I do word and number puzzles while I watch baseball on TV: New York Times crosswords and acrostics, sudokus, KenKens. My baseball savvy and Yankees keenness come in handy on the clues that lead to A-Rod, Mo Rivera, Yogi Berra, and others. The two pastimes complement each other, employing different neurons, engaging and focusing my mind in a compatible pas de deux.
My baseball affinity and juggling ability are legacies from my mother, a baseball devotee and, acknowledged by all who knew her, efficiency maven. She liked to keep her hands busy and her concentration narrowed while she watched or listened to ballgames. It was opportunity wasted, she said—long before multitasking was a sought-after skill—to sit and watch a game without doing something else, something useful. Knitting was her foremost talent. She created exquisite handiwork during countless hours of innumerable ballgames—cable-stitch sweaters and lacy-knit shawls, multicolored scarves and hats—tangible products to show for her time. My puzzle-solving is productive in its own way, invigorating idle brain cells.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, my mother was a lifelong Dodgers fan, even after our family moved to California in 1949. When the Dodgers followed us to the west coast several years later, she was overjoyed. “They moved out here for me,” she liked to say. They were in Los Angeles, and we were 100 miles away in San Diego, but she remained loyal. When the San Diego Padres became major league competitors in 1969, she felt torn, honor-bound to support the home team, so she split her allegiance. When the two faced each other on the field, she cheered both.
I regret that my baseball gene didn’t materialize when I was young so that my mother and I could bond over it. I took to the game much later and over time, yet it was still a strong connection to her. Like her I continued to root for the home team, and like her I divided my loyalties after, for inexplicable reasons, I became a devoted Yankees fan. But I didn’t inherit her love for the Dodgers. Arch-enemies of the Padres and with a long history of enmity with the Yankees, they’re the team I love to boo.
The post-war 1940s and ‘50s were the Golden Age of Baseball, and New York City, with three major league teams, was its embodiment. My parents and older brother went to games in New York; my brother was an early Yankees fan in his Babe Ruth #3 pinstriped uniform. Live baseball in our small beach town north of San Diego wasn’t as accessible when I was growing up. I remember going to the city for a few minor league games as a child and a couple of trips to Dodger Stadium in L.A. in my teens, where with the help of binoculars I would choose the cutest players to cheer for. These were holy pilgrimages for my mother, but she didn’t need to be present to enjoy the games—she was contented with the convenience of baseball on TV … while knitting.
Keeping score at games, that unique and laborious manual tallying of every pitch, every hit, every strike-out, was a popular activity before modern technology, but my mother scored while watching or listening to games at home too. With a ball of yarn and her current project on her lap, a pattern book on one side and a scoresheet attached to a clipboard on the other, she alternated knitting needles and pencil, her eyes darting up and down her bifocals. Ballparks sold score cards, and she may have stocked up when she went to games, but my brother thinks she made her own. That sounds like her, and I picture her drawing ruler-perfect lines and boxes. Now we can download scoresheets online, but I wonder who still does. With instant play-by-play and every imaginable stat at our fingertips, scoring by hand has become a dying art. Yet I’m sure my mother would continue to do it, a labor of love.
The recent TV mini-series of “A League of Their Own” piqued my curiosity. The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League was active from 1943 to 1954, consisting of girls and women from all parts of the country, ranging from their mid-teens to late 20s. I wonder if my mother followed the women’s outstanding exploits during their brief popularity during and after World War II. I know so little about her childhood and youth. I wonder if she joined any sandlot games on Brooklyn streets and empty lots or if girls were excluded. If there was girls’ softball when she was in school, if she ever wanted to play at all. I don’t know when she became interested in the game. Being a baseball fan doesn’t mean wanting to play any more than watching a moon landing means wanting to be an astronaut. She would have been 28 the opening year of women’s professional ball. She wasn’t athletic, but I picture her, tall and lean, quick and strong, pitching with precision aim, swinging the bat with pinpoint accuracy, tearing around the bases, long legs flying, dark eyes flashing. Sliding into home. Never mind that she was pregnant with me that summer, that if she’d played ball I might not exist.
I go to a handful of games in San Diego every year and to other ballparks when I’m traveling, including a memorable game—my own pilgrimage—in Yankee Stadium. But like my mother, I’m happy to watch on TV with my puzzles and other at-home comforts. I participated in school sports as required, including softball, but I wasn’t an athlete either. Like mother, like daughter. Both of us the uncontested baseball experts in our households, our husbands joining and supporting us but deferring to our zeal. Like mother, like daughter, maximizing our time as we cheer our teams, while one knits and the other puzzles.
Alice Lowe writes about life and language, food and family. Her essays have been widely published in literary journals, including this year in Big City Lit, Borrowed Solace, FEED, Drunk Monkeys, Midway, Eclectica, Pine Cone Review, and Dorothy Parker’s Ashes. She won an essay contest at Eat, Darling, Eat, and her work has been cited twice in Best American Essays. Alice has authored essays and reviews on Virginia Woolf’s life and work and is a regular contributor at Blogging Woolf. She lives in San Diego, California, and posts her work at www.aliceloweblogs.wordpress.com.