Karl Lindholm: Don & Jerry, Curt Gowdy, ‘Balee Baloo,’ and my Mom
My mother almost ruined me for sports.
When I was just a kid, eight or ten or so, I was listening to a Red Sox game on the radio at home, and the Red Sox unloaded on an opposing pitcher, scoring a bunch of runs, and driving the poor guy from the game.
I exulted, casting aspersions no doubt on the other team and its woeful pitcher: “Hit the showers, you bum!” I said, or some other such churlish comment.
So my mother asked me, “How do you think his little boy feels, listening to the game at home like you? Or maybe he’s at the game, hearing what Red Sox fans are saying about his dad?”
I was reflecting on this sentiment a couple Fridays ago, watching the Red Sox play the Mets on TV. The Sox had a comfortable lead going into the bottom of the eighth inning, but first Ogando, then Tazawa, tried to give the game away, unable to throw a strike when we needed one.
Tazawa came unglued and walked four batters in a row, before Breslow came in and induced the final out on a 400-foot fly to center. During Taz’s unraveling, I got a text from a Red Sox pal excoriating him for his wildness.
But I felt bad for him and thought of his loved ones agonizing on the sidelines.
We were in Auburn, Maine, at the time, celebrating my mother’s 100th birthday the next day with my extensive Maine family. She couldn’t make this celebration, but would have had a good time had she been able to come. She died about eight months ago.
At Bates College, my mother married the football captain, my dad, who loved sports, and believed to his core that they were an unmitigated good for young people. Born in Boston, he was a lifelong Red Sox fan.
Virtually from the cradle, I too loved baseball and obsessively followed the fortunes of the Sox. My mother loved her men, and she adapted, becoming a keen baseball fan herself, eventually.
Her support of my play was unconditional. I remember once when I was playing PAL baseball (Police Athletic League — there was no Little League in Lewiston, Maine), she congratulated me for my stellar batting in a game in which I had gone 0-4.
“Ma, I didn’t get a single hit,” I complained, dismayed by my performance. “Oh no,” she replied, “you hit the ball four times!” It wasn’t that she didn’t know the difference between an out and a hit; she was genuinely pleased that I hit the ball each time at bat.
Later, I thought of my mother when, as a high school coach, I encouraged a player who made contact, not struck out, but had nothing to show for it.
One of my mother’s tasks, as I was growing up, was to give me a report of the Red Sox game in progress when I got home from school (nearly all games were played in the afternoon those days). This was especially important in October for the World Series.
I remember one day coming in the house after running home. She told me the score and that a player named “Balee Baloo” was having a wonderful game.
“Ma, there’s no player named ‘Balee Baloo!’” I said. Just then the radio announcer revealed that the next hitter was “Felipe Alou.” “There,” she said, “that guy.”
When I was sick and stayed home from school, she and I would play a flash card game with my baseball cards. She would put her finger over the player’s name and I would identify him and his team and position. I got so I could name them all from their pictures.
She had favorite players, especially liking those with connotative or euphonious names — Moose Skowron, Luke Easter, Ferris Fain, Dee Fondy, Walt Dropo. So many names.
In her last few years of life, in assisted-living in Brunswick, Maine, she religiously watched the Red Sox at night during the summer months. Her favorite player, after Nomar, was the “little Indian,” as she called Jacoby Ellsbury.
At lunch the next day, she would compare notes on the game with her nonagenarian friend, Goldie, also a Red Sox fan, the only other one in the place.
My mom would have been most upset with the news last week that NESN, the TV station that carries the Red Sox (and is also owned by the team), has decided to dump Don Orsillo, the TV “voice of the Red Sox,” at the end of the season after 15 years in the booth.
He and Jerry Remy were her companions, night after night, just as Curt Gowdy had been in the 1950s, and the erudite Ned Martin, who kept us company a decade later. These men became members of the family.
I like to think that in her last days, one of her old friends whose passing had preceded hers came back to this dimension and gave her the good news:
“Jane, there IS baseball in heaven!”
So there she is, watching a game, I trust, keeping a nearby seat warm for me.