My Friday night wasn't typical for a newly turned 24-year-old. I didn't spend it at a bar or a party to celebrate. Instead, I found myself sitting in a room at a Hospice care facility with my parents, visiting Jim, a long time friend of my Father's. Jim is 97 and on life's last legs, his once strong body now withering away, seemingly by the second. He refuses any medication, knowing his time is nearly up, and his speech too has been effected, with decay evident. Yet, when I came to visit all he wanted to do was talk about was baseball.
I sat down next to Jim, waiting patiently as he slowly formed each word, knowing they could be some of his last. He asked me about the Rays chances this season, where I thought Carl Crawford would end in a year, and even about the Trop stadium issues. I answered him as best I could and tried to make him laugh at every chance I got. After I was finished I turned the focus onto him, asking about all of the baseball he had seen in St. Petersburg over the years.
Jim talked about how he'd watched the Yankees of the 40's and 50's train at Al Lang Field, describing what it was like seeing legends like DiMaggio, Berra and Mantle up close (DiMaggio was a "nice guy" by the way, says Jim). He had fond memories of the Bob Gibson lead Cardinal teams of the 60s which also inhabited the stadium. The two of us went on and on for about 25 minutes, though it didn't seem that long. Here is a man, 97 years old with death and his sickle looming just around the corner, and he was perfectly content to talk with me about a game. To say it was humbling would be an understatement. As I was leaving his room he held out his hand, and as I grabbed it he squeeze my hand as firm as any 97 year old could. He said "Goodbye, Erik. And thank you." Knowing those words carried more weight than usual, I said "No, thank you, Sir. Goodbye, Jim."
I love baseball, like all of you who are reading this today undoubtedly do. It truly is a beautiful game. I just hope we can all love it for as long, and in the same way, that Jim has and does.