My friend Chris has been in California, visiting from Washington D.C. recently, and today, we did something that has become a tradition of sorts for us. We went to visit Helen.
Helen is a 92-year-old woman who used to live next door to Chris’s family when he was in elementary school. I never knew her as more than the nice lady who always gave back our balls whenever we hit them over the fence into her yard, but Chris’s mom Carinne kept in contact with Helen after they moved. I first saw Helen again a few years ago when Chris’s family had her over for dinner. Carinne mentioned ahead of time that Helen had played baseball as a young woman, so we talked about the game at dinner. Everyone at the table was amazed when I knew who’d played in the 1962 World Series, which Helen attended. I read a 500-page book of baseball trivia when I was eight, and I still know most World Series winners. And any Giants fan should know of 1962, the year that Bobby Richardson snared Willie McCovey’s line drive and stole a championship for the Yankees.
We went this afternoon to the assisted living facility in downtown Sacramento that Helen lives in now and spent an hour talking with her. I hope I am as active at 92 as she remains. The wall of her apartment is plastered with cut-outs from the sports section of the Sacramento Bee, pictures of men like Randy Johnson and Cliff Lee, as well as many of the Sacramento Kings. We talked baseball, of course. She knew of the death of Art Savage, the owner of the Sacramento River Cats. And though Helen was sick over the holidays she also knew of Mark DeRosa’s recent signing with the Giants. I said I didn’t know if I liked the move but that I thought DeRosa might be good off the bench and that he had a good bat. She noted he could play several infield positions (a good point, admittedly. DeRosa is definitely an upgrade over Rich Aurilia.)
For some reason, the 1969 World Series also came up, and Helen wanted to know the name of the player who was at bat when a wild pitch went in the New York Mets dugout, where manager Gil Hodges ordered black shoe polish to be smudged on it to look like the player got hit. The umpires bought it, the player got on base and the next batter made a critical hit that helped secure the championship for the Mets. The name of the batter escaped me at first. I said Donn Clendenon and that didn’t seem right, nor did Tommie Agee. Then I remembered Cleon Jones. I mentioned this to Helen and also said I had seen a broadcast from that series on YouTube.
I find baseball one of those topics in life that helps allow a connection for people who might not otherwise have much to talk about. It’s easy, regardless, to take a little time out and visit someone like Helen, and I feel good after doing it. It’s a nice thing to do, and my mom instilled a respect for seniors in me at a young age. All the same, I’m glad Helen and I share a love of baseball. We should watch a game on television at some point.