knack for writing beautiful and encouraging letters to each player on the team. That's something special a mom remembers.

For many years, Joey breathed baseball. He had an extensive and expensive baseball card collection. His hero was Orel Hershheiser, the incredible Dodger pitcher who was also a committed Christian. The Dodgers were his favorite entertainment, his best night out, and a huge bond with his dad. As he grew up, that passion continued as it connected him to his college friends, who developed their own new rituals for Dodger nights, and with a city that he loved.

In the bottom corner of this picture, I captioned it "The Grand Slam!". That picture was taken so many years ago, I don't even remember the moment now. It obviously was a proud one for all of us. I do know that my kid had fun playing baseball--and that baseball not only shaped his character in a positive way, but it also bonded us as a family.

The night after Joey's L.A. memorial service, we all went to a Dodger game in Joey's honor. Joe somehow got 30 Dodger tickets for $2.00 each off of Craig's List, and between friends, family, and cousins, we used them all. Though I have to say I was barely functioning that night, and I sat there in a fog of unspeakable grief, this night was extremely important to Joe. It had been a father-son ritual for so many years, could it now, really, so suddenly be over? We hadn't yet begun to count the layers of secondary losses, but this was a huge one. In hindsight, I see it as the first of many attempts we've made to bring Joey back to us.

In the picture above, Joe is draped with Joey's favorite shirt--the blue plaid one that shows up in so many of his pictures--and in his bright red Little League All Stars jacket. As we sorted through his belongings, we had found this precious red jacket hanging in his closet, saved from 16 summers prior, meaningful enough to Joey that he had kept it since he was a bat-swinging kid. I never knew till then that it had been among the few personal possessions that he had brought with him when he left home for college at USC, and ended up staying in L.A.

Is there baseball in Heaven? I don't know. You can't stretch scripture to include it, like you can the possibility of dogs in Heaven. It is one of the great experiences of this life that may, or may not, go with us into eternity. I know for us, it was one of the better parts of the world we had built for our children. We miss what it once meant to us. We try to keep the interest alive, but without Joey, it's simply not the same.

The World Series starts soon, and I'm sure we will be watching it, even though this year, it will be without the Dodgers. But worst of all, and the one we will forever be trying to come to terms with, it will be the end of the second baseball season without our beautiful son.

a different kind of night at Dodger Stadium...


Beckypdj said...

I had to catch my breath a little while reading this post. Peyton loved baseball too and was the catcher. (and I kept alot of "books" too) All the boys we are closest to now are the boys we traveled with playing baseball. Those were good times. The people we are the closest to are the parents of these boys. We raised our kids together and it is a bond not to be broken.

You sound like me, wondering about Heaven. I desperately want to know what Peyton is doing at this moment. I guess we'll have to wait.

I'm glad you have so many baseball memories to share. The secondary losses are numerous but they are a testimony to how active we were in our kids' lives.

Keep sharing your stories; I like reading about Joey. :)

michael, ciara, mikaela and zachary said...

We too loved growing up with baseball. I so enjoy hearing about Joeys life and his childhood! Michael was a catcher, and I played short-stop. Those were fun days! The Dodgers is mine and my dad's team too. I'm glad you have those precious pictures of Joey, I think baseball ones are the classics. Thank you for sharing so much about Joey, we love hearing about him. Love you guys,

karen gerstenberger said...

Karen, you have told a very beautiful baseball story here. I love reading what it means/meant to you and your family, and can see how it might have been for me, in a different situation. Thank you for showing me how it could be.
Your family is so very lovely. I feel as if I know a little bit more about Joey, now, too.

flowergardengirl said...

My DIL now reads your blog too. I emailed her last week cause I like to include her in what I'm doing. My son, her hubby, reminds me of your Joey in a lot of ways. Well then I guess it's just that mother son thing. I'm close to both my boys.

Of course I cried a lot when I read this and want to go hug them right now. I want to be kind to my boys every time I see them and never let one minute go by that I will regret. It is so good to read your blog and be reminded to think that way. I promise to do that. I'm sorry you can't. I'm sorry for you that I can.

I look forward to coming here and I too wonder what Joey thinks when he reads about what you wrote. I bet he looks forward to what you remember. Writing is so good to stir the soul. I find that I have a much better recollection of a situation as I write it down. And I can go back and make it even more clear as time passes. It's like building on the ages.

That is happening to my uncle as he ages. He can recall stuff from when I was a kid that I have no clue about. So I reckon you better start with the present and work your way backwards don't you think? Oh and we just learned at the Garden Writer's Convention---the brain is not the dying piece of tissue they once thought. If you keep exercising it---you will increase in knowledge. I'm gonna be smart aren't you?

My older son the engineer who is a very strong christian--added that so you don't think he's a kook with this next thought---thinks God is in all the energy--so just maybe Joey is right next to you and when we get our senses about us after Jesus comes back we'll be able to look right over at him. He's been there the whole time. Does it seem like it? Or do you think I've been up too long coding on my blog? perhaps?

I like all the baseball pictures. I've got them of the boys too. They played baseball and soccer. They didn't like basketball.

Anonymous said...

Loved this blog. I can relate with
you right on the penny about what you did right after Joey died. We were the same, numb in a sense and
wanting to do just about anything to ease what had just happened. It
was as if we just did what we would normally do everything would be okay. I am glad that we had 42 years of memories now. I have so much to think about. Some make me smile and some cry. I think that is what carries us along. God did
not let this happen without reason.
Just you wondering what goes on in
heaven makes me smile. I can only imagine how happy I will be once I get there. Lovin you Sharon
By for now to Joey's mom and dad.

Anonymous said...

As I look back on that night...it has been a wonderful memory of being with those who loved Joey so much and in a place that Joey loved and had so much fun.

It was a night of fellowship, love, pain and sorrow.

I often think of the "quarter game" we use to play when the games were boring - or was it a dime and just graduated to quarters. I can't remember how to play the game, but I can remember Joey and Joe playing it and involving all of those in the seats around them...who were those people????

They always had so much fun and something going on and everyone wanted to be involved - wheather they knew them or not:))

Go Dodger Blue! - Maybe next year!

Love AV