THE 3-2 PITCH
By: Mrs. Artis Hinds
Texas Coach magazine, March 1974
I met him in the fall; he was attractive, appealing, and sane! Little did I know in September of 1956 what forthcoming madness the springs of our lives would encompass. Now years later, I can only look back aghast at all that has transpired.
In spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to love–Right? Wrong! If he’s like the man I married he thinks only in terms of an eight-letter word: Baseball. I should have suspected he was abnormal when we would park at the baseball field of a winter evening and walk the base paths together, but he was blonde and handsome, so I forgave him that quirk. He was playing college ball at the time, and I had no way of suspecting the love affair he was conducting behind my back, for he spoke in terms of ERA, RBI, At Bats, Fielding Averages – all very foreign to my sheltered background.
By early March of that year we had fallen into a pattern of dating, and one evening when he drove to the field, he had something on his mind, I knew. As we stood on the mound together in the moonlight (I’ve always been thankful their schedule didn’t include night baseball), he showed me how to throw a knuckle ball. I was waiting for him to throw me a curve, which never came! Finally, in desperation, I asked him if we were ever going to get married. He balked momentarily, gulped, and said, “I don’t know – do you want to get married?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Oh, soon,” I answered, meaning in a year or two.
“Well, we have an open date next Tuesday!”
Believe it or not, I knew not to wait on a better pitch, so the next Tuesday began a long and arduous battle against odds no lone women should have to face.
I watched while he played college ball and finished his degree. He refused to return to the college dressing room after his young bride inadvertently washed a magenta dress with his white shorts, making all his underwear pink. It was a true crisis which he weathered as well as I faced the fact that he had hit the ball which broke the windshield in our newly acquired car.
Our budget included money for baseball bats, shoes, gloves, and other paraphernalia understood only by those initiated into the lunacy of the sport.
I survived his sleep walking accusations of “Where are they?”
“What?” I asked, believing he was awake.
His voice grew louder: “Dammit, where are they?”
“I don’t know who you’re talking about.”
“I said, WHERE ARE THEY?”
Finally, I asked “Who?” instead of “What?”
“Maris and Mantle, Mantle and Maris,” he bellowed: “Where are they?”
“They went home, honey.”
“Oh,” he said fully satisfied now that her knew his heroes were safely home.
While one of our two sons was born, he watched the All-Star game on TV, barely pulling himself away between innings to check on the progress of wife and offspring.
Since he has begun to coach high school ball, he has always managed to close the original open date with a tournament or double header or other baseball business. One anniversary we spent checking the baseball diamond in a nearby town. It had snowed that morning and he wanted to make sure that the field was playable. Other anniversaries I have helped water down the mound or drag the infield, and believe me, it is a drag.
I have had the privilege of making out charts, sayings for the locker room, locker decorations for the players, washing the entire team’s uniforms (I have redeemed myself from the earlier magenta incident) and traveling through sand storms, fog, rain, and snow to watch his performance as player or coach, depending upon his position.
Our closets are full of bats, jackets, batting helmets, shoes, and bases during the winter. And our conversation year round focuses on one subject – the coming season.
Then, last year just as workouts began, he had a small pain, a fluttering feeling in his chest. The doctor looked at his age, thirty-five, and diagnosed pleurisy at first, but three days later, after a cardioangiogram, the heart specialist in the local hospital recommended open heart surgery. One chamber of his heart had stopped pumping, and another artery was closing.
The night before we flew to Houston Southern Methodist Hospital, filled with awe by the names like DeBakey, Cooley, and Morris, I sat on the side of his hospital bed and listened to him talk to the assistant coach about budget, umpire forms, transportation requisitions, and schedules. Twelve hours later we were in Houston, home of the Astros, site of the old Houston Buffs where we watched Pidge Brown in our youth.
But this time, it was different. This time our visit would focus on intensive care, EKGs, tubes, chances for survival, teams of doctors, tubes . . . . stitches. . . .diet . . . .tubes. . . .respirators.
The first time I saw him after surgery, he was still unconscious. But the second time I could tell him how the telegrams from home were saying, “Hit us a home run, Gary,” and “Make it a perfect game.” I could tell him of how the radio and television stations at home were carrying news of his progress because the school where he coached was inundated with phone calls. Two ex-teammates came to the hospital to see about him, one living in Houston, and another from Garland seventy miles away. A Houston baseball coach, whom Gary had met at a baseball convention in Waco, came to the hospital regularly. And slowly the madness of February changed towards the things he loved best.
The day we came home, his younger brother’s baseball team played Gary’s team a doubleheader, and they split. As soon as the second game was over, our house was filled with players, laughing, talking too loud just waiting to be near their coach.
Three weeks to the day after open heart surgery he was back on the field. And I looked at him and I thought to myself, “Walk the base paths, honey. Hit fungo, pull the pitcher, ride the umpire. I don’t mind. I’m just thankful you’re alive. You need not speak to me of love. Tell me in your secret language, in pitching tendencies, in errors, in tournament brackets, and in line-ups that the spring belongs to you. I’ll just sit on the bench and be glad I made your team. Yes, the spring belongs to you, Gary, and so do I.”
The summer of 2013, my brother David and I took my mom to a Yankees game. I found the gift shop and could not believe that the story “Where are they?” came to life before my eyes. There in the Yankees gift shop were two shirts side-by-side: Maris and Mantle. I returned to my seat and presented her with both of them. Suddenly, I felt part of my dad’s life from before I was born. Thanks to my mother for keeping his memory alive.