92: Free Baseball

92: Free Baseball

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Married Life!

Free Baseball

The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves…

~Thomas Merton

“Way to go, Cardinals!” shouted my husband, Jeff, jumping up from his seat at Busch Stadium, home of his beloved St. Louis Cardinals baseball team. We were celebrating our first anniversary, a truly hot Saturday afternoon in June, with all of the humidity typical of summer in Missouri. In spite of the excitement I’d previously felt about this, our only vacation since our short honeymoon the year before, I was now tired and more than ready to go. Add in that my sunburned shoulders rivaled the color of the players’ red hats and that I didn’t understand baseball all that much (neither its rules nor my husband’s over-the-top obsession with it) and you have a game plan for grumpiness.

Not that Jeff appeared to notice.

No, he merely grinned at me, the awful heat not even fazing him.

His eyes shone as he gave me a high-five. “How about that, hon?” he said. “Looks like we’re going into extra innings. It’s not every day we get free baseball.”

“Whoa,” I replied. “What do you mean, free baseball?”

“Well, you know, the Cards just tied it up in the bottom of the ninth. Hello? A baseball game has nine innings? Okay, so we’ve paid to watch nine innings, right? Well, if the teams are tied coming out of the ninth, the game will keep going until one team out-scores the other. Anything after the ninth? Bonus baseball, baby. How lucky are we?”

“Oh, boy,” I said.

Now I knew I shouldn’t complain. The weekend had been a total joint endeavor. We had traveled the four hours to St. Louis from our hometown of Springfield on Thursday, shared a romantic dinner that night, spent Friday at the zoo (my pick), Saturday at the ballpark (his pick), and planned to take in a museum on Sunday before heading home. He had promised I’d love my first Major League ballgame. He’d only been to a few games himself, attending with his parents, and I could well imagine him as a little boy, all wide eyes and fascination. And he was right — the game did fascinate me too. I loved the frenzy of the crowd, the hot dogs and sunshine, the sounds of the ball smacking against the catcher’s mitt, and Jeff yelling, “Sit down!” when a batter on the opposing team struck out.

But that fascination, and even my pride at our ability to so effortlessly compromise, had worn thin. We’d been within minutes of exiting the stadium, of retreating to our air-conditioned hotel room, and with one swing of the bat, here I sat, elbow-deep in sweat, while Jeff tugged on his well-worn ball glove, heartily anticipating “free baseball.”

Little did I know how familiar those two tiny words would become in the ensuing years.

On that day, though, I coped by doing what I’d always done when stuck somewhere with too much time on my hands: I pulled a book out of my purse and began reading.

“Wait, wait, wait,” sputtered Jeff, glancing around to see if other fans noticed. “What’s this, honey? You can’t read at a ballgame.”

Little did he know that in my mind books and baseball were already wed.

“He’s obsessed!” I confided to my best girlfriend Kathy after that weekend. “I guess I never realized we were so different.”

“So?” Kathy only shrugged. “You love each other, right?”

Yes, I decided, we surely do. Still, I’d never before considered what brings two people together. Whether “opposites attract” or “like minds draw like minds,” I suppose I always felt that if you were lucky enough to find someone to love, let alone marry, you also just magically knew how to make married life click. But after that ballgame, I worried. Though Jeff and I had met at work and shared many of the same friends, though we enjoyed an easy partnership and a heart-stopping love, our differences suddenly glared at me like a neon sign flashing WARNING. I ticked those differences off in my head: he was a rightie, I was a leftie; he had played varsity baseball, I’d performed in musicals and wrote short stories in bed; he’d excelled at calculus, I’d stuffed Great Expectations inside my algebra book and read my way through math. How could two people be so different and still navigate marriage and love?

Flash forward thirty-three years and four children later and I’m still not sure I know the answer. But I do know I’ve discovered a few things. I know that a player has to commit fully in baseball, just as you have to love your spouse completely and give the marriage all you’ve got. I know that baseball is as much about the strikeout or the disabled list as it is about the grand slam or the walk-off home run, and I realize that a lot of hard work goes into each play, yet sometimes you have to sacrifice an out to move your runner along. Mostly, I know that, yes, there is just a bit of magic to baseball, but that if you stick with your teammate, if you communicate well and celebrate strengths while complementing weaknesses, that magic can last a lifetime.

It’s a hot night in September as Jeff and I sit in the bleachers at Pittsburgh’s lovely PNC Park. The humidity is oppressive, but we’ve embarked on this little baseball road trip to see our beloved St. Louis Cardinals play. We’ve just had some excitement in the top of the ninth as the Cards tie the score, and now, in the bottom of the inning, our relieving pitcher must bear down and do his job. Watching intently, Jeff balances his well-worn ball glove atop his knee as I keep my book reassuringly close at hand. Suddenly, our reliever delivers a wicked curve ball and the opposing batter strikes out, taking us into extra innings. “Sit down!” I cry, as Jeff and I leap out of our seats to jump into each other’s arms.

Just then, my phone trills with a text from my older son’s fiancé. Reading the text, I laugh out loud. Clearly, she and my son are watching the game at home on TV. My boy has grown up on baseball, following in his father’s footsteps with an over-the-top Cardinals obsession that continues to amaze. I’ve always known it would take a special girl to finally win his heart, and the message she’s sent confirms that now for me.

“Free baseball!” is all it says, but those two tiny words tell me everything I need to know. They assure me that my son and his girl are well on their way to fashioning their own love story, and I can’t help but smile as I text her back with my usual response: a resounding, though just a wee bit cynical, “Oh, boy!”


~Theresa Sanders

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