Embracing baseball late in the game

Embracing baseball late in the game

Embracing baseball late in the game

One lives in the San Francisco area and roots for the Giants. One lives in Dallas and is a huge Rangers fan. One lives near Philadelphia and closely follows the Phillies.

Each loves baseball, but they have a common tie that runs deeper than that. They are nonagenarian women who developed a passion for the game relatively late in life. There is abundant anecdotal evidence to suggest that they are not alone. Connecting generations is one of the Hall of Fame's stated goals, which evokes an image of fathers playing catch with sons. The reality is that it encompasses a much wider range than that.

For example, the demographic represented by 91-year-old Frances Rain, 90-year-old Elizabeth Malarin and 96-year-old Louise Stiller.

They are as avid about their teams as any fan, although, not surprisingly, their reasons for caring are different from, say, a 20-something guy.

Baseball is a game of many layers, but has a surface simplicity that is appealing. "Mainly, I like it because I can understand it," Rain explained. "I don't understand football. I don't understand all the plays. And I just think baseball is a graceful, graceful sport."

"I understand the game, No. 1," Stiller said when asked what she most liked about baseball.

Another attraction is that there's a game almost every day. Baseball gives them something to look forward to on a daily basis from the beginning of Spring Training until the end of the World Series.

Said Malarin: "I guess it's just hard to explain other than you just find yourself, 'Oh, I've got to get upstairs. The game is on.' Somebody will say, 'Are you going to that symphony tonight?' 'No, I can't be bothered, I've got to go watch the Giants.'"

Rain agreed. "That helps a lot if you don't have much to do, if you're a woman and you have free time," she said. "Because watching it every day gives you so many clues. You know how it is. You enter into it a little bit more. And when the team is off, I'm bored to death. I was thinking this morning that I've got to get some kind of hobby because the season's going to be over soon. My day is set with baseball and everyone here knows if they don't like it, stay out of my place."

Stiller keeps several Phillies schedules in strategic locations around her apartment so she can always find out quickly when the team is playing.

The women also take a more personal interest in the players beyond what they do on the field. Stiller, for instance, likes to hear about the family life of left-hander Cole Hamels.

"I was, and still am, interested in the players' private lives to an extent," she said. "Hamels got married, had a baby. There's a little bit you get into the individual players. He was a new guy. I remember them showing pictures of him before he married his wife and what she looked like. I remember following that whole thing."

Malarin distinctly recalls when Giants catcher Buster Posey suffered a serious ankle and leg injury during a home-plate collision in 20l1. "When he got hurt, I could have just cried. You knew it was serious. You begin to feel for them. They're one of your own," she said, adding that she gains insights into their lives through her subscription to the official Giants magazine.

"These are young men who have come up. Some of them are so appreciative and enjoying it. And they're playing their hearts out. It's kind of nice to see that. And these boys are from all over the world. And they're just precious. I love them all. I say, 'I've got to go over and see my boys.'"

Rain has even developed a friendship with Rangers manager Ron Washington. He's visited her condo to see her collection of scorecards. She developed a habit of scoring games when she went to see the Red Sox and Braves play in Boston while her husband attended Harvard in 1946, and she continues to do so to this day. Washington also invited her onto the field when she attended Spring Training each of the past three years.

Which is not to suggest that the women can be every bit as critical as the next fan when things aren't going well.

"You like a good game, even if they lose. Sometimes you say, 'Oh, for heaven's sake, that was terrible. They've been so sloppy,'" Malarin said with a laugh. "Then I get on the phone to my neighbor and if you could have heard us arguing last week about [Pablo] Sandoval. 'What's the matter with him? He's put on so much weight.' And then, of course, the next night he puts three [homers] away. She called me and said, 'Did you see that?' I said, 'We'd better shut up, they must have heard us.' We went down every single one. We were really going down the list of everybody. What was wrong? But you really do get into it.

"Why [manager Bruce] Bochy put him in. Why he took so-and-so out. Sometimes you agree with them. Sometimes you say, 'I don't know about that.' We're talking to ourselves and we always say if anyone walked down our hall by our different doors they'd hear us screaming and clapping away in there. I'm yelling my head off. So it's been a marvelous outlet and enjoyment."

That social aspect, talking to friends about baseball, is part of the appeal, too. Stiller volunteers three days a week at a hospital thrift shop. She enjoys working the cash register because it gives her an opportunity to talk to people. Discussing the Phillies with the other volunteers is another way of remaining active and engaged. Baseball also is a pleasant diversion from everyday concerns.

"I think in America we can use a little bit of that," Malarin said. "Stop worrying about the world. Not that we don't know or care. We do. But it's a marvelous outlet. You're seeing the youth come up. And then you see the disappointments. And that's life, you know? If you've got a business, sometimes it goes wonderfully well and sometimes it's a pain in the neck."

But there's always baseball.

Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.