My Cardinals fandom ultimately comes from my paternal Grandma. I have no idea how. Her mother died when she was very young, and her father sexually abused her until she ran away as a teenager, so it seems very unlikely she shared any baseball bonding moments with her family.
But at some point she became a pointed and intense Cardinals fan. I don’t know how or when, but I think I know why. My grandma has an unbelievable chip on her shoulder. A poor farm girl who lived through the depression, she has spent her entire life feeling like the world owed her more: More money, more happiness, and more respect. I imagine a life of envying the deep pockets of bigger cities, and being endlessly mocked by city folk for your southern heritage is bound to result in this.
Rural Missouri is a place where people have been derided as BFIB poor, hick, racists in flyover country. The constant butt of the rest of the country’s jokes. My grandma, poor and poorly educated, resented every one of those insults. The Cardinals were her team, her way to beat those in Chicago, New York. She clearly had a pride in the lasting success of the franchise.
So it was she, and not my Grandpa, that made her family Cardinals fans. I never remember my Grandpa caring about a sport. My Grandma made sure that her children remembered where they came from. They moved to northern Illinois, but they remained Missourians. They remained Cardinals fans.
Naturally, when I was born, this was passed along to me.
Her chip does lead to one of my favorite family stories: Busch stadium sometime in the late 70s. Al Hrabosky is tossing baseballs to kids. My dad, a kid, is sent over to get a ball. Like probably 100 kids, he didn’t get one. This is a personal insult to my Grandma. She proceeds to march over and yell at Al Hrabosky – the crazy guy known as the Mad Hungarian – while he is stretching in the bullpen. And he stopped his routine to toss her a ball. You might think Al Hrabosky is one of the most annoying people you’ve ever heard. Well my Grandma annoyed him. It was a proud moment.
I’m not here to offer any flowering praise. I’m not here to claim she’s the greatest Grandma ever. The relationship has been…complicated. She was never a loving, caring Grandma. She openly tells people that she doesn’t visit family with small kids because she’s scared the family will “stick her with the babies.” She tells her grandchildren this about her grandchildren. We watched sports together, but not really. She would watch sports, and I could too, if I would be quiet.
But people are complicated, and layered, and flawed, and life isn’t so simple. I love my Grandma. I forgive her for the parts I don’t like. I’ve learned from them. I know they are a part of me, too. I’ve worked to make myself better than them. I appreciate her in my life.
Today I received a group text from my Uncle. She suffered a heart attack. They restarted her heart, but as of now she is unresponsive.
She’s 83. This has been coming. But it still shocked me stupid. I was momentarily unable to function. Then I knew what I had to do.
I started making my way to her house. I am the closest relative, and I’m also a relative who is still on speaking terms with almost everyone, which makes me a Mother Theresa type figure in my family. I knew I’d be running point on what was very likely to be her final days.
I thought a lot on my drive. I thought about me, about her, about life. I thought about what it would be like to see a person this loud and opinionated as unresponsive. Silenced. It’s a sad feeling to watch someone you love lose themselves.
I arrived at the hospital, and remained outwardly composed as I went to the desk to ask for her room. I then made my way to her floor with my ears pounding from stress. Life pounds on, differently every day, and I was about to enter a new reality as I opened her door and walked in to see her lifeless body.
“What are you doing here?” she said, sitting up in her bed, her same affectionate self
I couldn’t talk.
“You’re…you’re…I’m visiting you!” I said.
Small talk followed as I began texting the family back. “Grandma is awake”
“Oh, was she napping?” said my uncle
“No, like she’s responsive. You said she was unresponsive”
“She is. She hasn’t answered my texts.”
“THAT’S NOT WHAT UNRESPONSIVE MEANS!”
Only a member of my family could announce that someone was unresponsive after a heart attack because they weren’t actively texting. A whole lot of the mocking that my relatives have heard, has been well earned.
My body was flush with emotions. Relief, anger, hilarity, I was completely out of my mind. My family asked how she was doing, and I didn’t know what to say. My brain was doing nothing but misfiring neurons and somehow still engaging in small talk.
“So how are the Cardinals doing?” My grandma asked.
“Not bad, not bad. They’re in 3rd place right now behind the Brewers and the Cubs.”
My grandma turned her head away and growled, “That DAMN Matheny.”
I picked up my phone and replied to my family, “She’s going to be fine.”