I fell in love with Eileen on Thanksgiving. She had a smile on her face the entire night and I told her it was impossible to look at her without smiling back. She told me life is good so why shouldn’t she be smiling. Why shouldn’t everybody be smiling?
She told me she lives in Boston and that she travels often between Denver and home. I told her about my recent visits to Boston, including watching the Cubs play the Redsox earlier this year. Her eyes lit up and she told me there is no better place to watch a game than Fenway Park. I practically swooned as I countered that she must never have been to Wrigley Field. She lit up the room with an even brighter smile and a twinkle in her eye as she said no, she hadn’t but she can’t imagine a place with more electricity and anticipation than her home team’s park.
And then Eileen told me a story.
It was at her old job where she worked in admin at a factory. This company had been around forever and was the epitome of the blue-collar old boys network. She was one of only three women on the ‘suit-side’ of the business and she was the newest employee at that. Her job was to make sure inventory and AR/AP all matched to the penny. Every two weeks she was audited and if everything didn’t zero out, it would be her head on a platter.
As the new gal, she kept her head down (better than on a platter) and worked hard. One day the big boss-man strode up to her and requested she meet him in his office. The room went quiet as Eileen tentatively walked in, trying to think what she must have done to cause her impending firing.
Eileen entered his office and the boss-man told her to shut door. As she closed it, she saw her co-workers straining to watch as they hunched over their desks seemingly already in mourning. The boss said, “Eileen, this conversation has to be between just you and me. You cannot speak of this to anyone.”
She timidly said, “Of course,” and waited to find out what she did wrong.
He said, “I know you are a big Redsox fan and you have done a great job as the new gal here so I want you to take your husband to the game tonight.” He pulled two Redsox tickets out of his desk drawer.
Eileen nearly peed with nervous excitement. “I thought you were gong to fire me! Of course I won’t tell anyone. And thank you thank you thank you so much!”
The boss admonished her for thinking she was doing poorly when in fact it was the opposite which is why he was rewarding her with tickets. Eileen beamed as she walked out of the office and then remembered to look somber as she neared her co-workers.
She sat down and one of her co-workers whispered, “What happened Eileen?”
She tried to contain her excitement and mumbled something about how the boss-man just wanted to give her a performance review and make sure they were on the same page with her job responsibilities.
The game was that night and Eileen and her husband were giddy with anticipation. They arrived early and watched batting practice. Typical of Redsox games, the fans paid attention to every pitch. The Redsox took the lead and as the game went on, there was a nervous buzz running throughout the ballpark. Redsox pitcher Mel Parnell had not given up a hit.
Eileen knew that it was bad luck for other players and coaches in the dugout to acknowledge to the pitcher that he was throwing a no-hitter. All the fans knew this superstition and they carried it over to the stands. They rooted with muted excitement as Parnell induced out after out. Another inning would end and the crowd would clap loudly but then collectively cut it short so as to act casual and not show too much emotion.
Finally the last inning came and sure enough Mel Parnell did it. He pitched a no-hitter. The players and crowd went crazy. It was a standing ovation and Parnell could be seen weeping on the field. Somehow the Redsox management had gotten a new convertible to enter the field so Parnell could ride atop the backseat and wave to the crowd. Eileen said nobody wanted to leave. She was getting teary-eyed just telling me the story.
She returned to the office the next day and wondered how long it would take the boss-man to call her into his office. Less than five minutes after her arrival, she noticed him stand up to peer out his half glassed-in office used to watch over the floor. He beckoned Eileen with a stern look on his face.
She walked in and he told Eileen how angry his wife was with him. She couldn’t believe he gave the tickets to Eileen instead of taking her to the game. The boss-man warned Eileen that she better lay low next time the wife comes in to the plant. He smiled as Eileen thanked him for a day she would never forget.
55 years later, even with the onset of Alzheimer’s, Eileen spoke to me with passion and great detail about the day she and her husband saw Mel Parnell throw a no-hitter for the Boston Redsox.
Eileen told me she is eighty and although her husband died fifteen years ago, she stays busy and still cheers on her Redsox. She seemed very alert for a woman that didn’t really know, or want to admit, that she lives in assisted living here in Denver.
Many people ask why I love baseball and why so many other people around the world love it the same or more. It is difficult to explain and yet an 80-year-old woman with Alzheimer’s said it just right.
Eileen’s story was so sweet and special. Her fond memories of that one game could have been from it being a unique moment shared with her husband. Perhaps it was the special treatment she got from a generous new boss. Maybe it was the feeling of being part of something rare with 35,000 other fans collectively rooting and willing for the same thing to happen. Maybe it was joy for Mel Parnell whose career culminated with that no-hitter and then derailed with an arm injury that proved to cause his retirement.
Very likely it was all those things and more. It was what makes baseball magic. It is why the movie Field of Dreams makes so many grown men cry. Baseball may just be a game played by overpaid prima donna athletes for ownerships that are billionaire empires on the outside. But on the inside, baseball is hope, anticipation, excitement, agony, joy and love.
Baseball is something even Alzheimer’s can’t take away.
Here’s to you Eileen. Happy Thanksgiving. I am thankful for many things and on this holiday, I am particularly thankful to have met you.