Where Have You Gone, Mickey Mantle?

I am sitting in the living room watching the World Series with my husband. Which is odd, considering that we think baseball is the most godawful, boring game on earth — but the Texas Rangers are in the series, so what can we do except show up and try to pay attention off and on?

I would say I am a total idiot about baseball — my usual disclaimer about sports, plumbing and car mechanics — but that isn’t true. I grew up watching baseball with my father, sitting in front of our small black-and-white TV. I know what full counts, balks and force outs are.

I learned that from my father, who also told me a lot about Mickey Mantle, an Oklahoma boy like himself. Who knew what Mickey would have been able to accomplish if he’d only been healthy? my father would say, shaking his head at the unfairness of it all.

An unfair life was pretty much the way things were in my household growing up. Did my father like his job as an accountant for a big oil company? No one ever asked that. If anyone had, there would have been no answer. Men worked to provide for their families. They stared straight ahead, focusing on the next eight hours. And the next. Life wasn’t fun; life was duty and responsibility.

Watching baseball games on TV — now that might have been fun. Unfortunately, my father was often stuck watching while accompanied by his older daughter, me. I wasn’t the daughter he probably expected to have, a younger facsimile of my mother, pretty and popular. Instead, I wore ill-fitting glasses that slid down my nose when I got excited, I had an overbite that leapt out of my mouth, I was pudgy. I spent most of my time reading. I was hopeless, an embarrassment to a good-looking family.

Maybe that was why my father disliked me. Or maybe it was the crippling post-partum depression my mother went into after my birth. Whatever the reason, it must have been hard for him. It was hard for me, too, even though I didn’t realize it at the time. Maybe I thought that, if I just kept showing up and learned more about baseball and Mickey Mantle, my father would like me more. It never happened, but, again, life was unfair.

The years passed. I grew up to marry a man who knew nothing about baseball. What team did Stan Musial play for? was the question posed years ago, when I played Trivial Pursuit with my husband and another academic. They looked blank. I realized I was playing Trivial Pursuit with the only two men in America who had no idea who Stan the Man played for. My father would have been scandalized. By then, it no longer mattered to me what he thought. The only thing that mattered was that I beat both guys at Trivial Pursuit.

The Texas Rangers lost last night, in the zillionth inning. My father has been dead for a year and  half. By then, we had learned Mickey Mantle drank too much and wasted away his life and early promise. Strange to learn, again and again, that the story isn’t always what you think it is at the time.

Fifty years later, I’m still watching baseball with a man I live with. But the TV’s bigger and the guy thinks I’m great. Life is still unfair. But sometimes, for a while, at least, you get lucky.

(Copyright 2011 by Ruth Pennebaker)


To read related posts about family, go here and here.

14 comments… add one
  • My Dad was probably the only man I knew who was not interested in any kind of organized sport. I have no idea where my childhood love of baseball came from – back in the very early 1960’s I fell in love with – yes, Mickey Mantle and Stan Musial, without any parental involvement whatsoever. Were we switched at birth? Seriously, I thought this was a touching post.

  • Cindy D. Link

    I refuse to believe that you were as ugly as you describe yourself. Growing up as a smart girl/woman in Texas, in our generation was hell. I know from personal experience. Your family sounds like mine. They should have just lined the whole family up and given them IV prozac. It would have made a huge difference in all our lives.

    Aren’t you glad that now you are beautiful, have a great husband, great kids, and many people laugh out loud or cry because you have the talent to turn a phrase that makes us gasp at the beauty of it. Job well done!

  • I absolutely love this blog, especially the part about the story not always being what you think it is. Thanks for sharing.
    Pat Bean http://patbean.wordpress.com

  • Great post. I was very close to my father (he was a cubs fan although we live in Pennsylvania). He died before my 11th birthday, devastating my family and pitching my mother into two years of depression. Yes, life is never fair. Thanks for sharing your story.

  • Steve Link

    I have equal chances of crying or laughing when I read your work. Often, both result from the same post. (Then again, I could cry at a Walmart opening.)

    The thought of a father not loving his daughter is unimaginable to me, so I re-read this post. You choose your words carefully, and on second reading I noted that you didn’t say that he didn’t love you. You said he disliked you. Those are different propositions.

    I cannot relate very well to either proposition, but I believe that I can accept the latter without having to accept the former.

  • I learned to love baseball (grew up with cricket) since my son has been a huge fan since he was about three. Now thirteen, he told me during this World Series, when I made a vaguely informed comment about the short stop: “It’s so great to have a mum who gets baseball.”

    That’s just about the biggest compliment I could ask for these days.

    And, Ruth, did you see Game 6: So exciting!!!

  • I don’t really get baseball (or football or most sports, for that matter), though did have a passing bit of excitement when the Detroit Tigers were in the finals this year. And then I think (?) they went away and so did my interest. But I still like all the baseball movies that keep coming out. Moneyball was pretty interesting.

  • Sheryl Link

    I grew up in a family with no interest in sports whatsoever. That’s why, when I got married and had 2 children – 2 boys – I was terribly out of it on weekends and Monday nights when the gang would gather on our couch to watch endless hours of sports. Now, I just try to at least feign interest, although if you asked me what was going on I’d just give you a blank stare.

  • Something magical happens when I hear the muted roar of baseball on TV…especially during the World Series….I am so reminded of growing up, how my father would snooze in front of the set and intermittently try to explain some aspect about the game (while he was awake!)…all the memories are very comforting. I like watching with my husband who explains all the rules to me now, as still I need that.

  • Baseball is really the only sport in the world I truly understand. My family was big on baseball and we lived in Kansas City during the teams heyday. I was close with my father for the short time I had him and pouring over the paper on summer mornings, reading the baseball stats, was something we did together. Since I’ve grown, I rarely watch major league baseball anymore, the inequity of big market teams represents to me the unfairness of a system that rewards the rich and penalizes the poorer, year after year.

  • Great blog. I watched the game too since I am from St. Louis. I remember Stan the Man. Hey, my dad did not care much for me either since I was a change of life surprise. There is no man in my life so I watched parts of the games while getting ready for my night shift job. You are right life is not fare but it is what it is.

  • I’ve wanted to love baseball–my dad is a diehard Chicago White Sox fan, but I get bored watching too. I tend to follow during the season when my fav teams are doing well then inevitably they stop winning and I lose interest. Yes, I’m a fair weather fan

  • Ah, but imagine how much worse it would have been if you were a BOY who hated sports. I think about the non-athletic siblings of all those famous athletes (like the one Manning brother who didn’t become a huge NFL superstar) and wonder what their childhood was like. No pressure there!

  • Casey’s comment is so true. Think if you had been a boy and not liked sports (or been good at them).

    In my former life, sports was the center of our lives, especially baseball. I’m afraid that my children had a very stilted youth. It sure made my daughter intimidating to date since she knew more about sports than any boy her age.

    I’m sorry that your dad didn’t see your true beauty.

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