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)