Sunday, October 21, 2012

The happiest day of my life....

....happened 32 years ago today.
It was game six of the 1980 World Series. My favorite team, the losing-est team in the history of American professional sports (you could look this up to verify if you don't believe me) was playing for their first World Championship. 

I was 29 years old and had just spend a pretty great weekend with my fiancee. She was a student at Princeton's Theological seminary and grew up a fan of the Pirates. I was a die-hard Phillies fan and grew up a Roman Catholic.

Something HAD to give. We could never stay married for the long run if one of us didn't change. So we compromised.

"I'll become a Presbyterian," I suggested, "if you become a Phillies fan."

This seemed to make sense to both of us. As soon as she agreed to this, it occurred to me I might some day write my about this in my memoire.  I was sure I'd call it "The Minister's Husband." Seemed like a great movie title at the time.

 We’d met one another in Knoxville, Tenn., at a magazine company called the 13-30 Corporation. I was a staff writer, she was  fact checker. I drove her up to Princeton in early September of 1980. We listened to a late-season Phillies game when I proposed my "arrangement": if you become a Phillies fan, I'll become a Presbyterian.

The Phils were several games back of the Expos at the time, despite having a two bona fide Hall of Famers (Steve Carlton, Mike Schmidt). Several other players in their starting nine also seemed at the time like they might one day make it (Pete Rose, Larry Bowa, Bob Boone, Greg Luzinski, Garry Maddox, Manny Trillo). The Phils were loaded. 

This seemed like a perfectly amenable transaction to her, even though her beloved Pirates had won the series a year earlier. I long have wondered if she'd have agreed if the Pirates had been battling for another world championship.

After dropping her off in New Jersey, I returned to Knoxville to finish out my job at the company. Our grand plan was for me to leave my job in May, come up for her graduation, and get married in May of 1981. Her dad, himself a Presbyterian minister, was going to marry us in his home church on Long Island.

In September, Phillies' manager Dallas Green applied a bullwhip to the "Fightin' Phils" and the team of battle-tested vets caught fire. They won 18 of 29 games that month and clinched the Eastern division on next to last day of the regular season. The team I had grown up rooting for my entire life was going to the World Series!  I thought I had died and gone to heaven. For the first time in my life, I was going to see the Phillies play for a world championship!

I came home for a long-weekend to celebrate my parent's 30th wedding anniversary on October 17th. During the Sunday anniversary festivities I made a terrible faux pas that embarrassed my fiance but that became part of my family's long oral history. 

After playing the most exciting 5-game league championship series in the history of baseball (you could look this up, too) and beating the Houston Astros, three games to two, the Phillies were locked in an epic struggle against the Kansas City Royals. Each team had won two games.

Game five of the 1980 series started right as the family sat down to celebrate my parent's anniversary. I tried to be polite and honor my parents and their moment, but it was hard. For the sake of propriety, I asked my brother Matt, then just 7 years old, to get me a score every a 30 minutes or so. He was too young to know how hard my heart was beating when he'd bring back his "reports" from the den where the game was flickering on an old black and white Victrola.

"It's 1-0, Chuck!" he'd tell me, proud to be able to read the TV screen, but oblivious to my annoyance. I needed far more data to be satisfied with his report. He was unable to tell me which team was winning or what inning it was. An hour later he came back and told me the score was 2-1. Still later, it was 3-2. I wasslowly dying inside. I had no idea who was winning.
My sister served soup and salad first and then a three-course dinner. It lasted hours. Finally dessert and coffee was served and I sensed that soon, I would manage to escape the day’s family obligations and go watch baseball history be made.

My dad chose that moment to address the family gathering, all 30 of us.   His kids, our spouses and significant others and a gaggle of grandchildren. “Before we adjorn, I’d like each of us who brought a guest with you to introduce your guest to us and tell us something nice about them."

Did I tell you I am the oldest of 11 children? That most of us had “guests” at this anniversary dinner and that in the room next to us I could hear the turned-down buzz of the  excited baseball announcers as they called pivotal Game 5 of the 1980 World Series in stentorian tones??
This was all I could bear. I exploded with impatience. “Jesus H. Christ, dad! I’ve been about as quiet and patient as a monk! Can we just end this so I can go in and watch the World Series! It’s game 5, you may know! The Phillies are playing in it! I’ve waited my whole life for this!”

My dad’s shoulders shook with laughter and he waved a hand at my sister’s boyfriend, Michael. "Michael," he said with a smile, "Maybe you better just make your announcement." 

Michael stood up, his face flushed crimson. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small box and turned to Heidi. “I’m so sorry,” he sheepishly said. “I didn’t mean to cause any family disruptions. I just wanted to tell you all that Heidi has agreed to marry me.” Then he handed the engagement ring to my sister.
A loud roar went up and six of my sisters stood up in unison and rushed to embrace Heidi. Then, like a gaggle of angry geese, they looked at me and hissed in one loud voice in a tone of utter judgment: “YOUUUUUUUUU CAD! How COULD you???" 

Then, the entire family (lead by my accusing sisters) rushed into the living room and turned the volume up on the game.  It was the bottom of the 8th inning and the Royals were winning, 3-2.  We all watched intently  and with unbridled joy as the Phillies crawled back in the 9th to score two runs and win the game, 4-3.
I had never been happier in my life! The Phillies were on the verge of a world championship!

I took my fiancé back to Princeton that night to drop her off at school. She had told me about all of her friends in letters and phone calls…..and I had met all but one of them when I had picked her up for the weekend on Friday. Now, on Sunday evening before I left, I wanted to meet the last one, a fellow I’ll call “Bob.”

It took some convincing for my fiancé to find him, and when the meeting finally took place, her reluctance immediately became transparent. We stepped into his dorm room and the room suddenly became alive with an erotic buzz that had nothing to do with me. They eyes locked and smiles came over their faces. I could have been a cushion on a chair for all they cared. I was as insignificant to them as that moment as a spider on the wall. Their blistering fixation seemed to last for hours.

When I mentioned my concerns about this to my fiancé, she laughed at my insecurities and shooed me back to my parent’s house near Philly with a light kiss and a hug.

Two nights later, me and my brother sneaked into Game Six of the 1980 World Series. The Phillies rode Steve Carlton’s broad shoulders  and a clutch hit that drove in two runs by Series MVP Mike Schmidt to a 4-1 win.

It was – until the birth of my son on opening day of the 1984 baseball season  – the happiest day of my life.

But life is a series of ups and downs. I know that now. One can never have too much good fortune in life before the karma changes.

By Thanksgiving, a month after the Phillies championship parade down Broad Street, my fiancé dumped me. And a month after that --  on Christmas day 1981 – she got engaged to “Bob.”

She  married Bob precisely one week after the date I had picked out to marry her.
I have no regrets. I wouldn’t say I stayed in the Presbyterian faith for long. I tried it for a few years out of some sense of obligation to my arrangement with my fiancé. But eventually I thought John Calvin had some weird ideas pre-destination.

Calvin never really figured in the vagaries of baseball when he developed his doctrine.
That was the problem. 

I was too much of a baseball fan to embrace pre-destination. 

Life, like baseball, throws you some curveballs. 

You just have to adjust your bearings.

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