My mom was five when the Baseball Hall of Fame first opened. She passed away nine months before I went back to Cooperstown last month for the first time since she took me as a kid. But as I entered that room with the busts of baseball immortals that preserve what we can’t let go, the memory of our family trip hit me like a ton of bronze, casting me with new emotion and understanding of how baseball had been a constant that captured snapshots of the equally immortal love my parents gave me.
Pat Perkins wasn’t always a huge baseball fan. Her game was tennis, and her passion was the theater, though she grew up rubbing shoulders with Yankees, Dodgers, and Giants back in the day when you knew them like neighbors.
But she and my dad were my biggest fans from the moment I was born in the Onondaga County Hospital, 93 miles northwest of Cooperstown, so they spent more time than they could have imagined embedded in the game. As I stood in the Hall, immersed in my memories, I realized what it meant for my mom to plan that long-ago day’s detour as a special surprise for the baseball nut she’d brought into this world.
Weeks before Larry Walker’s induction, I’d stopped in Syracuse to finish a story on the Rockies series in Chicago, setting up my laptop on a bench by Lake Onondaga as Mom’s dog Willy, my co-pilot on a month-long, 5,000-mile trek, swam in the lake on an August afternoon. It was my first time back since the day I was born. Mom would have loved that trip — and the fact that baseball helped make it possible.
Baseball was part mirror, part time capsule, a constant reflecting a fraction of moments in parent-child relationships. Take “Bang the Drum Slowly,” which had me in hysterics at age nine, a year into my “perfect attendance” Little League career. Watching it became an annual tradition with Mom, the humor and drama remixed with each viewing.
There was no greater advocate for me than Mom, giving endless earfuls to any coach questioning my claim as a left-handed third baseman. Picture Shirley McLaine in “Terms of Endearment,” berating the nurses to give her daughter her medicine. Turn it up to 11, and you’ll get a sense for what it was to have Mom in my corner.
When $5 box seats became harder to find come October in Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium, she’d climb the steep steps of the upper deck, me holding her hand for dear life, certain I’d fall all the way to the field where the O’s played for the pennant in five of six seasons. I never fell. She never let go.
The day the strike ended in the spring of ’95, Mom told me she’d go to Camden Yards after work to pick up tickets for the games we’d counted out when Cal Ripken would tie and break Lou Gehrig’s record. “Could you go before work?” I asked from Colorado, certain the game would sell out in hours. She did, getting us box seats behind the dugout as Cal made history.
We marked most birthdays of my youth in the ballpark party boxes, and for decades late in her life, I’d take her to a game for Mother’s Day. We rang in her 88th at Coors Field, Mom holding court with a gaggle of friends, spreading her joy, and making her day special for everyone she encountered.
Mom moved to Denver not long after Dad’s death, coming to Colorado the same year Trevor Story debuted for the Rockies, and it was love at first sight as he homered for a record seven times in the first six games of his career. She asked about him every day, offered Charlie Blackmon endless admonitions about his beard, and provided an oasis of smiles when she’d run into beleaguered owner Dick Monfort at a game. As a trailblazing working mother, she took pride in meeting Jenny Cavner and watching her became just the third female to call a Major League Baseball game.
Mom made my work seem more important than it is, bragging on me to her friends and never losing the wonder and satisfaction she’d earned through a lifetime of support. The mirror of baseball could barely contain the happiness she shared from knowing how I loved my job.
My travels with Willy took me from her grandson’s wedding to our family gathering to lay her to rest at our old summer home at Moosehead Lake, Maine. It ended in Baltimore on her birthday, in the shadow of Camden Yards and old Memorial Stadium. We celebrated her life in our neighborhood park where she’d walked Willy for 10 years, joined by her friends –— colleagues, clients, students, neighbors — all part of her team.
Baseball is about coming home. It was for Mom that Willy and I crossed the country together, seeing almost every living relative she ever knew — and seven she’d never met — as a final curtain call. There is power and healing in our stories, and no one knew that better than Mom. How I wish I could share with her those tales of our journey, and our joyful arrival safe at home.