We saw things very differently, partially because we were on different sides of the country, and partially because bad news has a way of hitting harder depending on where you take the punch. She was standing on the front porch in a pair of fluffy slippers, surveying the wreckage. I was laying in a posh, big league hotel bed I was hoping to drown in.
My mother had called to tell of her latest elation. Her son making it to the bigs would already serve as an effective bragging point, the subject of many heavy-handed conversation transitions for the rest of her life. Now the pot was even sweeter. She had woken to SportsCenter highlights involving her darling boy. Her next round of boastful phone calls to beauty parlor girlfriends would involve, “my son, you know—the big leaguer—was on ESPN the other day…” From her perspective, this was quite the stroke of good fortune.
On my end of the line, chips were down. I’ve heard lots of players say they’ll feel like they’ve made it when they see finally themselves on an ESPN highlight. Well, I’m not sure ‘made it’ was the emotion I felt as my mother gleefully described Manny Ramirez turning my down and away to back and gone. Replay after replay after replay…
“You looked so good out there,” she beamed. “I was so proud! I knew how much it meant to you to be on ESPN!” She ended on an expectant note, as if I might uncork champagne at the news.
Instead, I rolled over and slammed a pillow atop my head. It was my hope I would wake up and remember nothing about the previous night. Maybe aliens would abduct me and plant a chip in by brain or something. I’d get up the next day, eat a good breakfast, read news about some far away country where home runs are punishable by death, then go to the park with a clean slate. But no, instead I wake up to a phone call from mother to rehash my latest nationally televised embarrassment.
Welcome to the big leagues.
“I’m sorry you’re so upset about it. I was sure you’d be excited,” she said, after a long pause from my end. She knows me, and when I don’t talk for long periods it means I don’t exactly feel like singing along with John Fogerty’s Center Field.
“Mom, think about what you’re asking me to be excited about. I didn’t make the news for rescuing a little old lady. I have an ERA of ten in the bigs, and Ramirez, of all people, hit a home run off me. It’s plastered all over the media.”
Keeping steady pace, she blurted, “Yes, but think of how many people would die for the opportunity to give up a home run to Manny Ramirez?”
“Mom, It’s not like we’re talking about eating all my broccoli because people in India would die to have it. This is my job. When I don’t produce, this is the consequence—prime-time loser highlights.”
I was pouting, I admit, but I was talking to my mommy after all. I heard her sigh and transfer the phone from one ear the other. Annoyed, she switched gears and dryly said, “Well, I’m sorry you feel that way. Your car was crushed by a tree last night.”
“Yeah, we had a big wind storm last night and it knocked a tree onto your car.” She sighed.
“Wait, you’re serious.”
“Yes. Your car is crushed.”
“You know what a hot dog bun looks like around a hot dog? Well, your car looks like that around the tree that fell on it.”
I sat up in my hotel bed, mouth open. Suddenly and without warning my car was totaled along with my ERA. I took the phone away from my head and looked at it as if it was some possessed object. Maybe it wasn’t my phone, maybe it was my mother? Slowly, I placed the receiver back to my ear and said, “Tell me, mom, after how bad I told you I’m feeling today, what made you think it was a good time to break that news to me?”
In a voice of cheerful oblivion came “I thought it would help you take your mind of last night’s game.”