It doesn’t matter what the calendar says or what the weather forecast might be. The first day of spring, and the beginning of summer, is baseball’s opening day. Until then, the chill, gray skies of winter still linger, even in sunny Tucson where we’ve already hit ninety degrees.
It’s always been that way for me. Baseball and summer belong together. From the sultry afternoons during school vacations, when I lie in a hammock with the radio tuned to the Mets, to an April morning where snow fell up near Flagstaff, and I loaded the stream of the Red Sox game on my HDTV, the ritual of daily baseball games continues.
As I cheered the Red Sox win, I realized something was missing. At first I thought it was Big Papi, David Ortiz, who retired at the end of last season. And, yes, I did miss the roar of the crowd as he came up to bat as I struggled to recognize the new members of the team. But that wasn’t it.
I realized a part of me was waiting for my phone to ring, for that familiar voice to say, “Hello” and then ask if I’d watched the game. We were once close, but broke apart several years ago, our contact limited to Christmas cards and occasional meetings and the calls after Red Sox games. Not every game, but in Arizona, we knew there was someone else not too far away who would know what it felt like to win that game. Or suffer the loss.
My friend passed away last month.
A sudden trip to the ER, surgery to remove a tumor, a massive stroke a few days later. Although he’d had cardiac issues for several years, I think we both thought of that as just part of getting old. He saw his doctors regularly and neither of us expected him to die any time soon.
Until he did.
I didn’t mourn him until today. The end of the ballgame, the lack of a phone call, and the realization that not only would there never be a phone call again, but I never would have moved to Boston, never would have become a Red Sox fan if it weren’t for him, settled over me like a quilt filled with lead.
My usual reaction to something like this is to shut myself off from it, away from the ache, giving up something I enjoy because I can’t stand the pain. But the pain is still there, even if I’ve walled it off behind bricks of feigned apathy.
And so this year, even though it may hurt, I’ll watch every Red Sox game and remember Ted. I hope he can see the games in heaven. And maybe he’ll cheer along with me when they win.