Anne in the Stands

Anne in the Stands

Baseball, the connector
Nine years ago, when my nephew Fitz was about five, I took him to his first baseball game. Since he knew nothing about the sport and was very shy, our conversation consisted of me explaining the basics: four bases, three outs, three strikes, etc. Hoping to encourage his interest in my favorite game, I let him order whatever he wanted to eat and bought him a Fernando Vina T-shirt. I didn't want him to get bored, so in the seventh inning, I asked him if he was ready to go home.

"No," he said. "Why, is it over?" Fitz soon became my regular baseball buddy. It turned out he's a natural sports fan. One day, he asked what a full count was, and I told him. The next inning when the count was three and two, he turned to me and said, "It's a full count." I was so proud. At almost fifteen, Fitz loves all sports, he collects memorabilia and knows more stats than I ever thought of. Best of all, whenever his own sports don't intrude he still goes to games with me.

His mother recently found a paper Fitz wrote for his English class when he was ten. It begins: "My aunt Anne is a huge baseball fan. She has season tickets and I get to go with her a lot. She is the biggest fan I know. When we get there we both always get the same thing. Anne gets a hamburger with lettuce and mayonnaise and a diet Pepsi. I always get a giant pretzel with cheese and a Wild Cherry Pepsi. Now for the exciting part, the game." Whenever we're together, we trade information about the Brewers, as we did last week after his eighth-grade graduation. I know I'm lucky. Not all aunts have such a wonderful connection with their teenaged nephews.

Connector, Part II
After her first day of junior kindergarten, my granddaughter Ellie told me about her classmates, including one little boy named Tripp whom she described this way: "He loves baseball like you, Nana." A few days after the Brewers' Opening Day where I ran into Tripp with his grandfather, I picked up Ellie at school. When I saw Tripp, I asked him what he liked best about the game. Most five-year-olds would have mentioned the popcorn, the giant TV screen or the hat he got. His answer made me chuckle. "I liked it when Jeff Cirillo got that hit and they scored two runs."

The Hero
I can no longer list all the times Bill Hall has transformed a sagging contest into a dazzling triumph. Recently during the afternoon game against the Padres, we screamed with glee as Prince Fielder and Corey Koskie smacked RBI singles to tie the game in the third inning, but within minutes the Padres broke the tie. Over the next four innings, strikeouts and popouts began to suck the life out of the hometown fans.

In the bottom of the ninth, Damian Miller singled. After Corey Hart struck out, Carlos Lee got on base with a fielder's choice. My hope for a comeback vanished at the crack of Rickie Weeks' bat, as the ball bounced directly toward the Padres' shortstop, and I moaned, "Game's over." Amazingly Khalil Greene blew the play. In a flash, Brady Clark singled as the crowd roared at the delightful, we-deserve-it kind of mistake that allowed Carlos to cross the plate and tie the game.

Once Derrick Turnbow had polished off the top of the tenth with his three-up-three-down magic, sunlight shimmered on Hall in the batter's box. Even when I'm at the park, I listen to the game on the radio, so I heard Jim Powell's Swami-like forecast. As Hall leaned into his odd stance, with his left leg stiffly pointing at third and his right foot inches from home plate, Powell intoned something like, "Wouldn't it be great if Billy hit another walk-off home run?" And bam! In a breath Bill gave us a perfect gift on a perfect summer afternoon in the perfect ball park.

Welcome Returns
It's great to have Cirillo back again this year looking as cute as ever. Besides being a wily pinch hitter, Jeff is the champion seed spitter and bubble blower while executing a double play.

A few years ago, just after Cirillo joined the Rockies, I was late to a game and hustling from the parking lot. As I overtook an older couple near the stadium entrance I couldn't help noticing that every item of clothing the woman wore had Cirillo's name on it. "I don't have to ask who your favorite player is," I said, and the two laughed.

"Jeff Cirillo is a very nice young man," the woman answered. "I'm just sick we let him go, but I still root for him. I wrote him, and he even wrote me back."

When I told her I would like to write about her for this column, she graciously gave me her phone number, and I wrote it on the back of my ticket. By the time I remembered to call her I'd lost the ticket. Last year, when Jeff came back to the Brewers I thought about how happy she'd be. Then the other day, there she was up on the giant screen at the ball park, being honored as Fan of the Game, and announcing how much she loved having her favorite player back in Milwaukee.

In this town, we hang onto our heroes.