Baseball as grief therapy
TUESDAY, April 6 – The shot heard across the Atlantic. That was the effect of Eamonn’s grand slam during baseball practice tonight. Step by step, ball by ball, we’re preparing for his return to the baseball field, where he had left behind so much love for his mother. Tonight was unforgettable.
At first he froze, as usual. Unable to play. Incapable of pitching, hitting, or enjoying himself. His heart was paralyzed by his head, but this time he didn’t give up. He was going to take one small step. We just tossed the ball back and forth. The two of us, father and son, alongside the field where the other players are taking batting practice and listening attentively to the trainer.
Eamonn couldn’t do it. He stood there stock-still, crying, glove in one hand, ball in the other. Throw, I asked. Throw, I wished. Throw, I commanded. Throw, I pleaded. No response. ‘I can’t.’ I walked up to him, he hugged me and sobbed that ‘that man’ kept him from throwing. That man, who had taken his mother away from him, along with all the pleasure the sport had given him. And nothing could bring that back.
He threw the ball away, as hard as he could. ‘I hate that man! I hate that man!’ His teammates pretended that they couldn’t see or hear him. I retrieved the ball, walked back, put it in his glove and said, ‘Eamonn, we’re not going to tolerate this. We’re not going to allow that man to deprive us of our pleasure. It’s unacceptable. Believe me when I say that we’re playing with Mom in our thoughts and that she’s watching us.’
Eamonn looked at me. ‘I know why you’re saying that. I understand perfectly. But you know that that only makes it worse because she’s NOT HERE.’ Then he threw the ball to me. And I threw it back. We went on throwing, back and forth. High balls, ground balls, fast balls. Just playing catch. Not a word was spoken. Back and forth. Back and forth.
Joining his teammates wasn’t an option. As the game began, Eamonn wanted to go to a different part of the field for a bit of batting practice. Whack that ball, undisturbed, just the two of us. Throw, hit. Throw, hit. Until the ball ended up in the ditch and we went back to the field where the guys were playing their practice game.
‘Hey, Papa, shall I bat, too?’ Whatever you want, son.
He swung. A double. And then, at the last minute, just before it got dark, there was an extra inning. Bases loaded. Grounder between first and second. Clumsily fielded and a lousy throw which enabled Eamonn to make it to home plate. A grand slam. High fives. End of game, end of practice, new beginning.
Back home we called Grandma. Answering machine. Uncle Jim, answering machine. But, Uncle Pete, who did pick up the phone, was brought up to date with all the details. When all of us were already in bed, Jim called back. Proud as peacocks, both father and uncle. Then Grandma called back. I only told her half the story, since she was crying and so was I. Tears of love.
Baseball is a fantastic metaphor for life, at least that’s what they say. You fail more often than you succeed. The season is long, you have to make a lot of difficult decisions. You make mistakes, but you always get a second chance and you’re the only one who can grab that second chance. That’s what Eamonn did tonight, and in style.