I have had a number of patients in my ICUs who are or in the case of some who have passed away avid baseball fans. Likewise there are a number of physicians and nurses who are avid fans of the game, or sometimes certain teams. Like me the are members of the Church of Baseball. Some even attend my parish, Harbor Park. It is funny how in the intersection of life and death that baseball finds a place more than any other sport. Baseball has a quality and nuance that is different from most other sports, save perhaps golf. Baseball is not bound by the constraints of time. It has an eternal quality that somehow transcends life and death. Two of my favorite attending physicians are big fans and one coaches on the side.
There is a scene in The Babe Ruth Story where a critically ill child asks the Babe to hit a home run for him. The Babe then went out and hit two. Later in the movie when the Babe is dying of cancer he is given a Miraculous Medal. The film was rushed to completion before Ruth died and the scene at Yankee Stadium was filmed shortly before a game and Ruth came from his death bed to be there.
In Field of Dreams the spirits of the 1919 White Sox who were forced out of baseball in the “Blacksox” scandal. The Pride of the Yankees deals with the life of Lou Gehrig, baseball’s original “Iron Man” and his battle with ALS. His speech at Yankee Stadium when he retired from the game is classic. It is a reflection on life well lived and thanksgiving for what he experienced.
Lou Gehrig at Lou Gehrig Day July 4th 1939
“Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break I got. Yet today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and I have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans. Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn’t consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? Sure I’m lucky. Who wouldn’t have considered it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball’s greatest empire, Ed Barrows? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I’m lucky. When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat and vice versa, sends you a gift, that’s something. When everybody down to the groundskeeper and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies, that’s something. When you have a father and mother work all their lives so that you can have an education and build your body, it’s a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed, that’s the finest I know. I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth. And I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for.” – July 4, 1939 at Yankee Stadium on Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day
These are intersections of life and death. In the ICUs I have a surprising amount of dealings with baseball. I have a lady who is very sick. She is a delightful woman with a wonderful husband. She looked like she was on the uptick a couple of days ago we had a great talk, and wonderful time. We found that we shared a common passion…you guessed it, baseball. We agreed that the Biblical writers describing heaven being unaware of the Deity’s love of baseball had erred in their description of heaven. We agreed that heaven had to have not streets of gold, but the lushest turf and most immaculate infield, with foul lines that went into infinity. She and her husband watched the Nationals and Astros play deep into the night. Yesterday she took a turn for the worse. As we visited we visited I prayed and anointed her at her request. And I asked her if she would like a baseball. Her eyes lit up and she nodded “yes.” So I promised that I would get one from the stadium last night. Well, the Devil got in the mix and the Tides got rained out, so I went home. I found a ball that I got when throwing out the first pitch at a Kinston Indians game a few years back. I inscribed it to her and took it to her room. She was pretty heavily sedated, but her sister was with her. I let her know that I had the baseball for her. She opened her eyes and I put the ball in her hand. Her hand gripped it tight and I blessed her.
I do pray that she will get better.
Granger Stadium Kinston NC