Opening Day in Heaven

Opening Day in Heaven

From Chicken Soup for the Grieving Soul

Opening Day in Heaven

Opening Day—two words that conjure up memories of seasons long past and of lazy days passed by fathers and sons at ballparks all over America. It’s a marvelous, cathartic day, when everyone is young again, spring is in the air, and everything is fresh and new.

I’m not sure Opening Day will ever be the same for me again.

Last September, my wife and I stared in disbelief as doctors told us that our son Mikey was suffering from a rare form of brain cancer called pontine glioma and had a few short weeks to live.

It couldn’t happen to him. He was so healthy, strong and full of life; it had to be something else that was causing his sudden awkwardness and loss of balance. There was no chance that a normal kid could have no symptoms one day and be terminal the next.

In just five short weeks, we found out we were wrong. Our five-year-old son died on October 16, 1999.

At the time of his death, baseball was just starting to have some significance in his life, and the memory of his last game has forever changed my perspective on the sport I fell in love with more than thirty-five years ago.

Mikey had seen the Yankees when they came to town, and Mark McGwire, too, but it was the Phillie Phanatic mascot that held his fascination.

He listened to me retell countless stories of my late father seeing Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in the 1920s and the time he introduced me to Mickey Mantle for my tenth birthday. I told him about a magical October night when Reggie Jackson blasted three pitches out of Yankee Stadium in game six of the 1977 World Series. But Mikey really wanted to meet the Phanatic.

A local bank arranged for our family to be their guest in the firm’s luxury box for the last game of the season. I contacted the Philadelphia Phillies, and within an hour Mikey had a date with the chubby green mascot.

In the fifth inning of a meaningless game, Mikey got his wish.

The visit lasted only a few minutes, but he was as excited and animated as I’ve ever seen him. I couldn’t help but think that I must have had the same look on my face when I met Mickey Mantle.

For a few minutes, we almost forgot what inevitably lay ahead.

We settled back down to watch the rest of the game. After innumerable sodas and soft pretzels, I took the lad to the men’s room. As I helped him tuck in his shirt, he said to me in a world-weary voice, “Dad, this is my last game.”

“Don’t say that, Mikey,” I replied. “There will be plenty of other games. You’ll see.”

“No, Dad . . .” his voice trailed off. Then suddenly, young again, “Is there baseball in heaven?”

“Of course there is, pal,” I said as I tried to keep my composure. “And all the great players are there. It must be something to see.”

“Do you think Grandpop will take me to a game?” he asked.

Forgive me today if I skip the box scores in tomorrow’s edition—because the game I’m interested in won’t get much coverage. It’s Opening Day in heaven.

I hope the Babe and Mickey hit a couple of home runs for the little boy with the big hot pretzel sitting in the box seats next to my father.

Mike Bergen

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