Last night the Pittsburgh Pirates clinched a spot in the playoffs for the first time since 1992–the year my dad died. I can’t think about baseball without remembering Dad, and I can’t think about Dad and not think about his beloved Pirates. When I do think about my dad, this is how I most often picture him. A re-post from the archives:
The air hung heavy, hot, and still; his sleeveless undershirt stuck to his chest. Dampness settled into the well-worn carpet, coaxing out the smell of stray cats that always seemed to show up and make themselves at home in his house. He picked up a glass, filled it with water and ice, and spooned Nestea into it, clinking ice cubes as he stirred. He liked this new kind of iced tea mix with the lemon flavoring and sweetener in it. It seemed to quench his thirst more so than the Faygo Red Pop he’d gotten twelve for a dollar at the Kroger store where he worked.
He picked up his glass, his portable radio, and a bottle of Mercurochrome and stepped out onto the front porch. Outside the house, at least, it felt a few degrees cooler. Inside the house were sounds of games shows on the TV and of one of his four kids plunking out a piano lesson. Though he’d escaped the smell of cat, outside he was met by the smoky, pungent odor of mosquito spray spilling out from town trucks patrolling the neighborhood. He watched as the neighborhood kids followed a truck down his street, riding their bikes through its cloud of fumes. Crazy kids. They shouldn’t be breathing that stuff, he thought. But he guessed they weren’t hurting anybody. Besides, it was summer, and they needed to have their fun.
He plugged in his radio and began fiddling with the antennas and dial, trying to tune in the sound of Bob Prince’s voice. Through the static, he heard that the Pirates were at bat—two on, two out. The count on the batter was one and one. He hoped the static in the air and on his radio meant a storm in the area might just crack the stifling heat. He settled himself onto the porch swing, its metal chains creaking and groaning rhythmically as he rocked back and forth. He shook the bottle of Mercurochrome and began applying red liquid to the cuts on his hands. He’d gotten himself good that day, boning out cuts of meat he never could afford to buy for his own family.
The radio crackled. Swing and a miss. The porch swing groaned. The air sank. Ice cubes disappeared. He stared out into the evening, too hot and too tired to think. And then Bob Prince’s voice broke through the static, You can kiss that one goodbye! Willie had dinged one over the fence.
And for a brief, fleeting moment on a hot summer night, there was joy. And hope. And peace.
Originally published February 17, 2011