Dodger Thoughts: Family

A special thanks

December, 28, 2011
As this year nears a close, I want to offer a particular salute and thank you to one person.

This was no less a rewarding a year of parenting for my wife and I than any other, but it did happen to be our most intimidating. Everything's relative - we are thankful for the health and happiness in our home and only hope it continues. But you could say we dealt with some unexpected developments.

To those challenges, my wife responded like a field general. A field general who didn't hide her fears, but a field general nonetheless. Despite how overwhelmed she felt at times, she did not slink from what needed to be done, doing all the research, finding all the right people to help, making it all happen, and all the while juggling the mundane duties that in the grand scheme of things would have been easy to let slide. At times we felt we were going off a cliff, but she not only kept us from falling, you could now say as we reach year's end that we actually have seen signs of soaring.

My contribution on these matters was mainly to be the one who usually got up in the middle of the night whenever our 3-year-old needed a little love or lavatory. The real mountain-moving was left to my wife. When I think back on the year, I'm kind of amazed by what she accomplished.

So to whatever extent you have enjoyed Dodger Thoughts this year, join me in sending a bit o' thanks to my better half, who shouldered so much of our household burdens and made my work life that much easier. You don't see her influence, but she makes a huge difference.

Family, Life

My kid bids fans adieu

June, 18, 2011
It ended with a single, a grounder in the infield that the other kids couldn’t field efficiently enough to throw my son out at first. Some might have called it an error, except when the players are four feet tall or so, you don’t call anything an error.

It ended with a good feeling, which was something that seemed far from assured not long before.

There was no press conference, but if you check the transactions wire, you'll see the news. My 6-year-old has retired from baseball.

This was my son’s third season of playing baseball — T-ball, to be more precise, in 2009 and 2010, and coach-pitch this year. I’ve occasionally written about it in the past. There've been moments, but it’s never been a sport that he has really enjoyed.

His attitude at practices has mostly been good, considering that he’s not really into the game. But he almost never wanted to play when he didn’t have to. He would have liked to have been better at it, but he didn’t care enough to make the effort to do so, no matter how fun I tried to make it. One of the ongoing mysteries of parenting: not just when to push, but how to push.

It’s entirely possible that my passion for baseball weirded him out from it, though it’s also entirely possible that he wanted to like the game but just couldn’t make himself do so. It was telling, I think, that his favorite part of practice this year was at the very end, when the coaches just had the kids in a glorified game of pickle, and all he had to do was run around like a crazy man.

In the games themselves, his favorite thing to do was to hit, but he really, really struggled at it, and for much of this season, he got worse as it went on. At first, he was making contact, but it would seem like a fluke because his stance was a mess, even by 6-year-old standards. So we’d try to work with him on his stance, but he was very resistant to instruction – prideful, perhaps, or just not wanting to feel pressured into doing something.

So things evolved to where his natural but ugly stance evolved into an unnatural and even uglier stance. It was like a visual representation of angst. Everything was off, and it couldn’t have been more uncomfortable. There was one practice where he swung and missed at more than 20 pitches in a row. Even if you don’t dream of growing up to be Hank Aaron, that’s disheartening.

He is so much fun and has so many other interests. He does well in first grade. My wife and I agreed that three seasons of this game were enough if it wasn’t something he wanted to do. And my feeling was, if he ever decided, two or four or 10 years from now, that he wanted to try again, he’d make so much faster progress once he cared than he would if we kept sending him out there with nothing but a little kid's stiff upper lip.

So we put the choice to him last month: We were going to finish out this season, but if he wanted to play again next year, it would be his call.

“Hooray!” he exclaimed.

That left the remaining week of the 2011 schedule — and then, another week. See, we thought his final game would be before Memorial Day, but it turned out that there was a makeup game that would be played afterward. So just when everyone thought he had played his final game, another unfulfilling one, there was actually another.

Here’s what happened. In the final two at-bats of his season and maybe his career, his stance all of a sudden came together. It looked like a little boy’s stance should look. And instead of missing each pitch as he so often had, he hit the ball — hit it pretty well, all things considered.

And I was just so happy for him that he could walk away from the game — for the moment or forever — on his own terms, with that feeling that he could do it if he wanted to. An early Father's Day present, now that I think of it.

When he crossed home plate for the final time, we packed up his gear, grabbed his team photos and dashed off to rehearsal for his piano recital the next day, with camp, swimming and all kinds of summer fun ahead of him.

The craziest thing of all: All this experience has taken place before his seventh birthday. When I turned 7, I hadn’t yet played in a baseball game in my life.

Family, Life

Darkness and light

May, 31, 2011
In the middle of Memorial Day, my wife and I punished my two oldest children. We love them more than life itself and have the highest hopes for them, but of course that doesn't eliminate the paths to frustration with them.

In particular, they have developed some sort of simultaneous mental block to saying hello to people they know. They resist a friendly greeting like some sort of evil bacteria. I understand shyness - I was the shyest one in my family as a kid and it still crops up from time to time today. But these kids got to the point Monday where their grandparents, who have been very good to them, said hello and the kids didn't so much as look up. It wasn't shy - it was dismissive.

That ain't right. It's damn vexing, and it only seems to be getting worse. To be sure, my wife and I are wondering what we've done wrong to cause this and what we should or shouldn't do to solve it. But in the meantime, taking away some of the kids' Nintendo DS privileges seemed a logical stopover en route to the next parenting solution station.

Over the next couple of hours, the kids hardly snapped out of their funk.

At the end of the afternoon, we went to see my 101-year-old grandmother, who is deteriorating rapidly now in a manner that is difficult to take, especially for my father. It was not an easy place for any of us, including single-digit age children who, for the first time in their lives, are face to face with someone whose mind and body are failing.

But when we had all but given up hope on the kids salvaging the day, they came alive. They were not only friendly, but they went and put their piano lessons to tremendous use, playing an impromptu mini-concert for Grandma Sue and a few others at the assisted living home, something so wonderful that thinking about it now does something to my head that I can't find the words to describe. They did something for this woman, who whom they essentially can no longer communicate with through words because of her hearing and speech decline, that I could never do.

I hope I'll never forget that moment. I know I won't forget, at least until my mind goes, the look on my grandmother's face as we were leaving, a look of direct melancholy but also of one that had been engaged in the world at least one more time.

Anyway, I started writing this tonight after the Dodgers took a 5-1 lead against Colorado and reached this final paragraph with the scorer 8-2, on the way to what hopefully for them and their fans will be their third straight authoritative victory, with the plan of drawing a connection of how quickly simmering frustration can turn to elation. That seems a bit forced now that I've gotten to this point, so all I'll say now is that I'll never cease to be surprised by how often I can be surprised, much less blown away.
Not to make light of it, but this has been Grandma Sue's roughest century.

She was all but self-sufficient until the age of 95, and still very much herself in her sharpness and personality through last year, when she hit the milestone of her 100th birthday. But it hasn't been the same for most of the past 12 months, with her memory and ability to recognize people slipping.

The instructions are for no emergency life-saving procedures to be taken on Grandma's behalf. Last summer, I got a call early on a Sunday that she had collapsed. I'm about seventh or eighth on the protocol – it was as if the Secretary of the Interior had been told he was in charge. I stood there on the phone, faced, as far as I could gather, with the decision of letting her go. I wasn't prepared.

After a minute of being just frozen, I told her nurse to call 911. I just couldn't be the one.

I drove to her apartment in the assisted living facility near UCLA, arriving after the paramedics. She lay there on the floor, unconscious. But breathing. A couple of hours later, in a hospital bed, she began to come out of it.

I didn't really know what to think. We were taking it day to day after that, but that was about 10 months ago or so. She's still going. For a couple of those months, she was doing pretty well, but then a slide began. At my uncle's 80th birthday party in February, she couldn't really place my kids. This week, I got a message to call her, and when I reached her, she kept calling me Jack and seemed to have me confused with someone else. It was like talking to a distant spirit.

Overall, I have seen her and talked to her very little in recent months. I haven't been a good grandson, in the slightest. There's no making up for it. But we'll see her tonight, and in a quiet way, celebrate her incredible life.

No. 3 for No. 3

March, 20, 2011
Three years ago today came our little big man. In the time since, he has shown himself to be absolutely the most joyous person I have ever known, utterly friendly and curious, and yes, more than a little devilish and, well, dashing.

Happy birthday, my boy.

Previously on Dodger Thoughts:

Three Is a Magic Number

The Boy Turns 3


Teach your children? Well ...

February, 18, 2011

Jason Miller/US PresswireMy reaction, as it would have been seen on SportsCenter.
Here's a story ...

Making our way through the rain, my 6-year-old and I arrived tonight at his 6:15 p.m. basketball practice a couple of minutes early. The gym was almost empty, so he had a chance to take some shots. They were all really short, barely getting airborne. That wouldn't have been unusual a year ago, but he has shown this year he can make a basket on occasion.

I wanted to get him to bring his arm back and cock his wrist a little bit more. He really seemed to be short-arming the ball. Now, the boy has made it pretty clear that he doesn't like to get athletic advice from me hardly at all, so I've hardly said a word to him this season, leaving it to his capable and easygoing coach. But all I wanted to do was give him this small guidance.

He was having nothing of it. I reminded him a) how little I try to force my hoops instruction on him and b) he is supposed to listen to me per the father-son paperwork we filed with ... well, no, there isn't any such paperwork, but there should be.

Nothing. He was doing everything he could to avoid hearing me. He tried to take another shot, and out of frustration, I swatted it. Mean old dad. But a dad who, for crying out loud, would just like to get to be a dad at one of these moments.

The couple of minutes passed, and his coach called the boys in to start practice. (A small group to this point – only three had made it on time through the rain.)

I sat down on one of the folding chairs on the sideline. I did not hide my displeasure. I wanted him to see my frown. I almost never do this at his sports practices, but I wanted to make my point.

Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images
In your face ...

Without even half a team, the coach started the boys off on a layup drill, or something close to that. My boy dribbled up, shot the ball ... up, up, and into the basket.

He looked at me with an almost-but-not-completely sheepish smile. I didn't alter my frown an inch.

The other two boys shot, and then it was back to mine. He dribbled up, shot the ball – in.

He looked over, smiling unabashedly. I let my lips turn ever so slightly up.

Next turn ... he shoots, it's in. He smiles big. I lean back, sigh, and smile unsurely, not completely positive I should let him off the hook but finding it very hard not to.

Fourth shot. Four in a row? Oh freaking yes. He looks over at me and is smiling so big, his eyes are aglow.

I'm smiling just as big. He's melted me completely. In the car ride home, he tells me he's the best basketball player in the world.

Family, Life

Babe Ruth and Egypt

February, 12, 2011
When Egypt and Israel signed their peace treaty in 1979, my Dad explained the significance of it to me by saying that it was "like Babe Ruth dying."

I was 11 years old. I guess that's how you communicated with me back then.

I'll need a different touchstone for my kids to explain the importance of what happened this week. I'm thinking maybe, Harry Potter ... (but doing something a bit less grave. Dad could be a serious fellow sometimes.)
One of the victims of the tragic shooting in Arizona on Saturday was the daughter of Dodger scout John Green and granddaughter of former Phillies manager Dallas Green.

Nine-year-old Christina Taylor Green was among six people killed, including U.S. District Judge John Roll, and 12 others wounded, including Arizona congressperson Gabrielle Giffords, on Saturday in a mass shooting in a Tucson mall.

“We lost a member of the Dodgers family today," Dodger owner Frank McCourt said late last night in a statement. "The entire Dodgers organization is mourning the death of John’s daughter Christina, and will do everything we can to support John, his wife Roxana and their son Dallas in the aftermath of this senseless tragedy. I spoke with John earlier today and expressed condolences on behalf of the entire Dodgers organization.”

Christina Taylor Green was born the day of the September 11 tragedy in 2001 and was featured in a book, "Faces of Hope," on children who shared that birthday. According to reports, she had just been elected to the student council in her elementary school and had been invited to meet Giffords' at her community gathering as a result. Her father told the Arizona Daily Star that she had become interested in politics from a young age. She also played second base on her Little League baseball team, the paper said.

John Green is the Dodgers' East Coast supervisor of amateur scouting. Dallas Green pitched for eight seasons in the majors in the 1960s, then managed the Phillies to their first World Series title in 1980. He later managed the Phillies and Mets.

Dodger general manager Ned Colletti's first job in baseball, as assistant to chief publicist Bob Ibach of the Chicago Cubs, came at the same time as Dallas Green was hired as general manager of the Cubs.

After the milestones

January, 8, 2011
In recent days, more than eight years after our first child was born and more than two years after our third, we've retired the stroller and the Pack 'n Play. Tonight, it appears, we're done with the crib. The final moments in the high chair are nigh, leaving us only with diapers as the last vestige of little children of a certain age.

Clinging to the memories of their youngest days, clinging to our babies in a capricious world.


Warning: Non-baseball content ahead

Frustrated with my kids for chronic insubordination, I turned to desperate measures. I started reading "To Kill a Mockingbird" to them.

That's no statement against the book – anything but. Harper Lee's novel is iconic to me. I mean, it's the Atticus Finch of novels, the Gregory Peck of publications. What more do you need to say about it? It is righteous in the best possible way, and I was resorting to it in the hopes that just by wielding it, its energy would turn things around.

But the book is arguably too mature for my 8-year-old daughter and definitely so for my 6-year-old son. (My 2-year-old boy listened with cheerful indifference for a few minutes.) Even the title was off-putting, my daughter going out of her way to make it clear that she didn't want to read about any dead birds. I would have turned straight to the movie, but my kids have a much greater willingness to listen to words they don't entirely understand than a willingness to watch anything in black-and-white, a bias that I have been unable to conquer with anything except Lucy Ricardo selling Vitameatavegamin.

The first paragraph of "Mockingbird" is promising: In those opening lines alone, we get football and a broken, misshapen arm. But immediately, the book then takes a dangerous turn into ancestral backgrounds that are more in keeping with "War and Peace." My kids' had limited sympathy for Scout having no ancestors who fought in the Battle of Hastings. As soon as the second page, I found myself having to skip ahead, past the history of Simon Finch's persecution at the hands of the Methodists, onto the relative excitement of Atticus passing the bar.

The vocabulary challenges also escalated: If I wasn't having to explain what an apothecary was, I suddenly was finding myself having exposed my kids to "jackass" and "son-of-a-bitch" on page 3, all in the context of an early Atticus case defending two, well, murderers. Live by the sword, die by the sword. That's your grade-school bedtime reading for the night.

On the fourth page, before you even find out that your narrator Scout is a girl, you find out about Scout's mother dying young. I was in a death spiral of my own.

Hope came in the next few pages, with the funny introduction of Dill, whose braggadocio about his reading ability got a laugh from my son. Shortly, on the seventh page, the specter of Boo Radley received its full, curdling introduction: Inside the house lived a malevolent phantom.

The clock having passed 9 p.m., half an hour past the kids' bedtime, I stopped reading there at the end of that page. I had, to say the least, equipped them with supreme nightmare material, but at least I had worn them down.

I don't know what happens next. I don't know if I keep reading to them (seven pages down, 270 to go). Don't know all three of us have the energy to keep going. Maybe I quit while I'm behind. Maybe I've done just enough to get them to give the movie a try.

And yes, I'm aware that the material only grows more fraught with peril. I should stop, even if they start listening.

I want to keep going, though. I feel like there's a moment here. And even though part of me knows that I'm rushing into it, part of me doesn't want to wait.
"Daddy, I have a surprise for you."

My 8-year-old daughter has been tooth-loss challenged her whole life. She was the last kid in her class to lose a tooth, watching with agony as the Tooth Fairy visited every one of her friends' bedrooms but never her own. Finally, she had a breakthrough this year, but still, it's been slow going. Her remaining front tooth had been hanging on like a monkey on a vine, hanging on with the tenacity of Alex Cora at the plate against Matt Clement.

Finally, as I greeted her after work Monday night, just before dinner, she opened her mouth and showed the double-sized gap. Victory!

Not to be outdone in his desire to reap a ruthless, toothless reward is my 6-year-old son. Tooth loss comes more naturally to him, and conveniently, he had a wiggler front and center on his bottom row. Merging greed with courage, he asked his mom if she might be able to pull it out. It was close enough to make it possible … annnnnd … victory!

Ladies and gentlemen, we had a doubleheader.

My wife makes the Tooth Fairy arrangements in our household. But as she went into my daughter's bedroom late at night, the boy, who chooses to sleep on her floor in a sleeping bag most nights, sat straight up. My wife had to withdraw discreetly. She then declared herself too tired to stay up any later, and so, for the first time ever, Tooth Fairy logistics fell to me.

This was something like replacing Clayton Kershaw with Ramon Ortiz.

I mean, sure, if I could just groove a fastball past these kids, there'd be no problem. But their heads were just hammered to their pillows. It was going to take some sort of clever curve to strike this exchange of cash for choppers. Plus, their floor creaks like Independence Day fireworks. Conditions were against me.

My first time in, there was just no chance. My son stirred again, sitting up. I asked if he was okay, as if I just happened to be hanging out in the neighborhood, kissed him and left the room.

Well past midnight, I gave it another go. This time, my son stayed asleep. But I couldn't reach either tooth, not without using a forklift to boost their noggins from their pillows. How does the Tooth Fairy do this?

A little after 4 a.m., I woke myself up for a third attempt. Time was running short. I went in, and finally had some luck. They had shifted positions. I could reach my daughter's tooth, safe in its little Tooth Fairy pouch. I extracted it and replaced it with her reward ($3, upped from $2 thanks to the ever-increasing peer pressure of classmates who have been getting $5 - no lie!).

However, though my son was now near the edge of his pillow, I could not find that tooth. He had to be lying right on top of it or something. I was beside myself. I tried and tried to get my hand to it, but I just couldn't. Worried that the jig would soon be up, I stuffed the money underneath and just hoped that somehow, there would be a chance to get the tooth before he woke up.

When I came back into our bedroom, my wife had awakened, wondering what I was doing. I cursed the Tooth Fairy nightmare I was enduring. She didn't hesitate. Coming out of the bullpen like Orel Hershiser in the '88 NLCS, she went in for the save.

And here's the evanascent point of this post.

Teamwork dictated that I would root for her to succeed. Pride dictated that I wanted her to have as much trouble as I did. I was torn. Her success would shine a light on my failing. Her failure would threaten to bring down the entire carefully constructed Tooth Fairy enterprise.

"Be mature," I finally said to myself. "You want her to get that tooth."

But as the moments passed, leading to her empty-handed return, I can't say that I didn't still feel a dash of peace.

Later, I would realize that the end of the story should have been predictable all along. My son woke up, saw the money and didn't even notice that his tooth hadn't been taken. As it turned out, it had somehow escaped his pillow entirely and had taken residence underneath where his midsection had been. The jig wasn't up — it was rigged against me!

So, did I pass the Teamwork Test, or did I fail? I'm not sure. I just know that I don't belong in this league. As far as I'm concerned, I'm ready to go back to the sidelines. The Tooth Fairy will have her job back.
... when the Dodgers lose the last 10 games I have taken my children to. Seven Webkinz games last year, and now three games this year with Monday's Fireworks Night flail. And that doesn't count the Freeway Series loss to the Angels.

Anyway, we're all staying home tonight, so things should be looking up for the home team ...

Update: Via Sports by Brooks, "The Greatest American Hero" at Dodger Stadium. And it only gets better ...

William Katt: "I'm gonna be on 'The Mike Douglas Show?'"
Markie Post: "Can you take a bit of advice from a girl who lived in Mandeville Canyon and used to grow organic vegetables?"

Play ball ...

May, 3, 2010
My wife gave me the most extraordinary anniversary present. It was a 96-page, hardcover photo album (with accompanying text) celebrating our courtship and first 10 years of marriage and nearly eight years as parents. For a guy who finds self-pity less than a hop, skip and jump away, it was like being handed my very own "It's a Wonderful Life."

The words she wrote were obviously sentimental and loving, but they didn't hide the struggles we've had or the disappointments we have encountered. Sometimes we make bad choices; sometimes we aren't good enough. Sometimes we do everything right, but it just isn't meant to be. Marriage isn't one World Series championship after another, and within it there are frustrations large and small.

But in the most mundane moments can come the most diabolically precious memories.

When I paged through that photo album and saw so many dagger-to-my-heart images piled on top of each other, I was staggered. And it was amazing how many of them occurred on the most uneventful days, days that had no meaning other than bringing smiles to our faces then, and now, and in the future. It's a book of tear-dropped happiness, not a book of triumphs.

When we're up against it, when the dreams and peace of mind are deferred, we have to remind ourselves (some days I'm better than this than others) that the little things add up. It isn't done fairly, and the calculus isn't comprehensible. But we have to remember. I have to remember. Otherwise, when the time comes, I'll go straight into missing them without having appreciated them.

Riding in the tunnel ...

April, 28, 2010
Tony Jackson of has the lowdown on Ned Colletti's critical comments of the Dodgers' play. (Dodgers Blog has Kemp's response.) I'll agree with Colletti that Matt Kemp's basestealing and defense have been a disappointment that we'd all like to see corrected, but if you're going to start throwing out pointed comments about the effect of his new contract, you might at least balance it with the fact his hitting has been MVP-caliber. The Dodgers are not losing because of Matt Kemp.

Jackson adds, as many of you might already have suspected, that Charlie Haeger's roster spot is in jeopardy after another unsatisfactory outing. Not sure what move the Dodgers would make, but Saturday might bring a decision.

* * *

On April 29, 2000, I stood at one end of a room and a woman walked toward me from the other end of the room. And then we made vows, and we walked out of that room together, married. I'm not sure what's more amazing – that it ever happened, or all that has come in the nine years and 364 days since. It feels unreal. It's been very real – family life can be bliss and it can be hard. But thinking about it feels unreal. It's a ride I don't want to get off.

So I'm off to celebrate – you'll next see me here Friday or Saturday. There will game chats, so stick around and think good thoughts about the Dodgers, when you can.


Aaron and Sue Weisman
I'm in such awe that I don't feel I can convey it sufficiently, so I'm left with starting this post with the basics.

Sue Weisman, my grandmother, born on April 7, 1910, is 100 years old today.

The last thing you expect is for someone to live to be 100, but if anyone were going to do it, it was Grandma Sue, a straight-shooting, take-life-as-it-comes woman. Her early childhood years – the sixth of eight children of Minsk immigrants – came during World War I: "I used to be scared that those horrible helmets would be walking down the street. During the night I used to think about that. ... The spiked helmets scared the hell out of me." Grandma heard about the end of the war from a phone call to the family business: Hers was the first family she knew to have a telephone. "There was a false Armistice, and we thought we’d get a day off from school. So, instead of us going to school — and of course, we were penalized, and we had to stay after school, so I never forgot that. And then about two weeks later, there was a real Armistice."

Her parents owned a restaurant. "They were originally in the saloon business until ... Prohibition came. My father was a Beau Brummel, a gay blade, who wore something on his mustache when he went to bed and kept his hat in a leather case and loved all the nice things. My mother worked like a dog."

My favorite story about her is from her New York/Lower East Side childhood, when in between ice skating and baseball and football with her friends of both genders, this little Jewish girl was dressed as if she were being driven to church, all so that he could be a decoy for liquor to be smuggled undetected during Prohibition. Married and moving to Chicago at age 20, her next decade brought her a husband, Aaron, who found work during the Depression working as an accountant for Ralph Capone, Al's brother – years living in terror underscored by Aaron's uncle Sol being "taken for a ride" and never returning. "Honey, the stuff I had to take in that crappy apartment, oh God. Every hoodlum in the world was up there." The first year they were married, Aaron met her outside their apartment one night and told her he was nearly tossed out the 10th floor window.

And then there was her live-in mother-in-law, Aaron's mother Ida, who once held a butcher's knife to her and was so remorselessly unpleasant that when she passed away in 1961, my father says he went down to the hospital "to make sure she was dead."

Sue has three children – Jerry, my father Wally (75 next month) and my aunt Elinor – eight grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. It's both fact and appropriate metaphor that Sue did all the driving in the family. Aaron, who never got behind a steering wheel in my lifetime, retired relatively young from a liquor distribution business and led a sedentary life, but Sue was constantly out and about. Papa Aaron taught me poker; Grandma Sue played catch with me in my backyard well into her 60s. A fanatic about books, art and culture, Grandma Sue was an original volunteer at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art when it opened in the 1960s and, long after my grandfather died in 1994 at age 86, continued there past age 95. No doubt, soon after we celebrate her birthday tonight and this weekend, she'll be escorted to a play or the opera. Physically, she isn't what once was, but her mental acuity has barely dimmed at all.

My sister Robyn – whose video interview with my grandmother from years back provided the quotes above – offers the following:
In 1928, Grandma Sue took the New York State Regents Exam in English. She scored 90 on the exam, with a perfect 50 on the essay portion. Not only was it the highest score in the five boroughs of New York City, it was so unheard of that 20 years later, Grandma’s younger sister Mickey, by then an English teacher herself, mentioned this to an older colleague, and he said, “Your sister was the one who scored that 50?” with the sort of awe that’s typically reserved for Hank Aaron’s 715th home run or Sandy Koufax’s perfect game.

“I don’t know what the hell I did! I wrote something very naturally, and I never had a grammatical error,” Grandma told me a few years ago. When I asked her what the topic was, she said she wrote about a young man who came from lowly surroundings and built himself into a well-dressed and well-educated boy who wore a suit and a real hat when other boys his age were still wearing caps or going bareheaded.

“So it was a creative essay?” I said.

“No, I couldn’t write about Tom, Dick and Harry. I couldn’t write a story,” she said. I didn’t argue with her because her hearing is so bad and shouting and enunciating is something I try to avoid unless it’s really necessary. If a (then) 96-year-old woman wants to claim she isn’t a storyteller, I guess I can nod with the condescension the middle-aged too often show the elderly and think, "Right, this coming from the woman who changed her name from Sarah to Sue around the time 'The Great Gatsby' had its first printing because it sounded more modern."

But just know that Jon can’t help it that he writes about baseball with such depth, humor and lyricism. It’s in his genes. He descends from a woman who tells a story with such craft that it feels tossed off, which it may well be. It’s an intuitive sense that she has, like her perfect grammar.

I’d love to recount some of her recollections from the days when our grandfather worked for the Capone mob, among so many other stories. Instead I’ll tell one she told offhandedly to Jon, me and a few other relatives the day of Jon’s youngest son’s bris because it’s an example of her offhand approach to storytelling.

We were waiting in Jon’s living room while Jon’s wife and the baby were in a guest bedroom with the mohel, and everyone was nervous. Then Grandma piped up. “After Jerry was born, my father came to Chicago for the bris, and when he saw how the mohel was holding the knife, he grabbed it out of his hand — because from running the restaurant, he knew how to use one — and he said, ‘I didn’t come all the way from Manhattan to see you castrate my first-born grandchild!’ And he did it himself. It was a real worry back then, you know.”

She was 98 when she told that story. She’s 100 today. Happy birthday, Grandma. We wouldn’t be here without you (obviously), and you shaped us into who we are. And for my part, I’m grateful to you for it.

Yes, happy birthday Grandma. I have never been the greatest grandson, but I am so proud of you and to know you, and do love you.



Yasiel Puig
.296 16 69 92
HRA. Gonzalez 27
RBIA. Gonzalez 116
RY. Puig 92
OPSY. Puig .863
WC. Kershaw 21
ERAC. Kershaw 1.77
SOC. Kershaw 239