My Worst Official Day as Aunt Beth came on June 22, 2012, when I watched a kindergartener push my small child nephew backwards off a baseball bench.

I was on my feet before he even hit the ground.  The perpetrator saw a charging blonde rhinoceros of auntly fury raging towards the scene and vanished.  This was a blessing; my employers tend not to look kindly upon attempted murder of a person not yet able to tie his own shoes; also, I’m pretty sure he could have taken me.

He was back on the bench by the time I reached him and checked for blood and bumps.  He was fine, but not fine.  He was crying.  So I wasn’t fine either.

“Can you tell me what happened?”

“We’re supposed to stay on the bench,” he said, inhaling with great heaves.

“Yes, and you’re on the bench; you’re doing a good job.  What’s the matter?”

“Coach says we have to stay on the bench.”

This was to be my full briefing on the matter – I still don’t know if this was a bully issue, a single action rule-related altercation, or some sort of socio-economic kindergarten uprising against the proletariat – so I squatted down next to my sister’s son and patted the warm vinyl number on his back.  “How about we put on your gloves so you’re ready to bat when it’s your turn?”


We were at an impasse.  The child needed comforting, but refused be comforted, and so my psuedo-parenting abilities had reached their limit. I did know, however, that when I was five, peer disagreements reached the proportion of Israeli-Palestinian negotiation breakdown, the nearest adult made all the world turn with his or her mighty power and car keys, and that you could pick between the Barbie nightgown and the Dukes of Hazzard one, but for the most part, what happened to you and for you took place without a great deal of your own input.

There are reasons for this, of course – good ones – and once I was released to make choices more consequential than nightwear, I proceeded to make some colossally stupid ones (“It’s so nice of you to invite me to your dorm room at 1 AM while I’m crying and my boyfriend is five states away!  What a great idea!”)  And by this time, what I did or did not do, achieved or did not achieve, was in my own fumbling hands.

I’m just now discovering, however, a  thin cross-section – one of heart tissue – of what the stumbles must have been like for my parents.   Not hired right out of college, what with my super-employable English and poli-sci degree?  What, outside of providing chocolate and moral support, could they do about it?   What could they do about my car wreck in Florida while they were in Ohio, the air bag lacerating my face but bridging the short inflatable distance between walking away and the back of the paramedics’ sheet?  They let my co-workers of two weeks take care of me.  They had to.

As my nephew tumbled backwards into the dirt, in that jagged half-second between the cause and effect of childhood cruelty, he was edging me closer to a fuller understanding of what the life of a professional athlete might be like – for him, and for his parents who drove him to practice. We are conditioned, as fans, to see players as lights on a board, as blank spaces on the roster – to do otherwise is to invite endless heartbreak and fretting.

But they’re people. They’re not bargaining chips– well, they are, and they aren’t. Once athletes sign away the rights to their faces to appear on baseball cards, they do so with the knowledge that in many ways they will, for the rest of their careers, be viewed as such. It’s a lesson learned early, as many parents and children learned three weeks ago when fathers crouched low to explain to their sons that no, Billy Hamilton would not be signing autographs at RedsFest.

I like the Reds’ recent trade. It puts good players in our laundry. It switches out the human beings populating our clubhouse. May their flesh and minds and breath move with lightness, with joy, with us.

21 Responses

  1. CFD3000

    I’m hoping your nephew was on the bench because his team was batting. Otherwise he should be in the field with all the rest of his teammates, even if that means 16 defenders at a time! And glad he on and off the bench, and you, in and out of the right and wrong dorm rooms, are both okay.

    As for players being people too, it’s funny how that goes along with the team’s success like so many other details of fandom. Win and all is right with the world. Lose and nothing is okay. But for me at least, part of the joy of rooting for the Reds is enjoying the personalities of the players. I want to be as observant and thoughtful and weird as Joey Votto, as happy as Billy Hamilton and Sean Casey, as cool as Eric Davis and Barry Larkin, as confident as Jesse Winker, as enthusiastic as Eugenio Suarez, as completely at ease being me as Tucker Barnhart. I loved the Cincinnati Reds when it was baseball cards and box scores, but it’s so much better being a fan when they’re all interesting, compelling people too. Sorry Jerry, we’re not just rooting for laundry any more.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      I think their team was batting at the time of the incident, hence a very crowded bench. He’s now quite the basketball player, although his brothers favor baseball.

  2. Mary Beth Ellis

    Many thanks for your kindness 🙂

  3. Eric Reed

    Cleaning off my desk to start the new year, and I’m looking at this stack of baseball cards. But not just any cards; these are nine unopened 1988 Topps wax packs. I had eighteen, and sent half of them to my good friend…my baseball-card trading buddy from back in the day…last year so we could open them over the phone together. And maybe chew the thirty-year-old gum. No judgment.

    Anyhow, we still haven’t opened them (maybe next week?), but I’m sitting here thinking about the rookies sitting in those wax packs…who are now long-since retired, maybe watching their own kids playing the game, too. They know, right? They know that they have to let the kid go when he falls off the bench, when he wrecks his car on the other side of the country, when he makes decisions he’ll have to own later, but as a person, and not just the laundry we’re rooting for (nice Seinfeldian reference there, CFD).

    Happy New Year to all – here’s to a great 2019 season!

    • Spaceman Red

      I hope I am not dampering your excitement by saying the only 1988 Rookie worth a toss is Tom Glasvine. Baseball Cards have largely become a nice market now that kids have inter webs and and and… still fun, I agree. I have very Topps card since 1980 so no judging.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Please let us know if you die of ancient baseball card gum ingestion so that we at Redleg Nation may establish a charity in your name.

  4. NorMich Red

    I’m sitting here looking at 1 1/2′ of northern Michigan snow and thinking of baseball cards past and Spring Training. (It seemed like there was one season when 2 or 3 of every 5-card pack I bought had Frank “Poncho” Herrera in them instead of some player whose name I knew from on-field exploits.) And then I find myself segueing into thinking of 30-year old Topps bubble gum, and immediately morphing into the Seinfeld poisonous wedding envelope glue episode. Clearl,y I need some real baseball (with hopefully better Reds’ players) to bring me to a saner place. Great stuff as always, MBE!

    • Gonzo Reds

      I’m sitting here in Florida thinking of Spring Training. Then I remembered I’m boycotting until the Reds move back where they belong and that is not Arizona!

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      It was 50 degrees here today.
      Spent it cursing the cold, hunched into a fuzzy sweatshirt and wishing I were in Florida.

  5. Matt Esberger

    Mary Beth- great writing as always.

    Spent many summer afternoons in the late 70’s when I was about 6-7 years old riding my Huffy to Convenient on the corner of 8 Mile & Clough Pike to collect baseball cards & an Icee that came in cup featuring a 70’s player (for whatever reason I kept getting the Jason Thompson cup). This was way before the internet and baseball cards were our version of Baseball Reference & Fangraphs. It was also my introductions to teams and players in the American League since we rarely got to see the likes of the Blue Jays or Rangers on NBC Game of the Week or ABC Monday Night Baseball.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      This is the equivalent of getting a little plastic Expos hat at Zip Dip since they were out of Reds ones.

  6. Art Austin

    Hamilton was too happy for his batting career. You can’t be smiling as you’re about to take on your mortal enemy on a raised mound some 60’6′ feet away.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Watch him finally get a Gold Glove wherever he is next year.

    • jazzmanbbfan

      Agree greenmtred, we need more happiness in the world. Being happy isn’t equivalent to not caring or wanting to get better at your craft.

      And on baseball cards, there was nothing like opening a pack of cards at age 12-15 and seeing who was inside. That would be 1967-’70 for me.

  7. JoJo

    Always glad to see your name attached to a story when I visit this site! Great stuff

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      JoJo is my sunshine here at 6 PM when it’s like MIDNIGHT outside

  8. scotly50

    I still have not moved on from the darned cat !

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      *Have* you moved on?
      Or not?
      We can’t really know, can we?

      • Eric

        Ooh…so my 1988 wax packs are Schroedinger’s CARDS! The rookies are still rookies, as long as they’re…nope, lost my train of thought thinking about how good that gum’s gonna be.

        Girl…you know it’s true.

      • Mary Beth Ellis

        Always glad to see a little Milli Vanilli here in this baseball blog.