Celebrating birthdays and baseball

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It seems just a few years ago, a very ornery little boy kept us on our toes while giving us reasons to laugh and occasions to cheer.

Today, through some time trickery that old folks always warned us about, the calendar claims he is celebrating birthday No. 30.

We spent the last few days going through boxes of stored items to celebrate this landmark birthday. Our firstborn’s first love, quite clearly, was baseball. It shows in every picture drawn, each treasured item saved, and in an enormous box of carefully-placed baseball cards.

“Don’t bend the corners!” I still remember him instructing anyone who wanted to look at his card collection.

The World Series was being played when Cort was born; it was the New York Mets vs. Boston Red Sox. I had watched every inning of the play-offs, and when they wheeled me back to a room after a frighteningly long and harrowing delivery that ended in an emergency C-section, the nurses were stunned when I asked for a television tuned to the World Series. Fenway Park was hosting the fifth game of the series.

It’s genetic

I had married in to a family of die-hard Cleveland Indians fans, and that enthusiasm proved contagious. Cort quickly came down with ‘pitch and catch’ fever from the moment he could throw a ball. While others were still enjoying T-ball, he learned how to lay down a bunt, how to choke up on the bat for better control, and how best to play defense.

“Hey, take a little heat off of that throw or I can’t catch with you,” I remember saying in the backyard one day. He was 8 years old.

He was often “called up” to play with the older team. In time, he could pitch a winning game, and developed a reputation as a stellar catcher because he had one heck of an accurate arm. Always happy to be on the ball field, his only complaint came if a teammate didn’t play with that same all-out enthusiasm for the game.

Stats for days

By age 9, he could quote a player’s stats with stunning accuracy. My dad would often ask him what a certain player’s ERA was, just to see if he had an answer. He nearly always did, leaving his grandfather shaking his head and grinning.

“What a kid!” he would say. And Cort enjoyed watching baseball with each of his grandfathers.

When Lyme disease de-railed him, it was baseball he missed the most. He never had the opportunity to put on a baseball uniform in high school, because he was far too sick.

With his incredibly positive attitude, he now says it must have happened for a reason. He’s glad when his own challenging health experience can help others find answers.

Yes, what a kid.

So, it came as no surprise that when I asked what he was wishing for on this 30th birthday, he replied, “I already got it. The Indians are heading to the World Series!”

Memories of 1997

It brought back memories of the Indians’ last World Series in 1997. Game 7 was decided in extra innings, with the Florida Marlins taking the series. My 11-year-old son quietly went to his room, fighting tears.

“I didn’t want it just for me. I wanted them to win it for my grandpas in heaven,” he said as he choked back sobs.

His beloved Grandpa Sutherland had died unexpectedly earlier that year, and the pain was still fresh. My father had died 18 months prior. That little boy was in need of a rainbow.

Still a fan

Cort, now married, lives an hour away. He works full-time as the computer lab coordinator for Kent State University, and is working on his master’s degree, carrying a perfect 4.0 GPA as he did while pursuing his bachelor’s degree. He expects the best from himself, keeping his head in the game, just like he did in his baseball playing days.

This baseball season, we would often chat with him on the phone while watching a game, comment on a great play, share the thrill of watching a team that plays with obvious joy.

Thirty years — somehow — really have passed, but our firstborn remains our joyous baseball boy.

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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, in college.

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