Here's today's story: Life Lessons. The advice Bill Lee gives the main character is actual advice he gave to my son at a book signing a number of years ago. Words my son took to heart and I suspect will live his life by. Today's prompt was: foul ball in a beer cup (why do kids think that one is easy or fun?) and I was asked by a kid earlier today: who is the one baseball player that influenced you the most.
I don't have just one player, but I will say a major one during my formative years was Bill Lee. I loved how smart and free he is and that he really just lives his life the way he does. So, yeah... I guess I had to write about the Spaceman because, well, he's the Spaceman and he gave my son advice.
If you asked Tater about his mom, he’d tell you she was never that wild and crazy mom that could make an award winning halloween costumes out of a paper lunch bag, handkerchief and glittery pipe cleaners that she just happened to have on hand.
She was never the PTA kind of mom either. The one who was organizing speakers and events at school, writing newsletters and putting together impressive bulletin boards of recent classroom activities.
She was just Justin, Evelyn and Tater’s mom.
The kids knew her because she often had on a Red Sox or Bruins jersey (with the name and number of Jason Varitek or Tim Thomas) and was always the first parent at Little League to be able to step in and hit grounders or pop ups at practice, show a kid how to throw a ball or cheer the loudest for the team. She was the person who found a lucky charm for the team if they were losing or understood not messing up the mojo if they were winning. When other parents would make fun of the misfits that made up their team, she’d be the one to go toe-to-toe and make them apologize.
“We lose with pride,” she told one particularly obnoxious hulk of a baseball father, “and if you’re team can’t do that, then I feel sorry for you because your kids are going to be working for mine some day since the nerds are finally claiming the world for themselves.”
The guy didn’t know what to do with the short, feisty woman that wouldn’t back down. So the team cheered as loud as they could when he just looked at his shoes and left the field to “wait in the truck.”
In short, she was the cool sports mom who made it easy to just be the mediocre sports kid who loved to play ball but knew this was as good as it got.
So the day Tater was going through a box of old photos he found, he was surprised to see a faded color photograph of someone that could have looked like Evelyn and then realized, it was a young version of his mom. In the picture, a vaguely familiar man had his arm around her shoulders and the two of them were grinning ear to ear.
He looked at the photo and brought it out to the porch, where she sat on the wooden swing, swaying gently in the breeze while she read a book.”
“Mom, is this you?”
She took the photo and looked. A slight smile crossed her face as she tenderly touched the glossy surface of the old photo.
“Oh my, I had totally forgotten about that day.”
“Who is that with you?”
“Bill ‘the Spaceman’ Lee.”
“No way, you know Bill Lee?”
“No, I met him one day when I was at the old Elliot Lounge back when I was in high school.”
“What were you doing there if you were in high school?”
“Something I’d ring your neck for if you ever tried it.”
Tater smiled. He knew his mom had a lot of fun as a kid and let them make their mistakes too but also was pretty strict about breaking laws and stuff.
“I was in there with a friend. The Elliot was pretty loose about things and we were young, pretty girls who looked old enough to pass for 18.”
“When I was a kid, the age for being able to do stuff was 18, not 21. Which is why I expect you to wait to do things.”
“Right…” Tater replied.
“So, here I am with my friend at the Elliot and Bill Lee walks in. He had just pitched a day game and was coming in to have a couple with some of the other players on the team. We knew that some of the guys from the Sox went there and we were hoping to meet a couple.”
“Because we were young and stupid and full of day dreams of baseball players falling in love with us because we were so young and beautiful.”
“That’s kind of stupid.”
“No, it’s a lot of stupid.”
“How did you know baseball players would go in there?”
“Because at one point, in 1975, a reporter asked Sparky Anderson the REd’s chances against Bill Lee. He said, ‘No matter what happens, my pitcher is going to the Hall of Fame.’ When Bill Lee heard that he replied, ‘No matter what happens, I’m going to the Elliot Lounge.’ After that, Auntie Jill and I wanted to sneak into the Elliot to meet a real live baseball player.”
“How did you meet him?”
“So there were these really obnoxious guys from BU or Harvard that would leave me and Jill alone.”
“You were with Auntie Jill?”
“Yeah… I probably shouldn’t have told you that. At any rate, these two guys kept using cheesy pick up lines on us. Stuff like, ‘Are you a parking ticket because you have fine written all over you.’ Then there was the ‘Do you believe in love at first sight or should I walk by again?’”
“That’s pretty cheesy.”
“Yeah. So they tried to buy us a drink not realizing that we were drinking soda water so everyone would think we were drinking. That’s the funny part, we’d sneak into these places but we still couldn’t bring ourselves to break the law.”
“When did Bill Lee come in?”
“When obnoxious guy number one asked if heaven was missing an angel since I was sitting right there.”
“What did he do?”
“He looked at the guy and said, ‘If you want to make time with a lady as beautiful as this, you don’t go for stupid lines like that. You recognize she’s an obviously intelligent class of human being who would rather argue if Shroediger’s cat is dead or alive than hear something she obviously notes every time she looks in the mirror: she’s a gorgeous woman who is way too young to be here and should be treated with respect.”
“Did he really say that?”
“Yes he did.”
“What did you say?”
“I said thank you and while I was not willing to argue the hypothetical of if the cat in the box was alive or dead, I wouldn’t mind discussing why Frank Lloyd Wright’s stuff looked so cool but was either entirely uncomfortable or leaked.”
“What did he do?”
“He laughed. He shooed the obnoxious students away and Auntie Jill and I had a lovely evening with the Buffalo Head club.”
“The Buffalo Head club?”
“Basically the Red Sox pitching staff at the time that hung out at the Elliot. At some point, Auntie Jill took a picture and made sure to take it to some place in Boston to have it developed so Grampy wouldn’t see it.”
“Did you talk about Frank Lloyd Wright?”
“Not really, but he gave me some advice that I have lived my life by pretty much ever since.”
“What was that?”
“Keep reading and don’t stop. Read in different languages, take chances and always enjoy life. If you can’t enjoy life, it’s not worth living.”
“Do you enjoy life?”
“What do you think?”
“I think you do OK.”
“I think so too.”
“Did you really meet dad at a Red Sox game?”
“Yes I did.”
“Did he try to use a cheesy pick up line on you?”
“Nope. He gave me the foul ball he caught.”
“Yes way. He was in the row behind me and Auntie Jill when a ball went foul and landed in his beer cup. I got splashed and he kept apologizing and gave me the ball and asked if he could take me to dinner to make up for spilling beer on me.”
“I thought he was kidding when he told me that story.”
“It’s the truth.”
He looked at the photo in his mother’s hand.
“Does he know about Bill Lee?”
“Yes he does.”
“Does that mean we can frame this picture?”
“I think that’s a great idea.”
Tater sat on the swing with his mom.
“Where’s your book Tater?”
“Are you trying to make me read again?”
“If it was good enough for Bill Lee to tell me to read, it’s certainly good enough for you to do as well.”
“I’m kind of between books right now. Any recommendations?”
“I’m pretty sure I have a couple of books on Frank Lloyd Wright but they don’t talk about why his stuff is uncomfortable or leaks.”
“How about any books about Bill Lee?”
“I know just the book. It’s not about Bill Lee, but the main character reminds me a lot of Bill Lee and it’s not the type of book that most 12 year olds would read. But the guy who wrote it is one of my favorite authors and I wanted to write like him when I grew up.”
“That sounds good. What book?”
“‘The Curious Case of Siddhartha Finch’ by George Plimpton.”
“What’s it about?”
“It’s about a Buddhist monk who throws a fast ball that’s so fast that they have to get the catcher ready by dropping balls out of the Good Year blimp.”
Tater thought for a minute.
“Is it true?”
“What do you think?”
“You’re probably right.”
“Why did you want to write like George Plimpton?”
“Because when I was a little kid, I read his book ‘Paper Lion.’ Plimpton was a journalist and he spent some time in training camp with the Detroit Lions so he could he write a realistic book about them. I thought that had to be the coolest job in the world, to be able to play football with a professional team and then write about it.”
“Can I read that some day?”
“Absolutely, but keep in mind, it was written in the 60’s and the world is a whole lot different today than it was back then.”
“I think I can handle it.”
“I think so too.”
She looked at her son.
“Thanks for telling me the truth about stuff. Some parents would be all blah about doing stupid stuff when they were in high school and stuff.”
“Tater, you know that if I tell you something, I mean it. So when I tell you that if I ever catch you trying to sneak into a bar to meet a baseball player, I will find a way to lock you in your room and embed a GPS tracking chip in your body to make sure you never do anything that stupid again.”
“I love you too mom.”
He gave her a hug and got off the swing. She suspected he was heading straight over to her bookshelf to find a book to read. Looking at the photo she thought how much her daughter Evelyn looked like she did at that age. She’d have to remember to have a talk with her after dinner tonight.