Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Baseball Brings Me Joy

Like Susan Sarandon’s character in “Bull Durham,” I believe in the church of baseball. The national pastime is a family tradition that spans five generations, and though we all came to baseball under different circumstances, the love of the game has served us well.

Barbecued chicken, quesadillas and garlic fries all figure prominently in my personal history, but the sustenance I receive from the game goes well beyond food. Simply put, baseball brings me joy.

“I’m surprised you like baseball,” a friend once said to me. “It’s so linear.” He was talking about the structure of the game and the diamond, but I like baseball because the outcome of each game is completely unpredictable. Every fan learns this the hard way: Duck out of the park early just once, and when you get to the car, you’ll hear the crack of a bat and a triumphant roar from inside the stadium.

Double-Header Chicken Dinner

Today I am a Giants fan, but I grew up in St. Louis, listening to Cardinals games on the radio. Every summer, on Sundays my father and my maternal grandfather would have the game on while barbecuing chicken in our back yard. My mom and grandmother fixed side dishes in the kitchen and my job was to bring cold beers out to the men. Over the years, I spent more and more time outside, asking questions and learning about the game from two ardent fans.

When my mother would ask when dinner might be ready, Daddy would report, “It’s only the bottom of the sixth” or “We have to break this tie first.” Some Sundays, when the Cardinals played two games back to back, our “double-header chicken” took all afternoon to cook.

Bob Gibson, who played for the Cardinals from 1959 to 1975, often pitched both games of a double header, but I admired him for more than his formidable skill. My grandfather, not otherwise known for his racial tolerance, thought Bob Gibson was a god, “capable of walking on water,” Daddy always said.

We never went to ball games, but my father met a number of players through his job. As a driver for Anheuser-Busch, he occasionally delivered beer to Busch Stadium. Sometimes he’d bring home a new Cardinals calendar or other souvenirs, but one afternoon he was given a ball autographed by Stan Musial, Ken Boyer, Lindy McDaniel and Joe Cunningham. I have it, and will give it to my grandson when he’s older.

Fowl Play at the Ballpark

My son wasn’t much of a baseball fan until the early 2000s, when he converted after moving to the San Francisco Bay Area for a job. At the time, Barry Bonds was routinely knocking ‘em out of the park – at least when the opposing team pitched to him, instead of intentionally walking him. My son and some of his friends invested in rubber chickens – 3,000 of them, as I recall – and sold them at sports bars so fans could wave the chickens when Bonds was cheated out of opportunities to hit.

Now my son coaches my grandson’s baseball team. The Wee Boy, now 7, has been to spring training and also has attended the summer camp sponsored by the San Francisco Giants. Last year, he met Andres Torres and Shawon Dunston. (What a coincidence -- I’d met Dunston when he was a Cardinal!) This summer at camp, he met Mike Yastrzemski, a new Giants’ outfielder.

When my grandson was just a toddler, I started teaching him “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” my favorite hymn and one his older cousins knew well. Early on, he would join in on just a few phrases, but soon he knew how to sing the whole song. Next, he started providing insightful color commentary when we watched Giants’ games on TV. Then he started incessantly quizzing his parents on the players’ jersey numbers, which he had memorized. Now he likes learning stats and historical facts, and we all talk baseball a lot, year 'round.

The Lure of the Turkey Leg  

So how did a longtime Cardinals fan morph into a Giants fan? When I was in high school, my favorite team won the World Series in 1964 and 1967. When I got to college, I was busy studying journalism and protesting the Vietnam War. Later, as a young wife and working mother, I didn’t have a lot of time for baseball. Then early in the 2000s, as restaurant critic at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, I was sent to the ball park to write about the new culinary offerings.

Seated behind home plate at Busch Stadium, I dutifully sampled the quesadillas and nibbled on a smoked turkey leg, but what really caught my attention was Mark McGwire, who looked like a Greek god inexplicably clad in a uniform. More important, watching him play reminded me that I knew baseball. I was eager to get back under the spell of the game, and started scheduling frequent watch parties with friends.

During the off-season, I watched baseball movies and read books about baseball. Two favorites to this day are Lawrence Ritter’s “The Glory of Their Times: The Story of the Early Days of Baseball Told by the Men Who Played It” and “You're Out and You're Ugly, Too! Confessions Of An Umpire With An Attitude” by Durwood Merrill and Jim Dent. I also bought Cardinals’ shirts, red socks, even baseball earrings.

And then, nine years ago this summer, I moved to San Francisco. Once I was settled, I was unwilling to pay what the cable company charged to provide me with Cardinals games, but I missed baseball. Tentatively, I tuned in a Giants game, where I met Tim Lincecum, Pablo Sandoval, Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, Brian Wilson and Matt Cain. Soon, I was hooked.

No Harm, No Foul 

Some friends in St. Louis considered me a traitor. “You have to love the one you’re with,” I told them. I donated my Cardinals wardrobe to Goodwill and I bought the equivalent in orange and black. Later that fall, I danced in my living room as I watched the 2010 Giants team win the World Series.

Early in 2012, I entered an essay contest sponsored by the Giants for a chance to be part of the crowd during the filming of their commercials at the stadium. I wrote about how I’d committed post-season treason in 2010, and I got in. (http://latetothehaight.blogspot.com/2012/02/smile-youre-in-giants-commercial.html)  I was in the TV commercials that summer and also the following year, and was even recognized on the street because of it. The Giants won the World Series in 2012 and again in 2014.

Since then, the pace has slowed, but my loyalty has not wavered. I go to a game or two each season and I watch or listen to the rest. I wear my team's colors, including an orange T-shirt with the words "Garlic Fries" (a local delicacy) printed all over it, another that pays tribute to Lou Seal, the team mascot, and one that depicts four Giants players in Beatles' wigs, a souvenir from the game played on my 70th birthday last summer.

This month, my favorite team has started to coalesce, just as that rowdy group did in 2010. Since the All-Star Break early in July, the Giants have climbed up from the bottom rung and now are being talked about as Wild Card contenders. Baseball, as I’ve said, is unpredictable, but right now Giants fans everywhere are keeping the faith.


Monday, July 1, 2019

Travel Now -- or Have Regrets Later

“I should have gone to Greece when my friend still lived there,” lamented my friend Carol. We'd been talking about all the amazing places we’ve traveled, and I was sharing my stories from a trip to India some years ago as she prepares to head there for the first time.

Next, we considered our regrets, naming places we've never been, and somehow both of us neglected to get to Greece. Also, I should have gone to Antarctica when it was far less expensive. On the other hand, I hate being cold and the layering up that's necessary to avoid being cold.

The last nine years in San Francisco's Mediterranean climate have completely spoiled me, and now I want nothing to do with extreme weather, heat or cold. I take it personally!

Two decades ago, older friends counseled me to go everywhere I could, because the time would come when travel would seem more of a hassle than a joy. “Oh no!” I said at the time. “That won’t happen to me!” And now it has.

If any of those friends were still around, I could let them know they were absolutely right. They are gone, and now I’m the one telling younger people to get wherever they want to go before the desire cools. "Planes leave every day -- just go," I say. Are they listening? That doesn’t matter. I'm saying it.

Carol has not put away her suitcase and she may still get to Greece, but now I’m content to leave the Big Trips to others and spend time exploring Northern California. I’ve been lucky enough to make way more than my fair share of international trips, because the newspaper where I used to work sent me on many wonderful adventures. Plus, since leaving the paper, I’ve managed to get travel assignments from time to time.

My first experience with travel was a trip to Washington, D.C., when I was in high school in St. Louis, Mo. The joy of being somewhere unfamiliar was intoxicating! Since then, I’ve had the privilege of exploring parts of 32 of our 50 states. I don’t often go anywhere twice, because there is so much to see in the world, but I’ve made three visits to Alaska and four to Hawaii, two favorite destinations. Also, I’ve meandered through a dozen glorious national parks, staring at mountains, talking to trees and sitting by water.

The newspaper sent me on a handful of cruises to the Caribbean Islands, with stops at ports in Antigua, the Bahamas, Barbuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, St. Kitts, Saint Lucia, Nevis and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

I’ve also been to Argentina, Australia, Austria, Costa Rica, the Galapagos Islands off Ecuador, Egypt, England, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Tanzania and Vatican City. In Canada, I’ve spent time in British Columbia, Manitoba, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Quebec and the Yukon Territory.

Those were the days! Gone, but certainly not forgotten.

When Carol told me she’s heading to India, so many memories from there flooded my mind – rich images, impressions and anecdotes, all remarkably vivid and fresh -- though the two-week trip I made was back in 1985. I babbled for a bit, sharing some of the memories.

I told her about the contact list provided on the bedside table at a hotel in Varanasi, which listed numbers for the front desk, the fire department and the astrologer. I remembered how the teenage female elephant that lived at the hotel in Agra would take a dollar bill from my hand and put it in her trainer's pocket -- and that when I brought her sugar cubes, the elephant reached into my backpack to get at them. And I told Carol about the day I gave my driver in Madras a marigold garland, not realizing that meant we were engaged.

I added this piece of advice: “Don’t buy a sari. It will seem like a good idea, but when you get it home, you will wonder why.” She laughed and said maybe she’d shop for scarves, instead.

Because I’m no longer spending money on travel, I’m allowing myself to buy more theater tickets these days, and that conversation with Carol took place while we were at Berkeley Rep. Driving back home, I pondered whether I might change my mind and hop on a plane again. Though I know better than to say I’ll never be lured by another amazing opportunity, I've decided it’s fine with me if my traveling days are over.

I have memories, I have photographs and I also have copies of the many travel stories I’ve penned over the years for newspapers, magazines and websites. If you’re interested in traveling with me vicariously, here are some recent links:





And if you’re staying home because you are reluctant to travel on your own – think again! Here are my tips:


Happy Trails!


Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Seven Days in St. Louis

I’m just back home after seven days in St. Louis – and what a time it was! Of course I didn’t get to see everyone I miss – that would take a month or more – but it was great fun. Here are some of the highlights, in no particular order, and with personal mentions of only a fraction of the many people who made the week so very special. (You know who you are!)

First, the hugs! 
Hugging reduces stress, lowers blood pressure and lightens up your mood – so says Psychology Today. Happy to report I hugged dozens and dozens of people, and also laughed with them, cried with them and sat grinning at them as we caught up on present lives, looked back and pondered the future.

Missouri Botanical Garden
Thank you, Henry Shaw! A visit to the garden in April is such a gift, because now that I am fully acclimated to San Francisco’s Mediterranean climate, spring is the season in St. Louis that I tolerate best. And it was glorious!

Because I showed up with a bit of vertigo (if you are old, you too are eligible) and with limited mobility (healing from Achilles tendon surgery takes two interminable years), my friends got a wheelchair and all four of us took turns pushing it. I visited all of my favorite ginkgo trees (top fave pictured above), the breathtaking Japanese garden and the lovely Chinese garden.

I also took in assorted plantings of tulips and daffodils and meandered under dogwood and cherry trees in full bloom. I fed the koi, which are the size of Mississippi River catfish, saw turtles celebrating spring and peered into the ponds across from the Climatron, where no lily pads were in evidence.

Bonus: A rowdy thunderstorm showed up that evening -- and I miss those!

Paying Tribute to Steve Woolf
Spent one evening at a Special Event honoring my friend Steve Woolf, who is retiring after almost 33 years heading up the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. I got to sit by him at dinner, I wrote the program that four splendid actors brought to life and I got to hug Steve as he starts a new adventure. Also, it was a special joy to sit in a theater next to Edward again, something we started 25 years ago. And my ego got a big boost as people I’d never met rushed over to meet me, recalling that I used to be famous!

Excellent Food – Lots of It
Dined with my old writing group at Big Sky, dear friends at Cravings, Layla and Louie (get the amazing hummus!) and caught up with legendary women of the Post-Dispatch over Happy Hour at Llewellyns. Also sat around friends’ tables enjoying wonderful home-cooked food on several occasions. Went to Missouri Baking Company (twice!) for cannolis, cookies, bread and a peanut pastry I’m still thinking about. And Carolyn and Linda both packed homemade cookies for my trip home.

Excellent Lodgings
Thank you to everyone who offered me a bed! I chose to move just once, in the middle of the trip, from Beth’s splendid, spacious new condo to Judy and Scott’s comfy rambling home that comes complete with two cats and my red bathrobe, which lives there permanently. Stayed up until almost 2 a.m. one night in a rowdy gab fest with people I’ve cherished for almost 45 years! (Hit the sack early the next night. We Are Old.)

A Storm of Selfies
Many people took many pictures of me during my visit -- including this one with Stephen Winter! As I looked at each photo, I thought I was looking at my dear Aunt Betty, who is no longer on the planet. Confirmed the remarkable resemblance when I was with one of my cousins, who said with my gray hair I now look just like her mother. So be it!

Received a wonderful gift from former P-D photographer Robert LaRouche – a print of a photo he took of the Mississippi River just below Alton, to remind me that though I yammer on about now living near the sea, I am from a river city. The photo means so much to me! I learned a lot about photography from him while we worked together, and in his honor, I have named every camera I’ve owned “Bob.”   

Favorite Footwear
Sandals! I got to wear my red Ecco sandals! That doesn’t happen too often in San Francisco because of cooler temps. Plus, I have been restricted to Serious Athletic Shoes (Brooks Addiction, which are super supportive) for the last 18 months. I did spend a bit of time in my Grown-Up Lady Shoes (Archipedia’s Mary Janes) and even got to flash the whale tail tattoo above my ankle on the evening I wore my Fancy Palazzo Pants. 

HugFest 2019
When I told Edward about the title I’d given this open house (see above), he asked a crucial question: “Will there be merch?”

There wasn’t, but in spite of the absence of tee-shirts and bumper stickers, memories of the heartfelt reunions with so many people will live on. At one point at HugFest, I was able to introduce my first journalism teacher from ninth grade and the editor of my junior high newspaper to two of my editors at the Post-Dispatch.

At this same gathering, I eavesdropped – a professionally acquired skill – and heard many people recognizing each other from my Facebook page, and feeling like friends though they’d just met. It was a wonderful event, with a great deal of hugging!