I keep track of upcoming events at New York City’s museums and it was with great excitement that I noticed that the Museum of the City of New York has an upcoming exhibit titled “In the Dugout with Jackie Robinson.“
I spent a great deal of time in my youth studying the history of baseball…way more than my parents would have wished for me. I particularly enjoyed the history of New York City’s teams and players. Jackie Robinson was one of those players:
I was a little boy when my father took me to Ebbets Field…the Brooklyn Dodgers versus the Cincinnati Reds. I loved it all: The sights…Duke, Campy, Pee Wee and Jackie in their royal blue caps with the letter B on the front….the smells….cigars, beer, popcorn…and the sounds…”cold beer, getcha cold beer”…the crack of a bat.
“Gee, the Dodgers can’t get this new kid out, Charles, what’s his name?” my father said. As if he didn’t know.
“Frank Robinson, Dad,” I said, pounding Dad’s old glove that he let me wear to the game. “Yeah, he’s great.”
But it was another Robinson we came to see…Jackie. But as good as Jackie was, on that day Jackie didn’t win the game for the Dodgers. In fact, he didn’t even finish the game. In the eighth inning, Jackie hit a ground ball down the third base line that was ruled a fair ball—Jackie thought it was foul and hadn’t run to first—he argued the call and the umpire tossed him from the game. An inning later the game ended. The Dodgers lost two to one.
Dad put his arm around my shoulder and we walked out of the ballpark onto McKeever Place and began the drive through Brooklyn to our Queens home. I was sitting in the front seat of Dad’s Chevy, pounding his glove, thinking about the game as we pulled up to a light on Eastern Parkway. And then, “Hurry…Son…look who’s next to us.”
Is that Jackie Robinson? Are you kidding me?
“Say something, Charles.”
What does a seven-year old say to a legend? ”Hi, Jackie.”
Jackie smiled and responded with something like, “Hello, young man.”
But my father, seeing the bedazzled look on my face, flashed a smile at Jackie and came to my rescue with some brilliant repartee. “Hey, Jackie, the umpire’s call was horseshit.”
My father always had a way with words.
We all laughed, the light turned green and we drove on.
There was something about baseball and my father…no matter how contentious our relationship might become, baseball always provided a middle ground. Dad and I could lose ourselves in the joys of the game, its nuances and intricacies, and subsequently, the pleasure of each other’s company.
I think of my father on warm summer evenings…walking by a ballfield…hearing the crack of a bat…the memories coaxed by twilight’s lengthening shadows.
I’m looking forward to the Jackie Robinson exhibit, which opens January 31, 2019.