So many memories, so many tributes, but his life’s work says it all. Vin was born to do and be the voice of the Dodgers—a voice that at all times delighted in children and families, captured moments in time that were greater than our own first-hand witness, and always—always—spoke of players, teams, umps, leagues, and the world in a way that upheld the dignity of all.
Here, Kevin Costner recounts a life of vocation in words almost as eloquent as Vin’s.
Jill was unnerved to discover that it was nothing like shopping for bras. There was no designated department. There were no helpful size charts or swooping sales women who had the exact same one at home in three colors. There was just a pegboard panel with hooks on a wall in a row with the shin guards and the mouth guards and the masks that covered entire young faces. And this was not about anything as frivolous as sagging. Grandchildren were at stake.
“Excuse me,” Jill said. Gus instinctively drifted off toward the bat display as a carbuncle-cheeked sales boy answered Jill’s call. “Maybe you can help me.”
Jill held two cups up to the clerk’s reddening nose. “This one here says Youth Small, which is a size six to eight. And this one here is a Youth Medium, which is a ten to twelve. So what do you usually recommend for an eight going on nine-year-old?”
The teenager eyed Gus’s hiding place by the bat rack enviously. “I really couldn’t say, ma’am. Would you like me to get the manager?”
“Yes. Why don’t you do that.” Turning to position Gus in her eye line, she held each cup up in its imaginary position, one, then the other, like a cameraman plotting his shot.
A man with a dated mustache rounded the corner. “I’m the manager. May I help you?”
“I just need some advice on these cups.” Up and down the neighboring aisles, boys scattered like delinquents. “I’m concerned that this one might be too small, but this one,” she said, holding it up to the light and rolling her eyes, “Looks way too big, don’t you think?”
The manager looked over at Gus who shoved his hands in his pockets and whisper shouted, “Can’t we just get both of them?”
“That’s probably best,” the manager offered quickly.
“Are they returnable?”
“I’m afraid not.”
“Well, I’m not going to spend $9.99 on a cup you’re never going to use. That’s just a waste.” Turning back to the manager she said, “Isn’t there some way you could help size him for me?”
The man smiled so tightly his mustache brushed his jaw line. “Not really, no.”
He’d left her no choice. Squatting down, Jill held each cup up to Gus’s zipper line.
“If you want to play baseball you need a cup that fits. That’s all there is to it. I’m sure Ronald Clemens’s mom had to do this when he first started, too.”
“Roger,” Gus corrected.
“Roger,” Jill said, then stood up with a resigned sigh. “Well, I’m not sure either of them is perfect, but, I say the safe bet is the big one. You can always grow into it.” She tilted it on its side and squinted, as if measuring flour in its capacious hollow.
Gus’s eyes widened at the prospect of the vast, demanding shell. Unable to articulate the particular threat of the larger cup, he merely shook his head and, raising his index finger up like E.T.’s, pointed to the smaller one.
(excerpted from The Pitcher’s Mom)
If you’ve never met me then you probably don’t know that I am the sort of person who tears up on a dime. Hallmark commercials, old hymns, the surreptitious squeeze of memory catching me off guard. People likely think that I’m depressed or unhinged, but the truth is I just feel things deeply and it shows. Most times I’d prefer it didn’t but we don’t get to choose how we’re “fearfully and wonderfully made.” I often weep when I read the prayers at church because really, how can you not, as you stand between heaven and earth and call out to the Living God to bless, to forgive, to heal, to save. If my tears make people feel those prayers more fully then I must believe that that’s a blessing, no matter how uncomfortable it makes me.
But weeping in church is one thing: weeping out in the world is quite another.
So there I was at Vons, picking up a few things before Thanksgiving. I was moving through the check-out line when I saw her one lane over, Sandy, a woman I had known from my many years as a little league mom. She was the aunt of one of my son’s teammates, a boy with the sweetest, most guileless face I’d ever seen. Jake was a good kid with the world stacked against him. His father came to games but always watched from the fence, as if he didn’t see himself as quite fit for the bleachers. There was no mother—at least not one that was seen or heard from. But every single game Aunt Sandy was there, and the boy’s grandpa, too. I remember thinking that maybe that would be enough to save him. That even one family member who loved you and showed up could do it; Jake had three.
The boys didn’t cross paths much at Venice High. My son, Graham, had been put on the Varsity. Jake played JV for a bit and then fell away from the game he had loved. I saw his dad one day near the high school and said hi. When he smiled shyly I could see that all his teeth were missing. Teeth, or the absence thereof, are a fairly clear dividing line in a city like L.A. Teeth, in my world, are not something you don’t replace when they all fall out. Naively, I imagined that he had just been in a bad bar fight, that he’d have new teeth the next time I saw him. He didn’t. Which only pushed him farther to the margins, made him less fit for any sort of community other than toothless folks and others who struggle on the streets of our hard urban life. But not Sandy. Sandy had the sort of sunny complexion and frosted, blonde ringlets that speak of California summers and indefatigable optimism.
“Sandy?” I called out across the check-out lines. She looked over, needing a prompt. “It’s Heather, from baseball.” By the time I could reach out my arms for a hug and tell her how glad I was to see her, my eyes had begun to well up. I tried to hold them wider so she wouldn’t notice, or maybe think I just had a little cold. She asked about my kids and I touched lightly on the good things that were happening for them. I touched just as lightly on what I had known was a long stretch of troubled years for her nephew since the last time we’d had weekly contact. “I know he struggled a bit after his friend died,” I said gently. His best friend had been shot out in front of a party one night for no good reason—at least not one that would ever make sense. Sandy kept the progress report honest, but upbeat.
No sooner had I wished her a Happy Thanksgiving and turned my cart away than the tears began to have their due. I wondered how I could ever explain why a casual reunion with a woman I’d known only in passing a decade before meant anything to me at all. But there it was, in that instant of connection, in our bond in the human family: every single emotion I’d ever felt about her or the grandpa or the dad or Jake. All there, on demand, and pressing down on my heart with the reminder that goodness and suffering are forever wed in this lifetime. I wept for the boy who never had it easy, and for all the ways the world had let him down. I wept for the dad’s broken life, and the grandpa’s efforts to somehow hold them all together. But mostly, I wept for the beautiful gift that an aunt gave to her nephew, of showing up, of believing in him, of taking him in, of forgiving him, and of saying with all the love a person could muster, “he’s had a few rough years, but I think he’s finally on a good path now.” Then, just as she had done so many times before, she smiled without a hint of weariness.
Sandy will never know how much I admire her, or how much her steadfastness inspires me. Or how grateful I am for that chance encounter, which has opened my heart for the spirit of Thanksgiving.
This is the blessing of sacred tears.
Today begins the official quest for Little Leaguers all over the world….winning their way through fierce Regional competition to make it to the Little League World Series. To celebrate, I’m sharing a brief excerpt from The Pitcher’s Mom, a moment, no doubt, that most of these young baseball-loving families will face. Play Ball!!
The physics of baseball.
The same moony, wandering eye that prevented Jill from keeping stats, had, over the years led her to stockpile, in that dank and fruity cellar of perception, patterns of athletic behavior that had orchestrated themselves, unwittingly, into a theory: at no time in a pitcher’s life—not before, not again—was the opportunity for dominance greater than at the age of twelve. At eight or nine, new pitchers missed the strike zone as often as they hit it, and even then, at a speed that was well within the average batter’s ability to catch up. But by twelve, the golden year of Little League baseball, the year for which Little League families had long squirreled away their grandiose hopes, that same 45-foot span from the mound to home plate had become for the pitchers like the climbing structures of their dying youth: child’s play. The best of them could place a ball with near-surgical precision and back it up with enough power to trump the reflexes of the pre-algebra laden, geography-sopped, testosterone-flooded 12-year-old brain. Physics, neurology, stats, life wisdom they would all bare Jill out on this. And so it was, as the season came to an end, on every major field of every Little League park in America, the burden of critical games was no longer carried by the twelve boys on either team, but on the steady, thickening shoulders of two, the outcomes of championships often hinging on a single walked batter, a desperate, blindfolded whack of the bat. Ladies and gentleman, we have ourselves a pitching duel!
Dodgers vs. Yankees.
Gus vs. Zach.
Jill vs. Rod.
The game was scoreless after five innings. Jill no longer worried about Gus’s arm; he had struck out ten batters already—one more than Zach—three of them in the fourth inning. His arm was fine. “C’mon Gus, one, two, three,” she shouted, stalking the dry yellow grass between the bleachers like a veldt as her son walked to the mound for the top of the sixth.
To the first batter, Gus threw four straight balls, the last one high and wild. “Alright, buddy, settle down. Let’s get the next one.” Gus walked the second batter and the rumble began, the tremors of blood thirst gone too long unquenched. Savagely, Jill growled, “Right here, Gussy!”
The first pitch to the third Yankee batter was a strike. So, too, the second: a swing and a miss. But 0 and 2 was not an out. Neither was 1 and 2. 2 and 2. “Full count!” the umpire called. Jill doused her snatched cigarette man in an old Coke cup and shouted. “C’mon, you’ve got this guy!” The fourth pitch was not even close enough to argue.
A thousand heads (all right, but it was two hundred easy) turned as Gus’s coach walked out of the dugout and approached the third baseline. One step across that line and Gus would be pulled. The duel would be over. It would be anyone’s game. The Coach placed his sneaker on the white powder and stopped dead, waiting for Gus to come to him. He placed his hand on Gus’s shoulder, formed between them a reprieve in the air.
Jill’d always wondered what manuals these men consulted. What special coursework in sports psychology they’d completed to prepare them for such crucial tete a tetes? Searching her own archives for inspiration—Whitman, Kipling, FDR, Dear Abby—she found there was no shortage of choices. But discernment, this was harder to come by. How was a person to know what a boy like Gus needed to hear at a moment like this? Whether to push or to coddle, to goad or encourage. It was not just the language, but the tone, the pacing, the subtext, the implication of the well-placed pause. Her lips fluttering madly, she stood on the sidelines, destiny hanging on the every word of a man whose specialty, according to the sign on his truck, was termite control.
How d’ ya feel?
We need to hold those runners.
Just gimme some strikes.
Alright then, go get ’em.
(from The Pitcher’s Mom by Heather Choate Davis)
Today I will write the final pages of my Historical Theology exam. We had two days to answer the question of the role philosophy has played in the formation, defense, and dissemination of the Christian faith over the past 2000 years. Great question. I’ve got 20 pages so far and it’s not due til 3:00. Funny thing is, I wouldn’t have been able to write a paragraph let alone a page on a topic like this four months ago. Education is real. And it is most definitely good.
Tomorrow, I will put together a quick ppt presentation to support my term paper for my final class in Paul’s letter to the Romans. I wrote the whole thing as an attempt to understand how he comes to claim that sin leads to death. I mean, really: this is not a line that resonates with modern ears. But I believe the truths of Scripture to be timeless. And so it must be my ears that need adjusting. I’m sort of amazed at what I discovered as I wrote it: in a nutshell, almost every civilization since the dawn of time—pagan, Hebrew, Christian, Muslim—believed that all the good things of this world—food, shelter, rain, love, life—come from God/gods. Even the great thinkers of Greek philosophy understood that sin was real, and that it represented a state of alienation from the Ultimate source of Wisdom, a state of alienated being that leads in only one direction. Something to think about.
The other cool thing is what’s been happening with The Pitcher’s Mom. I love this book. Loved it when I wrote it 7 years ago, when Graham was still a ballplayer. But publishers wouldn’t take a chance on it. Said women won’t read a book about sports. I said “maybe that’s because you don’t publish any books about sports from the woman’s perspective.” Deaf ears. With the advent of e-books, this all changed. No longer did I have to wait for a publisher to pay me an advance (as they had with Baptism by Fire) and put the book out for me. I could do it myself. Which I did six weeks ago. Taught myself everything I needed to know in between readings about Constantine and Corinth. I guess you could say God gave me a nudge: hey, baseball season’s coming up, why don’t you get that book out and offer it on Kindle. Let’s see what happens.C’mon, it’ll be good.
And things are really starting to happen. Over the weekend I ran a two-day free promotion on amazon and 15,000 people downloaded the book. Some of them must be reading it and liking it because each morning I see that more and more people are starting to buy it, borrow it, and tell their friends about it. This is what gives me the greatest joy! When you work alone all day, year after year, you can get a little hungry for feedback. Here are two of the lovely reviews on amazon that came in since the weekend:
“I enjoyed every chapter of this book- having raised a son who lived & breathed baseball for much of his life, the characters really resonated with me. The story flows so well, & brought back wonderful memories. Highly recommend, and look forward to more from this talented writer.”
“A friend of mine recommended this book, and I downloaded it yesterday while watching my daughter play in a Softball Tournament. It was SUCH an appropriate book for the occasion! Not too deep — and definitely a story I can relate to. As the very un-athletic Mom to two athletes, one of whom is a pitcher, this book mirrored my life in so many ways. Just like Jill, I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing. No handbook exists for managing your child’s softball “career” when you’re scared to catch her fastball. From ill-chosen parking spaces to driving a mobile locker room to the way a sport can completely take over your life, this book resonated with me. I felt like a friend was telling me her story. The perfect summer read. Have already recommended it to several more friends!”
May this be a month that showers each one of us with blessings. And may we be wise and humble and grateful enough to acknowledge the source.