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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Monday, June 30, 2008

Today, as History*

Four Immortals: Gehrig, Speaker, Cobb, and Ruth.
(Unable to locate original attribution, probably the New York Times.)

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, July 6, 2008
*Glasgow, KY Daily Times, July 3, 2008
as "Today, as a moment in history"

Copyright © 2008 by Ralph Couey

One of the limitations of perspective is our inability to recognized the passage of history. Over the weekend, my wife and I made a trip up to the Poconos to celebrate our 30th anniversary. This, of course, included the de rigueur trip to a casino for her, in this case the Mt. Airy facility near Mt. Pocono. While she was performing her usual brilliantly instinctive outwittery of the slot machines, I wandered around. I don’t gamble. The last lucky moment I had was the day I met her. As far is I’m concerned, she IS the jackpot. I’ll never be that lucky again.

In my wanderings, I happened across a spritely old man in a Yankees cap. I struck up a conversation with him about (what else?) baseball, although it wasn’t really much of a conversation. He yarned; I listened. Anyway, at one point, he talked about a magical day when his father took him to Yankee Stadium. He thinks it was 1927. He spoke of the thrill of watching his heroes, particularly Ruth and Gehrig, as they thoroughly thrashed their opponents, the Philadelphia A’s. On that magical day, he saw both men crank out enormous home runs and he talked about how he leapt from his seat, cheering lustily. He said, “I don’t have a really good memory for many things anymore (I’m 91, y’know) but I remember that day, and those home runs like it was 15 minutes ago.” He turned towards me, his eyes lighting up. “Y’know, Ty Cobb was in that game as well. He’d come over from Detroit. He was at the end of his career, but he was still a gladiator on the diamond.”

Ruth, Gehrig, Cobb.

Today, those names are mythic legends. For any baseball fan, the thought of being in the stands and seeing three players of that caliber on the same field on the same day enters the realm of daydreams.

After we parted, a snippet of memory forced its way out of the fog of my yesterdays. It was a hot, humid summer night in Kansas City and my Mom had taken me to old Municipal Stadium to watch a game between the beyond-forlorn A’s and the Yankees. Knowing what a big fan that I was, she sprung for box seats (at a ridiculously exorbitant $3.50 a pop). We walked into the venerable old stadium and, leaving her behind, I sprinted down the chipped concrete steps to the railing. To my left, a big fella in Yankee road gray was talking to some folks in the seats. He finished the conversation and turned to go back to his warmups. As he turned, his eye fell upon me. He smiled briefly, and in an Oklahoma drawl asked, “How ya doin’, kid?” I was speechless as he jogged back to the field. On his retreating back was that singular, magical number 7.

I had just been face-to-face with Mickey Mantle.

During that sometimes misspent youth, I watched other players who would become legends, mostly on television. Koufax, Drysdale, Killebrew, Gibson, the Robinsons of Baltimore, Mays, McCovey, and yes, Mazeroski, Clemente, and Stargell. At the time, I never thought about history. I simply watched them play. But my Dad, always the deep thinker, brought me face-to-face with history on the evening of July 20, 1969. As we waited breathlessly for Armstrong’s first steps on the moon, he leaned over and putting his hand on my shoulder, said, “Remember this moment. This is history.”

Since then, I’ve tried to be more aware of the passage of singular moments in time, and the singular people who inhabit them, trying to recognize and remember them. These moments are still happening around us. A few weeks ago, my wife and I watched a crippled Tiger Woods not only make a late charge to tie a major tournament, but win the thing in sudden death. As anyone with even a nodding acquaintance with the game of golf knows, Tiger is writing history almost every time he steps on a course. He is one of those singular athletes that come along perhaps once in a century, whose greatness and dominance of the game simply outshines everyone else. In the 30’s, a runty, malformed horse named Seabiscuit dominated racetracks across the country, mainly out of sheer grit and determination, still winning races at the impossible age of 7 (senescence for a racehorse). In the 80’s, the NBA gave us Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, following with Michael Jordan. These people captured our imagination, giving us performances that were simply astonishing.

In this day and age, I wonder sometimes. Who are the immortals we watch now? Who will be the ones about which our grandchildren will breathlessly ask, “Did you ever see him play?”

I think at times, we spend too much time ruing the past and fretting the future. There are remarkable moments filled with remarkable people who are happening right now. Take the time to watch and form some precious memories.

Embrace your todays.
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