As someone who has now entered those mid-life years, I look back and have realized how the game of baseball has tagged alongside me during many life challenges, and how baseball found a way to aid me when my own homeruns and fire crackers were nowhere to be seen.
Considering societal changes over the years, and as a child of the ‘60s and ‘70s, I’m amazed to see girls and young women today blink at the opportunities before them in sports. We girls played sandlot softball in my neighborhood, and it frustrated me greatly that guys could play organized ball in and out of school, but girls did not have the same opportunity. The first time baseball, or really softball at this time, came to my rescue was when a girlfriend, and fellow sandlot ball lover, remarked one summer day as we were trying to get something going in the neighborhood, that her father had mentioned that he’d help start a girl’s softball league in our area if we were interested. The first in the northern Ohio town I grew up in! Of course I was interested! Softball was my “IN” to possibilities that had never appeared before.
Later, when I was in high school and we moved from northern Ohio to a small town in central Indiana, I found little comfort in my new surroundings. As a teenager who was solidly planted for so many years along a great lake surrounded by friends and relatives, I had entered a foreign soil with little to do, it seemed. But baseball came to my rescue again, to help deal with the challenges of growing older, and not yet at the point of being able to make my own choices. Corporate paid trips to Riverfront Stadium, only 90 minutes away in Cincinnati, opened a new world to me. The Reds and professional baseball began to help heal the pain of change, and the need to broaden my horizon.
Then came the next step…working and heading to college. That first real job that is full of challenging characters and the fear that you won’t succeed. A summer of heat and long hours, frying chicken livers, and thinking the day and night would never end. But thank God for the radio in the background of the sound of the sizzling pans. Marty and Joe calling the plays, and giving me some friendly hope that there is still a world of sunshine, baseball, and fresh air outside of my dark dismal world of pre-college sweat and toil.
Besides occasional trips to Riverfront, I really had no need for the healing powers of baseball until I was about to turn 30. I’d had no clue what lay ahead. Things were going great that first 10 years of marriage (to the football player I knew I loved the first time I saw him). Those 10 years brought blessings of babies and positive moves from one nice town to the next. But this next relocation was bitter sweet because we loved the eastern Ohio town we’d resided in for the last two years. Yet the opportunity to move to the Cincinnati area was too tempting…a better job opportunity for my husband and professional baseball games not too far from our back door!
When I found out I had a brain tumor on the day we packed the 5 year old, the 1 month old, and the two cats into the car, I was lost. How was I going to get to Cincinnati, close on a new house, and manage to keep it all together as I found a doctor and dealt with what frightening unknowns were ahead? We did it. All of it. I got to my baseball town, found a wonderful neurosurgeon, and woke up after a 10 hour surgery, September 9th, 1990, to an ICU nurse welcoming me awake by telling me the most important news for any true Cincinnatian of the day: “The Reds made it into the playoffs!!!”
So Chris Sabo, Barry Larkin, and Tom Browning cast their powerful healing skills my way that early fall of 1990. As I slowly recuperated and dealt with the after effects of the most challenging experience I had ever faced, the Reds made it to the series and swept the Oakland As before my eyes! How I was able to pay attention to each and every game when I couldn’t make it through a two-hour movie, as my brain and body healed, I had no idea. Looking back, it must have been the healing power of the game and how it got me through so many challenges over the years.
Soon, my five year old was playing sandlot baseball outside our backdoor with the other kids and parents of the neighborhood. An activity that helped him as a newbie become a true Cincinnatian, and got him though the next year of Mommy looking and acting differently, weird trips to radiation treatment, and good Samaritan relatives in and out of our new house, helping our family eventually return to some kind of normal.
So, over twenty years later as I enter my next 50 years, and as my husband and I enjoy the memories of passersby remarking about the front yard baseball field designed by our son, and our daughter’s early years molded by her older brother and friends entertaining her each summer as they performed the magic of neighborhood competitions, I know that as long as this healing game continues on the sandlots, the radio, the TV, and for us to enjoy in the stadium, whatever new corporate name it now has, I can deal with anything that comes my way.
Karen Avery resides, with her husband, Andy, in Huron, Ohio and Hagerstown, Indiana, and has enjoyed living in many areas of Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Northern Kentucky. She is currently an instructor of social studies in Muncie, IN. She enjoys time with her son, Nick, and daughter Katherine, her two cats, Griffey and Jackie, gardening, watching movies, entertaining friends and relatives, and of course, following the Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians, and Chicago Cubbies.