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Robin Slick

1980: A Memoir About a Loss and a Win

There's a family rumor that my beatnik mother was a closet baseball groupie and that's why my name is Robin. It's no rumor she loved baseball, but yeah, I once overheard my aunt say that my mother fucked Phillies' Hall of Fame pitcher Robin Roberts when she was nineteen, and then my mother herself told me that she was going to name me Robin no matter what sex I was because she was nuts about him. He wasn't my dad, though -- that dubious honor belongs to an insane jazz musician -- and I am in fact a female, a woman who grew up in a house which had an oil painting of Miles Davis hanging over the sofa alongside a framed team photograph of the 1950 Whiz Kids -- the only Phillies team to ever make it to the World Series, after Robin Roberts pitched three games in five days to lead them there.

For my 12th birthday, my mother took me to a coffee house to see Joni Mitchell perform. I tried to sit there looking all hip while my mother listened to the Phillies' game via earpiece on her transistor radio. "Tim McCarver just hit a homer!" she screamed, oblivious to how loud she was.

Despite my mortified resolution that evening to always be as artsy cool as the Joni audience, which had sent pitying looks my way, my mom eventually got to me, and I became a secret baseball fanatic, too.

In September, 1980, my mother lay dying in a hospital bed. It was a gray, bleak place; there were no more flowers or get well cards to brighten up the room. After months and months of battling a brain tumor and every-other-week hospital stays, she didn't have any visitors outside of our immediate family. The only color in the room came from her turquoise transistor radio sitting on the window sill, broadcasting the daily Phillies' games.

She'd been sleeping away most of that summer, sometimes slipping in and out of comas. I'd visit her every night after work. The hospital social worker met with me and said that I had to make plans as soon as possible to move her to a hospice; hospitals were places for people to get better. I was way too young to have to absorb what she was really telling me.

"Did the Phillies win?" my mother asked whenever she would open her eyes.

"Yeah, Mom. They did. They are so awesome -- I think we may finally do it this year."

"Who's our players again?" she asked, trying to reach for her water pitcher.

I walked over and poured her a glass, carefully placing a straw in it and holding it to her lips. Seeing her like that was so horrible; my eyes filled up with tears every time I looked at her -- bald from the chemotherapy; so thin and pale. I turned away and adjusted the sound on the radio.

"Mom, we have Steve Carlton! And Larry Christenson, Bake McBride, Bob Boone...they're all incredible. And Tug McGraw -- he's so amazing -- he's got like a million saves."

"Who plays third base?" She was so weak; her voice came out in a whisper.

"Mike Schmidt. And we have Pete Rose at first, Larry Bowa at shortstop -- Mom, you know this! Who are our outfielders? Name me one."

"Richie Ashburn," she finally replied, looking at me the way a hopeful kid stares at a teacher handing out test scores.

Oh hell, he was center fielder for the 1950 Whiz Kids. I decided not to upset her by telling her that it was Garry Maddox standing in Richie's place out there on the astroturf now.

Richie Ashburn was the Phillies' play by play announcer in 1980. I worried my mom would get freaked out the next time she heard him on the radio, but a minute later she was asking me to name the players again.

My mom's heart stopped beating on September 5, 1980, one day before she was to be moved to the hospice.

It's funny. When you're twenty years old and no one close to you has ever passed away, even when you know they're terminally ill, you think okay, that's just the way it's going to be from now on; they'll just be bedridden and out of it, but no, no, they're never going to actually die.

I had a graveside service for my mother, and as I stood there, I was completely detached. This wasn't my mom the rabbi eulogized; this wasn't my young pretty mother being lowered into the ground. It was surreal.

A little under a month later, the Phillies made it to the play-offs. They faced Houston for the National League championship and every single game was an agonizing nail biter. It was the only time I could let go of my grief -- I sat on the edge of my bed, watching the television in high anxiety as Houston won games two and three to take us within one game of elimination. But the Phils were invincible that year; they came back and took the next two games and captured the pennant. I couldn't believe it -- we were going to the World Series for the first time in thirty years, facing the Kansas City Royals.

A lifetime of being a Philadelphia Phillies fan had taught me to expect the worst. And so naturally, after going up 2-0 in the series, the Phillies lost two straight. I had a brief weird fantasy that maybe my mother would be their guardian angel and we'd somehow come roaring back, but then I told myself to stop being such a fucking idiot.

And then we won the next game. Oh my God, we were only one win away from being champion.

I'd kept that promise to myself about being too cool for sports, at least on the outside, and I surrounded myself with musicians and artists who didn't give two shits that the Phillies were in the series. But I didn't want to be alone for what could be that final triumphant game so I ended up going to an out-of-the-way bar and sat there watching it on TV. I drank about nineteen Kamikazes and got totally wasted as I cheered on my team -- just like some maniac fan my friends and I would regularly scorn.

By the top of the eighth inning, it seemed like a real possibility we might actually do it. The Phils were up 4-0, but then our ace pitcher Steve Carlton was pulled after allowing the first two Kansas City batters to reach base. We did a major group moan. Savior Tug McGraw was called in, and in typical Phillies' modus operandi managed to load the bases. Somehow, he only gave up one run.

Top the ninth: Phillies 4, Royals 1. Tug loaded the bases again. We all had collective heart attacks. And then with only one out, Phil's catcher Bob Boone dropped an easy, routine pop-up from Frank White near the Phillies' dug out. We gasped as Pete Rose backed him up and made this miraculous snare for out number two. And then, in a perfect Hollywood moment, Tug McGraw, relief pitcher extraordinaire, struck out Willie Wilson, and holy crap, the Phillies won the World Series.

And so I screamed and jumped up and down and kissed a bunch of drunk, crazy strangers; we gave each other high fives and damn, it was a once in a life time experience.

But the irony, man, it just about killed me.

©2005 by Robin Slick

Robin Slick is widely published on both the Web and in print, and short stories have appeared in Small Spiral Notebook, In Posse Review, NFG, Insolent Rudder, Yankee Pot Roast, Word Riot, Uber, Flashquake, Salome, Reading Divas, Hackwriters, Fiction Warehouse, Storyhouse, Nagoya Writes, Smokelong Quarterly, Clean Sheets, The Beat UK, and Spoiled Ink, as well in upcoming editions of Monkeybicycle and ken*again. Her new novel, Three Days in New York City, was recently published by Phaze/Mundania Press.

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