Tagged: Michael Kay

Working class players

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.

s always a lesson to be learned.

For Hye Sun Canning