The World Series Saved my Life
The World Series Saved my Life
Once again, we find ourselves at that glorious time of year: The World Series.
For an American of my generation, the World Series conjures up thoughts of yesteryear. All games were played in the daytime, not made-for-primetime. This meant that games were being played while we were in school. Nobody could concentrate on whatever it was the teacher was talking about. We would take our transistor radios (who is old enough to remember those?) and hope that the teacher (or the principal, depending on who decided to address this all-important issue) would let us listen to the game. No matter where you lived in America, you could find the World Series on the radio. Baseball, after all, was the National Pastime. If it was allowed, we would spend the afternoon listening to the radio. If it wasn’t allowed, then we would spend the entire day fuming over the cruelty of the situation. We could try to be sneaky about it, and listen behind the teacher’s back. But in my experience, if the law had been laid down, “NO radios!”, then they were watching us very closely and we could get away with nothing.
So it was, when I was ten years old, that I was able to listen to my beloved St. Louis Cardinals win the 1967 World Series. Mrs. Johnston, my 5th grade teacher, was a Cardinals fan. I wasn’t so lucky in 1968, when the Cardinals once again made it to the World Series. Mrs. Coffman in 6th grade had a reputation for being very strict. I personally thought that the reputation wasn’t deserved, until the World Series rolled around. No radios, no exceptions, and she watched us very closely! I was devastated, and I certainly wasn’t paying any attention to what she was trying to teach us.
My devastation was complete when I missed the all-important Game 7 because of this unfair school rule. You see, baseball had become my life when I was ten years old. That was the year that I first knew all of the players, all of the teams, and all of the statistics. Major League Baseball, as I knew it, began when I was ten. The only thing that I knew was that the Cardinals were destined to win Game 7. It was impossible to think that they could lose, especially because Bob Gibson always pitched, and won, game 7. That’s simply the way the world worked. But I was unable to watch or listen to the game, because it was a school day. I couldn’t wait until the school day was over, so I could run outside and turn on my radio to catch the end of the game. But in 1968, the impossible had happened. Mickey Lolich of the Tigers had outpitched Bob Gibson in game 7, and the Cardinals had lost! My mind simply could not comprehend such an outcome. Instead of hearing the glory of victory on my radio, I heard Harry Caray and Jack Buck talking about the Cardinals losing. I cried all the way home.
Fast forward to my adult years. Nowadays, the World Series conjures up different images for me. For many people outside of my house, baseball is no longer the National Pastime that it once was. But for me, and I know of many others who feel the same way, there could never be any National Pastime except for baseball. And now I credit the World Series with saving my life. Not in a figurative sense, but in a very literal sense.
In 2006, I nearly died. I still haven’t fully recovered, and I never will. I don’t know how long I have to live, actually. It all started in 2006, when I collapsed at home and nearly bled to death. My wife called the ambulance, and they got me to the hospital. But the local hospital was not equipped to save my life. They gave me blood, as fast as they could, and the emergency room doctor spent his time trying to keep me awake. He was convinced that if I didn’t stay awake I would surely die right then. He later told me that he thought I would die. They sent for a life-flight helicopter to transport me to a hospital where I could receive emergency surgery for bleeding ulcers. I had a large section of my stomach removed. By the time the surgery was over, I had received 24 units of blood. The nurses on my floor at the hospital were amazed that I had survived. They referred to me as “that guy who took 24 units of blood.” When I woke up from surgery, my wife was there waiting for me. Her first words to me were “the Cardinals made the playoffs!” That’s how important baseball and the Cardinals are in my life.
I had numerous complications from this medical emergency, and I still do. At that time, I had to remain in the hospital for two weeks because of complications. I went into the hospital just as the Cardinals had squeaked in and qualified for the playoffs. While I was in the hospital, I got to watch the playoffs unfold. I was in a lot of pain. The nurses and doctors were scrambling around trying to save my life. The only saving grace for me was watching the Cards beat the Padres, and then the Mets, to qualify for the World Series. I have a lot of horrible memories from this hospital experience, except watching Yadi & Co.
I made it home in time to watch the 2006 World Series. I was still very sick, and little did I know at the time that more complications, more surgeries, and more life-threatening incidents would follow. I could barely move, but what kept me going at the time was being able to watch the Cardinals finally avenge 1968 and beat the Tigers in the World Series. In my mind, the World Series literally saved my life.
By 2011, my health had deteriorated once again. I had gone through a series of colostomy surgeries – along with many complications involving more hospital visits, more medical procedures, home nursing, and another life-flight helicopter ride after another emergency-room doctor had given up on treating me. Instead of treating me, he had called in a priest to read me my last rights. Another World Series Championship by the Cardinals in 2011 helped me to survive that year.
Even before that, the World Series had played an important role in my life – even when there was no World Series. Since 1905, there has been a World Series every single year, through a Great Depression, through two world wars, and following terrorist attacks. Every single year, that is, with one exception: 1994. In that year, for the only time in history, there was no World Series. A player strike had ended the baseball season in August. 1994 was also the year that I got married. I was 37 years old, and had never been married. My wife, Linda, and I have always joked that I decided to get married because without baseball playoffs and a World Series, I had nothing better to do. We got married on September 23, 1994.
Perhaps that is nothing more than a coincidence, nothing more than a joke between my wife and me. Linda was not a baseball fan, but she understood how important baseball was to me. She agreed to go to a game with me. Although we live more than 100 miles away from a Major League city, Linda and I went to a Royals game at Kauffman Stadium in 1995. That’s when I tricked her into becoming a baseball fan, and now she watches baseball more than I do.
Sometimes I can be devious. I explained to Linda that when I go to a game, I have to keep score in order to get maximum enjoyment out of the game. I also explained to her that when I left my seat, for the concession stand or for the restroom, she would have to keep score for me while I was gone. Since she was not a fan, I had to teach her how to keep score. I had to point out the players and their positions and all that. By learning how to keep score, she learned enough about the game to become a fan. And she has been a fan ever since.
Now we are in the midst of another World Series. My Cardinals didn’t make it this year. They came close, but some issues that have plagued them all year finally caught up with them. They got beat by a very good Giants team which knows how to play the game right. I can be proud that the Cardinals knocked off one of the favorites, a team that doesn’t play the game right: the Dodgers. The Dodgers simply have too many players who show no respect for the game, for its history, or for the competition. At least the Giants aren’t like that.
But I want the Royals to beat the Giants. While I have always followed the Cardinals closely in the National League, the Royals have been my American League team ever since they came into the league in 1969. They were the closest team, geographically, to my home town. I got my first major league autograph at Kauffman Stadium. I attended the 1973 All-Star Game there. I watched the team grow from an expansion team into a champion-caliber team in the 1970s and 1980s; then become a small-market team that couldn’t compete because it couldn’t afford to keep its own players (after owner Ewing Kauffman died); and then rebuild into the team it is today. I can now watch the majority of their games on TV, which is something that I couldn’t do in years past.
However this year’s World Series turns out, at least I am alive. And I owe that in some measure to the World Series. I live and die with baseball and the World Series, perhaps sometimes all too literally.
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