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Be Our Guest, Be Our Guest, Put Our Service To The Test

This week is/would be/should be my 35th wedding anniversary.  It's an anniversary that, with the boys all grown, I should be with the man I was destined to grow old with, exploring someplace romantic or at the very least having a romantic dinner.  We should be reminiscing about the good times and the bad and what made our marriage strong enough to get to where we are now. I'm angry and sad and extremely jealous because so many of my other friends are doing exactly that.

 I needed to channel my anger in a positive way. And I'm doing it with diamonds. Baseball diamonds that is.

Baseball has certainly been a big part of not just Wingman's and my sons' lives, but also of mine. My family went with Dad's fire company on summer bus trips to Shea Stadium to see "The Mutts" when they were the perennial losers and tickets were cheap.  All seven of us went for less than what one semi-decent ticket costs today.

All three of my brothers played ball. I know I had a mad crush on at least one of the guys they played with, and was more than happy to watch without being a mopey, bitchy pre-teen. When my parents added a pool in the backyard, those boys could be found splashing away after a game with me at my bedroom window drooling, umm, I mean...watching. Even babysitting for their coach's kids evokes memories. He wore Brut cologne, and that scent still sends me back into teenage baseball delirium. 

First Love played baseball, and I spent years in the bleachers cheering him on.  The first time my high school played his, an actual fight broke out, which resulted in a decades-long rivalry. It wasn't easy going back to classes and sitting next to guys that were in that fight, and I think my teacher/team baseball coach actually failed me on my next test out of spite. It was decades later when son #2 won in relief in a conference championship game against that school that I could finally say that revenge was sweet.

Having three sons, our time at baseball fields stretched almost two decades. Early on, Wingman coached their teams and he was fantastic nurturing little kids. It was sweet watching boys with huge mitts and hats that slid down over their ears hit "home runs".  It got tougher though as they got older; watching them strike out with bases loaded or walk in the winning run. But he was always a kind and patient coach. He use to say that coaching little kids was what he wanted to do when he retired.

By high school, Coach Wingman became obsolete.  He was relegated to being just a spectator with the other parents.  It was about that time that his demeanor changed, and he became anxious and depressed. By the time the two older ones went on to play in college, he could barely watch without liquid fortification. When we went to games, he would say he was going to get coffee, but would come back empty handed.  He would go back and forth to the car, and I would eventually end up driving home, furious, while he slept it off.

One summer, son #2 complained about a flutter in his chest. Wingman scoffed it off, saying he had the same thing, an extra heartbeat, when he played football in college and it turned out to be nothing. We took him to a cardiologist, who agreed but put a monitor on him for a week as a precaution. Out of the blue, his college coach called to say that he found a summer team in Waterloo Iowa for him to play on.  They needed a good relief pitcher, and Coach felt this would be a great opportunity. Son #2 was ecstatic. The monitor had to go.

Wingman changed overnight. "He's not going, not with his heart like that. He could die." All of a sudden, it was like he needed a heart transplant.  He and I fought over it and he refused to even discuss it.  The plane ticket had to be purchased, and we were short on money, so a friend loaned me the cash to buy his ticket. Wingman went into another slump. The morning son #2 left, he put a letter under Wingman's pillow as he slept about how disappointed he was with his behavior, and as I drove him to the airport, I mused over Wingman's words: "If he dies out there, it's your fault."

He didn't die, and had a fabulous summer pitching in a bunch of big stadiums in front of much bigger crowds than he ever did before. As much as I/we would have liked to have flown out there to watch him, Wingman wasn't going to work regularly, and I feared that either he would lose his job, or even worse, be an embarrassment. So we stayed. The only bad thing about Iowa was the housing arrangements.  Since he was so late to the table, they found an older man to take him in, who lived in the woods, and barely talked to him.  He spent most of his time with a guy he met whose host parents agreed to let him sleep on the couch for the rest of the summer. I was eternally grateful for their generosity.

Last year, I started thinking about all things baseball.  I was using Wingman's laptop, and found a very old email from a woman who ran the summer league the boys played on. I looked it up to see if it was still around, and found out that they are, and were looking for host families for players.  I sent her an e-mail that I had two spare rooms if she needed one. Like summers before, I was late to the table and they had all that they needed.

Son #1 moved back home last fall to start a job here in the states. When a couple of months ago the woman from the summer baseball league sent a blanket email looking for host families, I deleted it thinking that two sons at home was enough.  Then came a second email, and a third desperate one. Nine baseball players still needed homes. I couldn't do it-the last spare room was a wreck. Then came a personal phone call with one last plea. With one deep breath, I said yes. Out came the garbage bags to purge.

And so, on Monday, in walked my "summer son", a 19 year old boy from Fitzwilliam,  New Hampshire.  He eats things I would feed a two year old: Strawberry Pop Tarts, mac n cheese, nachos, cheeseburgers and carrots with ranch dressing. He's never seen pork roll, hates fish and doesn't eat vegetables. Worse that all that, he's a Boston Red Sox fan.  But, he's sweet, and Dexter already likes him. He loves Bruce Springsteen and can quote baseball statistics about almost every player in MLB. He tells me when he's leaving and when he's coming home. When I leave for work, he actually says good bye and be careful-something my own brood  never does. And I'm looking forward to watching him play-he throws in the low 90's. I want to be like that family from Waterloo Iowa that gave my son a great summer. Paying it forward if you will.

As it happens, his birthday and my anniversary are days apart.  I plan to watch his game and take him to a pizza place where they give you a tee shirt if you can eat a whole extra large pie, which I have no doubt that he can. In my mind, it will be nothing and everything like that 35th anniversary dinner should have been with Wingman.

Because some or most of our conversation will be about baseball.

Happy Birthday Tyler. And Happy Anniversary me.


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