"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Why Baseball Matters

I still feel numb.  Even though I knew Todd was in bad shape–he was in intensive care for more than three weeks–I still can’t believe he’s dead.  At 41.  He was a kindred spirit, a part of the Banter family as a regular commentor (as he was over at Pete Abe’s as well) long before he joined us as a writer.  He was one of the fellas at the bar. Curious and passionate, genuinely interested in people, and someone who loved conversation. He was all about the banter.

Todd also loved sports writing and once sent me a list of his twenty-five favorite writers.  I have it tacked up in my cubicle at work, right behind my computer screen.  My friend John Schulian is on that list.  Todd loved John’s boxing and baseball writing.  He planned to interview John about a baseball story Schulian once wrote, which I will reprint in this space in the near future. 

I e-mailed the bad news to John today and he replied:

That’s just not right. You know what I mean? It’s cruel and unfair, and it makes me wonder why so many two-legged vermin are allowed to walk the earth while a good man is left to die way, way before his time. But from what I’ve gathered about Todd, he wouldn’t appreciate such a sentiment. He was too kind, too big-hearted, to let himself fall prey to pettiness and resentment. Last night was his time, and there was nothing he could do about it. The poetry of his life turned cruel, and then it was over. I’m glad his wife and his friend were with him. I’m glad they were listening to music. Now the three of them have a song for eternity, the song with which Todd said goodbye.

I have highlighted many of the names on Todd’s list, guys I may of heard of but hadn’t read much of before.  After I got to them, I’d e-mail Todd and we’d go back-and-forth sharing our enthusiasm for the craft. There were so many articles that we talked about him writing–from his love for Alex Rodriuez to his interest in the concession workers at the Stadium. I am angry that we’re being cheated out of so much good work. At the same time I’m grateful for the work he gave us and for the example he provided.

Todd took blogging seriously.  Which isn’t to say that he didn’t have a sense of humor.  But he thought about his posts, those finely observed New York City vingettes written in the classic tradition of Jimmy Cannon and Jimmy Breslin, and he took his time crafting them.  He didn’t just toss off a rant.  He was a writer and a storyteller. He knew he couldn’t be inspired every day, but he showed up every day and gave it his best.

This is the final piece that he wrote for us, perhaps the last thing that he wrote at all. From December 22, 2008.:

Baseball and Me

By Todd Drew

I went to a baseball game after my father’s funeral. I also went to one after finding out about my mother’s brain cancer.

It was selfish and heartless. I felt guilty before and embarrassed after, but for nine innings I felt only the game. That’s the way it’s always been between baseball and me.

It was my friend when I didn’t have any others. And it has always been there to talk or listen or simply to watch.

Baseball helps me forget and it makes me remember. That’s why it was exactly what I needed on the worst days of my life.

But there were no games when a doctor told me that I had cancer. The neighborhood was out of baseball on that cold November day. No one was playing at Franz Sigel Park or John Mullaly Park. And there wasn’t even a game of catch in Joyce Kilmer Park. The last game at the old Yankee Stadium was long gone and Opening Day at the new Yankee Stadium was long off.

So I went home and wished for one of those summer days when I was a kid and my mother would send me to the ballpark with a paper sack stuffed with her famous tuna-fish sandwiches. That was back when you could slip through a delivery gate with the beer kegs and watch batting practice. And it was always okay to come home late with a beat-up scorecard and popcorn stuck between your teeth.

The doctor told me that tomorrow’s surgery and chemotherapy treatment might keep me in the hospital for 10 days.

“At least it’s December,” I said. “There aren’t any ballgames to miss.”

And I will be ready to slip through a delivery gate with the beer kegs when the new Yankee Stadium opens. I’ll watch batting practice with one of my mother’s famous tuna-fish sandwiches and come home late with a beat-up scorecard and popcorn stuck between my teeth.

Cancer can’t change the way it will always be between baseball and me.

Todd was one of us and a true original. He will be missed but he’ll also never leave. He’s ours for good.

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1 Alex Belth   ~  Jan 15, 2009 8:40 pm

Todd died at 12:37 am this morning on the 15th. I had death on my mind yesterday. Two years ago to the day my dad passed away. And today is my brother's birthday. He's 35. I felt terribly for my brother when my dad died a day before his birthday. But then last year on this day, my brother's baby girl Cora was born.

2 Mr. OK Jazz TOKYO   ~  Jan 15, 2009 8:48 pm

Excellent as usual, Alex.

Baseball has that effect on us..I can't imagine anyone doing the same for a football game (though am sure there must be some fans like that out there)

Reading Todd's last post, plus your earlier piece on your father really makes me appreciate all the times my dad and I got to watch games together. On just the last visit, though it's offseason, we flopped on the couch with some pizza and beer and watched a replay of the 1996 WS on tv..precious moments that you sometimes don't value until it's too late..thankfully my pop beat cancer, and though it took a lot out of him he's still here..

3 7eastwood7   ~  Jan 15, 2009 8:55 pm

I read about Todd on Curt Schilling's 38pitches. Reading his Baseball and Me blog could easily bring tears to one's eyes. I am very sorry for the loss of your friend. 41 is way too young and to me another sad part is not being able to experience the new Yankee Stadium, although he will be there in spirit.

Again my condolences for the loss of your friend!!!

4 Max   ~  Jan 15, 2009 9:23 pm

I first became aware of Todd through PeteAbe, when he occasionally showcased other Yankee bloggers -- I think it might have been an MLK holiday tribute. His writing, his voice stuck with me from the time I read that first submission, and from then it was a daily dose of Yankees for Justice for me.

His wonderful, stubborn optimism and empathy for various characters became a big part of the Yankee fan experience for me, and when he joined the Banter this became an even more heavenly place. I just can't believe he's gone. My condolences to his family, and though I never knew him, I won't forget him soon.

Man, this hurts.

5 Bobtaco   ~  Jan 15, 2009 10:30 pm

"That’s just not right. You know what I mean? It’s cruel and unfair, and it makes me wonder why so many two-legged vermin are allowed to walk the earth while a good man is left to die way, way before his time. "

I felt exactly like that the day my father died 15 years ago, at 48.

It makes me angry that he never got to see Derek Jeter play a game, or Mo get a save. Or for me to never have the chance to call him up after the final game of a World Series to share congratulations.

It sucks. But that's just the way it is.

6 Rich   ~  Jan 15, 2009 10:44 pm

I wasn't that familiar with Todd's writing, which I now regret because you have paid him a moving tribute, Alex, that not only honors his memory, but also educates others about Todd's life and his work.

John Schulian is right, life can be "cruel and unfair."

Rest in peace, Todd.

7 thelarmis   ~  Jan 15, 2009 10:45 pm

i'm at an utter loss here. i just got home from a long day of work. turned on the laptop - bronx banter on one browser, email the other. i saw an email from todd's wife and a different subject title and just....knew. then i checked here and pete abe. i feel soooo defeated.

alex - at some point, do you think it's possible to gather todd's writing for the banter over the past few months and somehow create a super long post of them? or a link to it? maybe in a few parts, like your fantastic ray negron story from last offseason? i'm not a computer guy at all, so i don't know how much trouble that is. but i think it would be a fantastic tribute to have all his bronx banter writings in one place.

this is soooo sad. : (

8 thelarmis   ~  Jan 15, 2009 10:46 pm

[6] todd was the best. no, scratch that - todd IS the best!!!

9 bronxborn   ~  Jan 15, 2009 10:58 pm

Over the past couple of years, Todd and I got to know each other pretty well over the distances. I loved his writing and as a being he was incredible. His level of care for humanity was unbelievable and baseball acted as a metaphor for all of life. I wish him well on his journey. Honestly I am still in shock. I wrote him a note before he went into the hospital. Todd's last words to me were "Thanks, Larry." Sounds so simple as I write them, but they carry the memory of our friendship. Thank you Alex for the moving tribute.

10 williamnyy23   ~  Jan 15, 2009 11:05 pm

I wasn't very familiar with Todd's writing, but one theme has emerged from the comments...and Alex nailed the same sentiment in his title...baseball matters.

Every time a tragic event happens, someone will always say something like: "This puts baseball {or any topic of interest} in perspective. Baseball doesn't really matter". The lesson I'd take from Todd is anything that you love and enjoy sharing with others matters. For many of us, Todd included, that is baseball. I think that's what make this (and other blogs like it) such a comfortable place to spend way too much time. No matter if we are black/white, liberal/conservative, rich/poor, etc., baseball matters to all of us.

RIP Todd...hope you enjoy the view of the new Stadium.

11 thelarmis   ~  Jan 15, 2009 11:21 pm

"I love writing baseball stories, but have never saved any of them." - Todd Drew

that's from a Shadows Game post here at the Banter from about 5 weeks ago. i wanna save all of Todd's stories. i've already started a little project of collecting some of my favorite Todd quotes. i hope to have a nice little collection to post on Opening Day in da Bronx.

here's to you, todd!!!

12 Will Weiss   ~  Jan 15, 2009 11:26 pm

[1] I write this post with a tear on my cheek, having read Todd's post again. We're all stunned because 10 days ago, there was optimism. I remember Marsha e-mailing us Todd's reaction when she told him about the Teixeira signing (a big fist-pump).

[11] Alex, Cliff, Diane, Emma and I are looking to do something with his writings also. Any suggestions you have, let us know. We're in the brainstorming stages right now.

13 thelarmis   ~  Jan 15, 2009 11:34 pm

[12] right now, i'm just going thru some of his blog posts and comments and taking out some one-liners i think are true to todd's inimitable and indelible spirit & soul, but are well-rounded enough to appeal to everybody. i'm looking for ones that embody his passion for baseball, people and music but won't alienate those who didn't read him regularly. there's humor and, of course, justice. though right now, it doesn't seem like there's very much justice...

i only have a handful right now, but i'll continue to dig, search and collect pieces of his pinstriped heart. i understand i'm not in the inner circle of writers here, but if there's anything i can do to assist you guys, as well, please feel free to ask. Cliff knows how to get a hold of me off the banter and i'd be glad to do anything for todd that i possibly can...

14 Will Weiss   ~  Jan 15, 2009 11:43 pm

[13] No justice at all. ... Cliff posted a link to Todd's archive in Alex's earlier post, if you haven't gotten that already. I'm sure we'll take you up on that offer at some point.

15 Cliff Corcoran   ~  Jan 16, 2009 12:08 am

thelarmis, you can find links to Todd's work on the left-hand sidebar. The Shadow Games link links to an archive of all of his posts for Banter since he joined us in October.

16 thelarmis   ~  Jan 16, 2009 12:11 am

[14] thank you, Will. i hadn't seen the earlier post. i got in from work, saw the email from marsha, and with tears in my eyes caught this post here at the banter. i didn't realize there was another post before this. i just read it and all the comments, thanks for the heads up. and thanks to Cliff for the link of all Todd's banter posts - i've bookmarked it, along w/ Todd's personal Justice blog.

sure, just have Cliff get in touch - or any of you guys, at any time - and let me know if there's anything i can do...

i would like to title a future instrumental percussion composition of mine "Shadow Games", if the title fits the mood/timbre/characteristics of the piece...and if Marsha would give me permission to use it as a tribute. of course, i'd give Todd credit for the title...

17 thelarmis   ~  Jan 16, 2009 12:12 am

[15] thanking you.

18 Raf   ~  Jan 16, 2009 12:35 am

Thanks to everyone at Bronx Banter for your support. I’ll be fine because I’m already wearing my Derek Jeter T-shirt. The Captain always brings everyone home.

Thanks man...

19 Alex Belth   ~  Jan 16, 2009 8:41 am

I think Todd's last piece of writing is what Hemmingway meant when he talked about "grace under pressure." I'm sure Todd was scared at that time, but thinking about baseball, and working on crafting a short essay must have distracted him, even briefly, from what he was about to encounter.

We are definitely richer for knowing him.

20 pilgrim   ~  Jan 16, 2009 5:55 pm

I wish I had a chance to know him from something more than his writing, which was impressive enough in itself. Many condolences to Todd's family and friends, RIP.

-Peter Handrinos

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver