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Why Baseball Matters

Posted By Alex Belth On January 15, 2009 @ 8:31 pm In Bronx Banter | Comments Disabled

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 [1]) 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] as he was over at Pete Abe’s as well: http://yankees.lhblogs.com/2009/01/15/rest-in-peace-our-friend-todd-drew/

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