Joanne Palmer's Life in the 'Boat column appears Wednesdays in the Steamboat Today. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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For her 75th birthday, my mother had only one request: To throw out the opening pitch at Wrigley Field.
“I’ll start practicing while you arrange it,” she said matter-of-factly.
My friends thought the request odd. Couldn’t you take her to lunch instead?
I picked up the phone and called the public relations office at Wrigley Field. The person who answered was a little surprised. “Um, 75? Is she, well, you know, ambulatory?” the woman asked.
Ambulatory? My mother? Up until about age 70 she was still challenging people to foot races. It never dawned on me that she wouldn’t be ambulatory. She’d taught me to ride a bike, hit a baseball like a boy, ice skate and swim.
“Yes,” I assured the PR person. “Not only is she ambulatory, she’ll run the bases if you want her to.”
Despite my best efforts, I was unable to convince them to let her throw out the pitch. The best they could do was a picture in the on-deck circle before the game. She didn’t complain, but I knew she would have preferred to wind up on the mound.
My mother was a lifelong Cubs fan. She and my brother attended numerous games every summer. Even though she could have easily afforded season tickets, she preferred to buy from the scalpers instead. Armed with a big magnifying glass and a diagram of the stadium, my mother had no problem negotiating with scalpers twice her size. She’d shake her finger at them and bark, “You’re not trying to sell me a seat behind a post, are you?”
She’d call after most games to give me a detailed account of how her deal-making with the scalpers had gone. Speaking in a reverent whisper, she’d excitedly report how she’d followed a big, mean-looking scalper up three flights of stairs and struck a deal in a dark hallway. While I found this all rather terrifying and would plead for her not to continue, my mother laughed off my concern and trumpeted the price she’d been able to negotiate.
Part of what my mother loved about Cubs games — besides dancing with the bleacher bums afterwards — was knowing the stories behind the players. That season, Sammy Sosa was her main man. Not only was he a charismatic and gifted player, but he had a unique good luck gesture she admired. Just before he stepped up to bat, he tapped his chest and blew an air kiss to his mother in the Dominican Republic.
The day of her 75th birthday was cold. Bitter, biting cold. Even though it was September, the wind blowing in from Lake Michigan made it feel like the coldest day in January. Any reasonable family would have stayed home and watched the game on TV.
We packed blankets, hats and gloves, bundled up in as many layers as possible and headed down to Wrigley.
We posed for a few photos out on the field and she received an official Cubs baseball. We had some time to pass before the game started, so we covered up in blankets and waited for batting practice to begin. All of a sudden — or as my mother would say, “lo and behold” — Sammy Sosa came out onto the field.
My mother screamed. Not just a little feminine “eek,” either. After all, this was a woman who’d earned the nickname “Field and Scream” for her enthusiastic utterances when reeling in a fish of any size. Rather, she let out a full-on war whoop that would have shattered glass had any been nearby.
“Sam-me, Sam-me!” she shrieked excitedly. She was sandwiched between my brother and me, but that didn’t stop her. Tapping her chest and blowing air kisses she threw a leg over the hard metal stadium seats in front of her and scrambled over and over the rows until she reached the field. She held out her ball to Sammy and waved back at us while he autographed it for her.
Yep, I thought to myself, I’d say she’s ambulatory.
So, Mom, I hope they let you wind up on the mound in heaven. I know you could pitch a no-hitter.