Working class players

nationals_250_061709.jpgPreisler@jeromepreisler.com
During Tuesday night’s broadcast of the Washington Nationals-Yankees series opener at the Stadium, there was an illuminating conversation between Yankees play-by-play man Michael Kay and his on-air partner, John Flaherty.

Why, Kay wondered aloud, would a batter on a non-contending team like that Nats do something like sacrifice himself with a grounder to first base or a bunt to move a runner over? While Kay understood this is the right way to play the game, he was approaching the question from a practical and individualistic angle — if the team isn’t seriously in the race for a championship, what does the player have to gain in terms of his own career? In the final box score it would just look like he’s made an out and lower his batting average.

Flaherty’s response was interesting. The batter, he said, should be motivated to sacrifice in that situation because it’s his job. He might be playing for a contract. He might be playing just to stay in the big leagues. Maybe his manager will notice his effort on behalf of the team. If not, maybe some other manager. You do what you’re supposed to and hope for the best. For Flaherty, the hardnosed former catcher, it was that basic.

The exchange launched me into thinking about something, which in got me thinking about several other things.

The first thing was an e-mail I’d gotten from a longtime reader in reaction to my previous column. She’s a very private person, so I won’t name her, but I hope she won’t mind my sharing an excerpt here:

I love baseball. I love sports in general, but I really love baseball. I love how it seems to represent all of life’s struggles, where you fail more often than you succeed, and no matter what happens in one game, there’s another one tomorrow, where the fight is fresh and the struggle never ends. Through these players we get to live vicariously, given these rules between those lines and we get to laugh and cry for the duration of the game, escaping our real lives, where nothing is for certain and where it is never clear who is the winner or the loser. I truly appreciate those players who seem to see the bigger picture in all the little things they do and carry themselves with integrity and dignity, until the very end of the last game; because no matter who we are and what we do, we should carry ourselves with integrity and dignity.

After turning in for the night, I reflected on her beautifully eloquent words, and then began musing about some people I know, and the unsung dignity and integrity with which they I’ve lived, never knowing or considering what the net gain would be.

In our New England town, there’s a woman whose first marriage ended in a divorce she hadn’t sought. A mother of two, she has an autistic son, and the stresses of her marriage left her caring for her children alone. Entering a tough job market to support them, she found employment as a postal clerk. She would eventually remarry a good man, only to see him lose his life in an automobile accident. It is only a wrinkle of fate that prevented her from being in the car with him.

Her workday begins at four in the morning. She lives out on an island known for its lobstering, and the drive to work is long and treacherous in the frozen winter darkness. But she is a bright, smiling presence at the post office whose diligence, humor and optimism makes it a pleasure to walk in there.

Her son is now a highly functional teenager living in a group home that she and the families of other autistic children helped establish. It is a stone’s throw from her door and he loves it. She actively transitioned him into his new living situation and is constant with her time and love even as she continues working at the post office — and putting her other child, a daughter, through college.

No matter who we are and what we do, we should carry ourselves with integrity and dignity.

Last night, I thought about that woman in Maine. And then I thought about my father too.

In Rumania where he was born, his family was large and very poor. They lived in a rural area and grew most of their own food. After the Nazis invaded in 1940 they were carried by truck to the Jewish ghetto and then loaded into cattle cars bound for the concentration camps. My father always remembers his cat following him for miles over the mountain roads until one of the Nazi troopers shot it dead.

At Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany, my father’s family was almost entirely exterminated in the gas chambers. He was strong enough to be put to work as a slave, and survived eating gruel and whatever weeds and grass and insects he could pick from the ground. Eventually he was trucked off to Mittelbau-Dora in Nordhausen, Germany as part of the slave labor force in the nearby subterranean V-2 rocket complex. When the workers would die of weakness, disease and starvation, their bodies were carried into tunnels and left there. By the thousands.

Powerfully built but short, my father was considered the perfect size for installing components in the nosecones of the rockets. The Germans would boast to him at gunpoint that these weapons, the world’s first ballistic missiles, would be the downfall of England. Inside the nosecones, he would tear out wires by the handful. He must have done it hundreds of times. If he’d been caught once he would have been tortured and killed.

The V-2 rockets never worked the way they were supposed to. Their guidance systems didn’t allow them to hit their targets with accuracy. These guidance systems were in their nosecones.

After the liberation my father eventually came to America. He found a place to live, learned the language and worked for decades in a garment factory in Queens, New York. In the summer the factory was so hot the sweat would drench through people’s clothes as they toiled to do piecework at their industrial sewing machines. At night, when I was a boy, he would leave the factory at night and earn extra money selling whatever he could from the trunk of his car. He never complained.

While visiting my parents at their Brooklyn apartment last winter, I gave my mother a talking Donald Trump doll. My mother likes Donald Trump. Push a button in its back, and the doll, like the real-life Donald, has plenty to say. One of the things it says is, “Always love what you do.”

I was at the dinner table fiddling with the new Donald doll when I heard it make that statement.

Always love what you do.

I turned to my father, thinking of his years in the sweatshop.

“I can’t stand when people say that,” I told him. “Some people do what they have to whether they like it or not. Look at you  … working in that factory all those years.”

My father surprised me with his answer. “I loved my job,” he said simply. “It was an honest living.”

I’d never realized he felt that way. All these years, and I’d never known.

No matter who we are and what we do, we should carry ourselves with integrity and dignity.

Amazing, isn’t it, that so many deep thoughts should be prompted by a baseball game? No less one involving the Washington Nationals, the team with the worst record in the sport.

Or maybe it isn’t amazing at all. Maybe it’s because it was the Nats that all this came to mind.

That Washington batter Kay and Flaherty was discussing … he tried to move the runner over. Just hours later, I can’t remember which batter it was, or even if he succeeded. I fault myself for that. I wish I’d been paying closer attention.

There’
s always a lesson to be learned.

For Hye Sun Canning

12 Comments

Mr. Preisler,
Great article, especially the part about your dad. His bravery no doubt saved many lives. Thanks for sharing.
Steve Book

Goosebumps JP. Bravo!

Jerome, once again Giradi fails to put on the steal sign which ended up in a double play. If he though A-rod couldn’t steal, put in Berroa. You just can’t wait for the long ball, you got to get rid of the DP treat. Giradi is too conservative, like I said before these games count as much as September games.

Jerome, thank you so much for your touching & inspiring column. I needed that today! Sports are such a microcosim of life. Perhaps we all need to reflect more on what inspires us to be better & stronger human beings. Most of us do not find inspiration from observing greed & showmanship. We tend to find it through those who people (in sports or other aspects of life) who do not give up on life even in the most dire circumstances. Thank again for the reminder of what’s important.

As usual, thanks for reading everybody . . . Judy, I’ve always found sports, at its highest, an inspiration. It’s one of the few areas in life where, in the end, people succeed purely on merit and effort. Athletic skill and talent can’t be faked–it’s there or it isn’t.

Far as Girardi’s lack of a steal . . . I was at the game, sitting in right, and it certainly looked as if Rodriguez was green-lighted to run if he felt he could. But he didn’t look comfortable. Clearly his hesitation is a result of the surgery . . . I wonder if Joe would have played things differently if Pena had been available to pinch run rather than Berroa? There’s very little use, or perhaps no use, in Berroa being on the bench at this stage.

I was wondering, Steinbrenner has fired managers for less, and yet with what Girardi has to work with, things stick out. Pitchers who aren’t motivated to pitch hard every time out, Joba.. Players who don’t play hard night after night after night, Cano, Aroid, and a team that goes through stretches of total lifelessness, I have to ask, Why is Girardi still the manager?
Look at Joba, When he feels like pitching, he will, he’ll challenge hitters fire that blazing fast ball, and mow people down, and when he feels lazy, last start against Boston, tonight against Washington, he doesn’t pitch like he deserves to be out there. Cano gets lazy playing second base, hardly ever leaves the batters box hard, and just refuses to run out fly and ground balls, Aroid, just isn’t hitting at all now, and his struggles are carrying into the field now as well. What is Joe doing to get this club fired up? Nothing, and it shows. Captain Jeter is a church mouse, and no one else will stand up say hey!
Why is Joe still around?

I am not surprised A-Rod is struggling. He has played in every game since he has returned, has played with a stiff hip, and he is just now feeling as if he is getting out of spring training. I do admire his desire to help his team as the most important thing, but he has got to be tired. And I am sure he feels as if he needs to be in the line-up to help the team win. But he needs a day of rest like anyone else would. He is pushing himself too hard. In addition, we see again how he impacts Tex. But not only Tex…the entire team. Is it a coincidence that while he is slumping that the Yankees office has been much more erratic and in some games, non-existent? Maybe, maybe not. In any event, A-Rod will turn it around, and I think most people know he will. He just needs some rest, some warm weather for his hip, and a chance to regroup. I wish him good luck and I look forward to when he is hitting again (as I am sure his teammates do as well).

Thanks JP, I believe your Dad has gotten through to you and that’s why your articles are always great to read and the trigger here was the Kay personality and his comments to John Flaherty about why some don’t play it another way?
Kay says he understands the right way it should be played but that’s only because of co-workers like Kaat, Murcer, O’Neill and Cone had to drill that into him and that tells us something on how Kay would have the game if he was a player.

Thanks JP, I believe your Dad has gotten through to you and that’s why your articles are always great to read and the trigger here was the Kay personality and his comments to John Flaherty about why some don’t play it another way?
Kay says he understands the right way it should be played but that’s only because of co-workers like Kaat, Murcer, O’Neill and Cone had to drill that into him and that tells us something on how Kay would have the game if he was a player.

Thank you, Don . . . alightningrodfan, your thoughtful points on Alex Rodriguez are very much appreciated at this end.

–JP

What is amazing to me is that Giradi and Cashman are still employed. While I think Brian can’t be let go till the end of the year, by that time this team will be in total disarray. Joba will be useless and Wang’s era should be about 50.

Great Father’s Day tribute….

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