It isn’t just doing something that creates a memory; it is reinforcing an event to make sure it stays with you. Watching baseball almost every night for six or seven months each year is one of the best reinforcements we have. Papa knows the entire Nationals team, who is playing, who is injured and how they are hitting, or as Papa recently said, they don’t need any bats today, no one is hitting. He has a framed schedule and reminds us what time a game starts and makes sure he has the TV warmed up and tuned in ready for the game if it is a day we are not sitting in the stadium. Sometimes he even watches the same game the following day if it is retelevised, after all, there is nothing like watching Bryce Harper hit his twentieth home run of the season for a second time!
Even though he has changed teams, Papa just might be a bigger fan of baseball than Doug or I ever understood. In addition to frequently reminding us that our manager Matt Williams both played and coached for the Arizona Diamondbacks, Papa on a number of occasions has mentioned that other players from rivaling teams used to play on the Diamondbacks. Because the Braves are in our division, Justin Upton was one of the first players he recalled as having played in Arizona. Now that he is with the Padres Papa wonders how just many teams Upton is going to play for. Papa might not recall vacationing in Hawaii or a photo of his own backyard so recognizing a player wearing another team’s jersey is a pretty big deal. In the past week Papa has mentioned twice that he knows a player from an opposing team. Sitting in Nats Park watching the Cubs over this past weekend he stated that Mug Mon-tee-air-o (Miguel Montero) used to play for Arizona. It has been several years since he and Nana watched the D-Backs baseball, but he remembered the name. Nana was an avid Diamondbacks fan and was often on the phone with her sister chatting the highs and lows of that day’s match so we never really understood how much Papa was paying attention to the game. Tonight watching the Yankees I heard Papa talking to himself, Steven Drew, Steven Drew, yes, that’s him, Steven Drew, he played for the Diamondbacks. I quickly looked Drew up and sure enough Papa was correct.
This year we decided to start early to extend our baseball season with Papa by heading down to Viera, Florida to watch our Nationals spring training and see a few early games. Now that the baseball season is well underway we can relive our whirlwind few days in Florida with gentle reminders reinforcing exactly who and what we saw, and along with memories of the sweet stories he told us about his boys for the umpteenth time.
Our first night in the hotel Papa looked at Doug and I and said this is where we stayed last time isn’t it? Doug and I looked at him and asked what he meant. Last time we came to Florida, we stayed here, right? Sorry, Papa we have never been here. It is funny how a mind can play illusions on people, it might make you forget something you have done in the past or trick you into thinking you have been somewhere you have never been. Our only explanation is that we have been building up this trip since our baseball season ended last October so in his foggy mind it was something we night have already done.
Just a few short hours after landing in Orlando we were sitting right in the middle of four practice fields watching our players’ jog from one drill to another. The repetitions of watching these professional athletes quietly moving between the fields opened the door for Papa to reminisce about watching his boys in the past. When Papa’s recalls an episode he is not just stating a chronological fact as it occurred, he explicitly remembers the feelings he felt, and continues to share those emotions in his stories. Papa has told and retold some stories for many years, reinforcing the same words, the same emphasis, the same hand movements, and the same emotions. Lately we have really noticed that Papa’s first response is often I don’t remember, so we truly enjoy the times Papa talks on his own without prompting, even if it is a story we have hears dozens of time. He very clearly brought up several events while Doug and Daryl played ball as if it were yesterday. They might be ones we have heard before, but they are worth repeating.
Papa mentioned coaching both Doug and Daryl’s teams until his boys were out of little league. He was always there for both of his boys, but his memories are a bit different than Doug’s during the time he was an assistant coach on Daryl’s Pinto team with Coach Taylor and Coach Creekmore. Papa didn’t know the ins and outs of baseball, he never watched or competitively played any sports, he didn’t train the young pitchers or teach the proper swing of a bat. Papa was pulled onto the field for several seasons because he was a supportive dad who had a good rapport with the kids on the team. He was a positive influence in the dugout that could keep the kids batting order in line and, if needed, on several occasions he might have been called in as the first base coach. His interest in baseball both then and now was because his kids were interested in baseball. He has always been a loving dad, is there any better coach than that?
They boys learned fast, they knew how to play before they even got into the sport. Well, Doug’s first year playing he stood in the outfield and picked flowers during the games but after that he was tops. Everything seemed to come easier for Doug, but Daryl worked just as hard. I will never forget a coach telling me what a smart player Daryl was. I said what to you mean? The coach told me Daryl could read the other players, to anticipate them; he knew what they were going to do before anyone else. He knew where they would throw the ball. That coach knew Daryl.
Papa went on to tell us how hard it was that some parents placed such high expectations on their children. They expect so much. They didn’t want their kids to listen to what we said. They thought they knew better. We had to be fair to everybody. The kids were just doing what we told them to do. They’re just kids. Then he flipped the tone of his recollection and said, but the parents never really gave me too much trouble. One time a dad was really getting on his son for the play he made and I was trying to explain why the boy did it. The boy told his dad that I knew more about baseball than he did and his dad should just listen. I was worried thinking that boy was really going to catch heck when he got home. Sadly, I don’t think parental pressure has changed over the years, but we kept that to ourselves as we let Papa continue talking.
I remember Doug umpiring little league when he was in high school. One of the parents had a smart comment at every call Doug made. Every call. I was mad. I wanted to say something but I knew Doug had it under control. Doug finally called the boy’s father down from the stands and said “here”. Papa held out his hands showing how Doug had attempted to hand over his mask and pads. What? What do you want me to do with that? the boy’s father asked. Papa went on to say that Doug told the boy’s father, you must be able to see things better from the stands than I can behind the plate; maybe you should be out here. I was proud of Doug; he never let anyone change his mind. He knew what he was doing. That boy’s father didn’t say anything after that.
Pausing for a moment Papa mentioned, Doug could have made it in baseball. He didn’t look any different playing than those guys on the field right now. He could have done it. A failing memory offers the ability to see familiar things as something new. Perhaps that is why Papa is able to hold interest to a TV show he has seen over and over again or to picture his own son as a teenager on any field full of baseball players. Going to Florida this spring was not just making new memories, although we did. It wasn’t just reinforcing what team Papa was going to support this year, although it did. It wasn’t seeing the same team in a different light thinking it was something new, even though it was. This trip also allowed Papa another atmosphere to replay happy memories of a past he is trying very hard to hold on to. It allowed him a visual to relive seeing his adult children as boys again.
Papa has already mentioned going to Florida next year and this season isn’t even over yet. Is it too early to start planning?