“Play Ball”

My wife has a favorite saying when Major League Baseball season opens.

“See you in October.”

It is an inference to a six-month hibernation, when I hole up in the bedroom every night to watch the St. Louis Cardinals.

I can’t help it.

Some people must have their coffee or cigarettes or Diet Coke to make it through the day. I need the Birds on the Bat.

Blame my upbringing.

Always within arm’s reach of my Grandpa Ingram, besides his walking cane and Copenhagen snuff, was a radio tuned to Jack Buck and the Cardinals. Same at home, where I learned how to swear from a father who took losses personally.

In Little League, I fashioned my pitching delivery after Bob Gibson. On my bedroom wall was a poster of Lou Brock stealing base No. 105, the bag that broke what was then the all-time, single season record.

When the Cardinals played on the West Coast, I fell asleep listening to the game on a transistor radio.

The bond has strengthened as I have aged.

The LaRussa years. The Pujols era. Making the playoffs has become commonplace.

Then came 2011.

A team that couldn’t find its footing was suddenly sprinting toward the finish, earning a playoff berth on the final day of the season. The Birds dispatched the Phillies in five, the Brewers in six.

On to the World Series and the Texas Rangers. Cut to Game 6.

Facing elimination, the Cards are trailing. I’m slumped on the couch, comatose,  staring at the big screen.

One baserunner, then two, in the bottom of the ninth. St. Louis has a pulse. My son, who’s following the game on the Web, gives me a call from college.

David Freese pops the game-tying triple. But the high lasts only a half inning before the Rangers’ Josh Hamilton goes yard.

Tenth inning. The phone rings again. It’s Jake.

“I can’t believe they’re walking Pujols to get to Berkman,” he says, wondering, like me, why they want to pitch to Lance’s better side.

Boom. His team again down to its last strike, Lance delivers. Knotted once more.

Freese, of course, unties it in the 11th with a walk-off homer for the ages.

The celebratory call comes from the boy, and father and son, 120 miles apart, grow as close as they’ve ever been.

What a season. What a game. What memories.

April can’t come soon enough.

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