I’m a night person, and I like to see how things end. So over the years, I’ve stayed up for a number of television presentations that my mother — my usual viewing companion — has walked away from. Sometimes she just couldn’t stand what she was seeing. More often she was determined to get to bed at a reasonable hour because she hates sleeping late, loves that quiet time before the large family swirls into her quiet kitchen. Her crossword puzzle. Classical radio. Coffee and a modest breakfast. Then we come in, and her work begins.
The first big thing I heard and she didn’t, was LBJ’s speech to the nation, March 1968, which ended with his stunning withdrawal from the presidential race. As unhappy with him as I was, it still threw me off. When Kennedy was shot, we knew what was going on: a violation of the natural order. Now LBJ was walking away. Were presidents really still the pillar? (Come to think of it, wasn’t the next one Nixon’s resignation? Then the Ford-Carter diminution? No wonder people admired Reagan!)
The next big late night thing — and here we switch pretty completely to baseball — was Carlton Fisk’s iconic home run. Heck, we lived in Cincinnati, we listened to the Reds every night after dinner, often ran down to the ballpark nothing was on tv. And now she was worried about getting up on time, with the World Series on the line? As we say on Facebook: WTF?
Brief skip forward to the Kirk Gibson home run. Iconic, yes. But not my team. Same with some of the other great World Series home runs — including Mr. November’s.
10:30 isn’t as late as some of those were, but somehow, since the sun sets so damned early in Vermont after the Equinox, it feels like the middle of the night. And now it’s not my mother but my wife who keeps me company. She’s a Yankee fan, but always nice to the Red Sox. And I’m not just being nice about Derek Jeter. He has been a true class act, a steady character and talented professional. Someone who partied a lot but never went over any lines. As with Mariano last year, the team doesn’t really matter when it comes to saying good-bye to an immortal. When his single shot through the infield (a better throw would have gotten that runner), I whooped and hollered like everyone else who ever wore a baseball cap. Even the Orioles stood and applauded until The Captain departed.
In Cincinnati, our immortals were mostly traded away. No small market could pay Big Red Machine-level money as revenues grew with television, Yankees don’t have that problem. They face the opposite challenge: a player has to be good enough to justify the money that team will pay. (The Red Sox will pay you that whether you’re worth it or not, snark snark.) But few are able to be that good that long. So we treasured every moment. And there it was. The fairy tale ending to the fairy tale career. What can we say? Is God a Yankee fan, or just a Derek Jeter fan? Maybe it was a present to Joe Gerardi, who joked that the best way it could end would be a walk-off.
Whatever the explanation, my first impulse was to pick up the phone and call my mother. To hear her complain that it’s way too late, she’ll find it all out in the morning. And like Derek’s, my story has a happy ending: my mother is still alive. Well. Indeed, I will call and describe another late night milestone that she missed.
But not too early: she really likes that crossword puzzle.