I got a sad phone call recently. The mother of my childhood best friend Devin had died after an illness. Her name was Nancy, and she deserves credit for getting me into baseball.
I met Devin the summer before kindergarten. I was out with my family one evening walking our dog and saw Devin outside, around the corner from our house. We were fast friends. Two months apart in age, we did everything together: Had sleepovers, went to the same barber, shopped for Christmas presents at the 98-cent store (where else do you shop when you’re seven?) Our moms even arranged for us to get chicken pox at the same time.
Both Nancy and my mom were recently removed from divorces when Devin and I met. My mom had remarried, though Nancy stayed single for the remainder of my childhood. She never had easy circumstances, raising Devin and his younger sister Kenna in a duplex near government housing and driving used cars. She was a tough lady, though and could silence me by saying she would tell my dad about however I was misbehaving. It made me cry at least once.
Nancy had a sense of humor, too. On her wall, she had a picture of Tom Selleck which a friend had autographed. Being young, impressionable and a fan of Magnum P.I., however, I thought the autograph was real and Nancy did little to dissuade me. Another time, at an amusement park, she told Devin and I to be extra careful on the bumper cars and not hit anyone. We did exactly as she said.
I have a small library of baseball books today, and in one of my books about the San Francisco Giants, a fan offers this quote:
“I have always loved baseball. I moved here 16 years ago and naturally started coming to games. I think the Giants are a good team because they just don’t give up. There won’t be a generational bridge, though. My kids are hopeless A’s fans.”
Devin and I started playing Little League baseball in the spring of 1989, kindergarten for us. It was the year of the Battle of the Bay, when the Giants and Oakland A’s faced off in the World Series, and Devin and I had matching posters of Will Clark and Mark McGwire lording over the San Francisco Bay. It could have been easy for Devin and I to become A’s followers, fanatics of McGwire, Jose Canseco and Rickey Henderson. Instead, Nancy steered us right.
Nancy was a Giants fan. Through Nancy, I learned of Giants stars like Clark, Brett Butler and Kevin Mitchell, who, Nancy told me, had gotten a double off a check-swing. She also taught me about nondescript yet valuable role players like Robby Thompson, Jose Uribe and Terry Kennedy. I don’t know if we simply learned intrinsically that the A’s were soulless and evil, while the Giants were working class, blue collar and therefore good, but Nancy at least deserves credit by proxy. I think the team was a reflection of her values, which she tried to instill in us.
The picture of Selleck wasn’t the only fake Nancy displayed. There was also a photo of Devin standing in front of Clark. It looked real enough to me, and I envied Devin after hearing the story of how he met Clark. I eventually learned the truth: It was a display at Candlestick Park, where fans could have their pictures snapped for a fee. Devin and I got to have our pictures taken there, but because our families were poor, our moms took the pictures off from the side with their own cameras. The photos of Devin and I standing arm-in-arm, smiling on wooden boxes with obvious cardboard figures propped up behind us are some of my favorites from childhood. Even thinking of them just now made me smile.
After a few years, Nancy moved to a better neighborhood several blocks away, and I began to see less of Devin, until he was just a peripheral figure in my group of friends. We still keep up, but as friendly acquaintances, not childhood best buds. I last saw Nancy three years ago, when Devin got married. She had finally remarried by this point and seemed happy when I spoke to her, at the reception. I don’t know if we talked much baseball, or if the new Giants appealed to her. I know part of my childhood ended after Clark signed with the Texas Rangers following the 1993 season.
I don’t know how many people there are out there like Nancy, people who struggle through life, their labors long, joys fleeting and ephemeral. But I know that baseball at its best can provide a measure of hope and happiness to these people. I know it made Nancy happy. As a result, it made me happy, too.
(Editor’s Note, 11/12/09: I have changed the title of this post, after seeing information in my Google Analytics account which leads me to believe that people searching for porn were coming upon the old title, “My Best Friend’s Mom.” I thought it was clever when I first wrote it and would get me more hits. I see the error of my ways.)