DALLAS – For a few days in early January, Frank Miller roamed around his house practicing a baseball, a slider, a curve and a grip for a cutter. He had read a book about pitching and now he was drawn to him.
He needed to play catch, stat. So his wife Alice became more adept on social media and posted a note on the neighborhood app Nexadur.
“My 74-year-old husband wants to have a partner to throw the ball. He is a former high school and college boxer and is looking for a catcher or someone who knows how to throw a baseball. “She voluntarily stated that her husband” is in good condition. “
With its cover in the world, the idea of a man in his mid-eighties craving for a baseball buddy seemed to spew something.
“My son is interested,” a woman answered quickly.
A steady flow of messages followed.
“I can throw up,” one man said.
“I would love to take a catch,” said another.
Another neighbor wrote, “What a great way to get people together and start 2021 with a positive note.” “It makes me smile.”
Acknowledging his need, Frank had inadvertently tapped into the longing of others. To find out what else to do, Alice welcomed all the companions: “How about 3 o’clock on Wednesday afternoon in Cole Park near the tennis court?”
They wondered if anyone would actually come.
Frank could not bear it if they did not. He is not the husk of a man who was never there for his life. A retired civil engineer, he plays golf and tennis, spends summers in Michigan, blows up a Piper Archer, examines items from the honey list. They have a son, a daughter, a step-son and three grandchildren. It is a vibrant life.
But as Jim Baughton wrote in the classic book, “Ball Four”, “a lot of people spend a lifetime catching a ball, only to realize that” it was the other way around all the time. “
The game began with Frank Miller catching on in the 1960s, when he pitched for his high school team in Greenville, NY, and then Leh University in Pennsylvania. He can describe the grand slam he hit in May of his new year with cinematic clarity – and will show you the ball, which he puts in a box marked as “memorable”.
He has visited his exuberance over his third wife, Alice, who knew nothing about baseball when they met 10 years ago. “Frank introduced me to the intricacies of the game,” she said, managing not to sound like a hostage.
The Millers were surprised by Alice’s Nextoor Post response, but when they thought about it, it made sense. Between the double curses of politics (“I’ve lost friends,” Frank said) and the epidemic, people are bound into tickles, fears and solitude.
“I think people want to add a little bit right now,” he said a few days before the meeting.
On Wednesday, he and Alice appeared early at Cole Park, with Frank dressed in lime green masks, jeans and a Texas Rangers jersey and hat. In his black equipment bag, he carried his Nokona Glove (a 2019 Christmas present he barely used), four new baseballs such as smooth and white Eggs, two old shells, and a hawthorn catcher’s mitt he had purchased six decades earlier in Montgomery Ward. Earlier in the day, he used Gorilla Glue to close a tear in the thumb.
A local television reporter had seen Alice’s post and was waiting for the Millers by the park bench. Frank tells him about his priorities. “Do you know that they are reaching the president right now?” He said with a laugh. Indeed, at that time in Washington, members of the House were talking seriously about foreign and domestic enemies.
One by one, about 10 more people arrived, many of whom tucked under their arms, entering the park from all directions. A bearded man in his 30s. Three boys and staff members of the North Dallas High School team who encouraged him to come. A big man in a T-shirt who said “ALASKA – The Great Land.” A woman in her 60s who came just to watch.
The players exchanged halos and elbow bumps, then formed two lines, facing each other in sunny space between oak trees. Throwing near the tennis balls mix the slow, steady rhythm of the balls bursting in the microwave like a few popcorn kernels.
At the age of 74, Frank reduced his throw slightly, yet managed to deliver the ball with an impressive zip. One of his toes released the glove of an old man, who hobbled after the ball, bounced it back to Frank, and bounced.
It was 73-year-old Rich Mazarella, who grew up in Astoria, Queens, worshiped Yankee and played on the Scrabble Board of the Youth Sports League: CYO, PAL, YMCA. He had not been thrown in 35 years – and this is unfortunate, but the facts are facts – long had the gloves given to his grandson to his grandchildren. He had to borrow to play to take Miller’s catch.
Mazarela was asked why he had come.
“Fountain of youth,” he said. “An opportunity to do something I never expected to do again in my life.”
He settled into his best catcher stance (slightly higher in the hounches) and caught a few more pitches from Frank, about his combined era as old as the game.
Soon they took a break, their arms began to waver, but the day caught its pace. A few steps away, the two strangers, separated at the age of 46, carried a ball back and forth around the same foot.
26-year-old Chris Barber, who was inspired to attend by his mother, arrived at the park in an uncertain moment of life. He is unemployed and searching, wants to go to California to find his future. His throwing partner, David Boldrick, 72, is happy and settled, a mechanical engineer enjoying the slow sunset of his working life.
It is not easy to imagine another setting in which these two can meet and talk, but a connection came easily here, the arc of the ball tying them together like a string.
Boldrick asks the barber about California.
“Have you got a job there?”
“I’m not there yet.”
“what kind of job do you want?”
“I do not know.”
Very soon they stopped throwing. He stood up and talked. The barber offered that he was a chemistry major.
“You can do anything with it,” Boldrick said.
Players threw in the perfect sunlight for an hour. At last, his arms slipped and the shadows lengthened, he circled, wrote his name in the notebook that Frank had brought, and promised to meet again soon.
When they dispersed, Frank said, out loud, but to himself, “Isn’t baseball beautiful? It’s really a piece of art.”
It was time to go. The Millers made an appointment to receive the coronavirus vaccine. Frank threw his pitching arm around Alice and they moved on, satisfied that they would put a little gorilla glue on the universe.