My mother watched and listened to baseball on TV and the radio, Pops was the one who took my brother Billy and me to Cubs games. I believed the players could hear Pops yelling at them from way up in the bleachers. Sometimes he'd insult them too, which shocked me, because he was always such a nice man to everybody else.
While my silly questions about the game annoyed Billy, Pops would take my hand and coach me. "Watch the guy on first base, Anne," he'd say. "He's going to steal on the next pitch." "This guy is a home run hitter. If we pitch to him, he's going to slug it or strike out." "It's a full count with two outs. Know what that means? The baserunners are going to take off." "Hank Sauer's coming up. He's your favorite, Anne. Yell for him."
July 13 was a glorious day, sunny and warm with tufts of clouds drifting across a sea blue sky, the ideal setting for the Brewers to win the final game of the Cincinnati series. Since kids get to run the bases after Sunday games, I knew my seven-and-a-half-year-old granddaughter, Ellie, would be happy to come to the game with me.
Even while she gobbled her hot dog doused by ketchup and her giant pretzel, she paid attention to the game. J.J. Hardy strode up to home plate, and she announced she had chosen him as her favorite player, because she was the same age as his number.
She giggled as I narrated Ryan Braun's pre-batting stance routine. "Step one, pick up a pinch of dirt. Step two, rest the bat against one leg. Step three, dust the dirt off fingers. Step four, rewrap the Velcro closers on each batting glove. Step five, take two high swings. Step six, dig right toe into back edge of the batter's box." Next time I'm going to add, "Step seven, smash home run over bullpen."
After CC Sabathia, the impressive addition to our pitching staff, slugged a home run, I reminded Ellie to watch Bernie Brewer zip down the slide. Even during the seventh-inning stretch, Ellie didn't ask for cotton candy or licorice. Since we'd been there since the first pitch, I was amazed she never mentioned she was bored or was ready to leave. In the ninth inning, after Bill Hall singled, Mike Cameron bunted and both were safe on a bad throw from good old David Weathers, the crowd noise told Ellie an error could be a good thing.
Ellie asked me what was happening when the Reds pitcher began to issue an intentional walk to Jason Kendall, and I realized how silly the pitcher and catcher looked tossing the ball back and forth four times.
With the bases loaded and nobody out, I shouted to her over the roaring crowd that we could win the game instantly if the next batter got any kind of a hit.
Pinchhitting for Sabathia, Craig Counsell, strolled to home plate. I explained how he had grown up in Whitefish Bay, an extra reason to cheer for him.
Walk-off wins are a blur of exhilaration. The second Counsell's ball sailed over the shortstop and was caught in right field, Hall tagged up and careened home. I hugged Ellie and we bounced like pogo sticks as forty thousand fans roared their joy.
While we idled in the parking lot behind the enormous traffic jam, victory singing in our hearts, I had a moment to think about my grandfather and how pleased he would have been to know about my day at the ballpark with his great, great granddaughter, born 119 years after he was.