I get home from work in mid-afternoon, and just as I’m turning my key in the lock I hear this sound, it’s like a loud exclamation. Good or bad, I can’t tell. Or it’s my daughter expressing dismay that I’m home a little early, intruding on her freedom.
What it is, is Mark McGwire has just hit a grand slam home run in the first St. Louis Cardinals’ game of the season. Everybody at Busch Stadium is on their feet and my daughter is too, cheering.
I have to admit, it’s quite a moment. Quietly, not wanting to break the mood, I say, “That’s a home run when the bases are loaded, right?” And I’m glad I came in when I did. My daughter is delirious with joy, and I almost cry.
I’m not a huge baseball fan, but she is. How did it happen? I’m not sure, because my plan for her ran more along the lines of concert pianist. I pictured her with long hair, wearing a velvet dress, poised over the keys.
Uh-uh. What she likes is a red baseball cap with a Cardinals insignia on it. What she does is go to games in St. Louis whenever she has the chance, and watch the rest on TV. She reads the sports section first, and is an ESPN junkie. She has an extensive baseball card collection. Many of them are signed. When we go to Florida for spring break, we go to spring training games.
I signed her up for band in grade school. She was reluctant. Finally she agreed to join, but only if she could play the drums. Well, okay. Better than nothing.
She was good, and she won a scholarship to band camp. My proudest moment was when they played Leonard Bernstein on the stage of Shryock Auditorium at SIU. I have it on tape. Every once in a while I watch it-while she is in her room organizing her baseball card collection.
She quit band after a few years, but not before I got to walk with her in the percussion section in the Christmas parade, at five below. That was a thrill.
She also likes basketball, and she’s pretty crazy about ice hockey too. When I took her to St. Louis to visit colleges, she started getting the heebee jeebees toward nightfall, when she knew the Blues were gearing up for a game that night.
The SIU Symphony played on the night of the Cardinals’ opening day. I went alone. I long ago gave up inviting my daughter to such events.
In front of me was the mother of a local girl who plays violin in the symphony. I’ve seen her before. She’s lovely in her long black dress, her hair tied back with a ribbon, playing her instrument with such grace and skill.
“You must be so proud,” I say to the woman afterward.
And then I see my daughter-her pure joy when I told her it would be okay to leave school early on opening day. She’s a good student. She works hard and gets good grades. She made the National Honor Society this year. She answers all the sports questions for the Scholar Bowl team.
And she loves baseball. So I wrote her a note to give the teacher. I didn’t lie. I said she had an appointment.
And just as beautiful to me as a young woman playing the violin is the picture in my mind of my daughter, in heaven on our couch after that game was over.
“Baseball,” she sighed, delirious with pleasure, savoring the word on her tongue. “Baseball.”
My daughter, who has taught me so much, about letting people be who they are, and grow in the way they’re inclined.
And about baseball.