Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Can’t look—can’t look away!

That’s my husband when it comes to baseball. He loves the Cardinals and always has. Yet there times when he just can’t stand to watch them. He has to turn them off and walk away because they are playing badly or the other team is playing better. Believe it or not this is a step toward a better life for me, or is it?
One the rituals of our dating time was that when he called me each night after he got home we would talk about the game. He worked from 3-11 PM Monday through Friday and while he was working he would listen to KMOX to hear the play by play of every game. While he was at work and listening, I dutifully listened to the game even though I’d never cared about the game before. I cared for him.
When I met my husband I was not a fan of baseball. My dad watched and I know I sat down and tried to watch with him a few times, but I found it too slow to captivate my attention. A batter can stand at home plate for a very long time if he manages to only swing and hit foul balls and the pitcher doesn’t throw anything hot enough to zip past him. It was this interminable waiting that made me leave my father sitting alone. I have to be engaged to keep sustained interest and I was engaged and interested in Jim.
Having fallen in love with Jim within our first date, I strove to do everything I could possibly do to impress him and one of the efforts I gave to this pursuit was I started listening to every Cardinal’s game. Sitting in my hot, non air conditioned bedroom in the middle of an Illinois summer, sweat pouring down my face and soaking my clothes, I would turn on my portable radio and listen, trying hard to keep my mind engaged in the game. Invariably my attention would wander away from the action during a long at bat by something hanging in my closet, a book I was reading, I was deep into Agatha Christie then, or by anything else that remotely looked interesting. I’d have to pull my interest back to the game and when Jim called that night, I at least had a vague knowledge of the major highlights of the game. He thought I loved the Cardinals and baseball as much as he did.
I loved him, but one season later, we were married and I no longer had to pretend to love the Cardinals as I had during our courtship. I started out watching with him, curled up next to him with a book in my hands, for I love hardly any other pursuit as much as I love reading. Without fail though as I sat there relaxed and glowing in his presence I would feel a creeping dissatisfaction grow in him as the Cardinals’ pitching or offense wasn’t performing. I gained a new insight about my husband. I had only rehashed the game with him in our dating time, now came the reality of watching with him.
Soon he was surly and hard to get along with. No matter how nice I was to him, he was impossible to get along with. I started staying in another room when Jim was watching the Cardinals. It was a wise decision for me.
We moved to Colorado Springs, I introduced Jim to Bronco’s football! He took to it like it was in his blood. Sunday afternoons from last August to December found both of us glued to the TV watching the Broncos lose for the first 8 years we lived in Colorado. It was OK. The team gave us enough exciting moments to keep us hoping and they even made it to the Super Bowl against the Dallas Cowboys. They lost. We were sad. However, better years were ahead and we watched through all the Elway years when there were more victories than losses.
In the midst of Jim’s growing Broncos’ fanaticism, he grew more passionate and we had a son. Chad became part of our Sunday ritual and I saw my husband’s condition grow worse. There were times when I would swear I could see his heart beating through his shirt and chest. I began to have other things to do while we were watching the Broncos. The truth was I just couldn’t take my husband’s agitation with the team I loved. For him they must always win; for me it was okay if they didn’t always win.
As our family grew the kids learned to be quiet and stay clear of Dad when one of his teams wasn’t doing well. It was a family joke, and one to which my husband would good naturedly grin although I could tell he wished it weren’t true. He disliked the way he felt and acted when his team was losing.
Over the years he tried shunning the games or turning them off when he felt they weren’t doing well because he didn’t want to expose us to his temper. Somehow, though, this has become harder to take for me.
While enjoying a program on the lean side of a week day evening, suddenly the picture will change to the pitcher’s mound with a man in a Cardinal’s uniform winding up to throw that longed for strike! But no! It’s a ball, and my husband’s body tenses up. He says to me, “I’ll turn it back in a minute. I just want to see if he can get out of this trouble.” Another ball and Jim is slapping the arm of his chair. Soon come the complaints about how this pitcher isn’t performing as he should and they should just get rid of him. The tension is thick and I’m considering fleeing to my bedroom. Then suddenly our original program is back on. I relax, and get up to get a glass of cold water, but when I return, I see a Cardinal uniform up to bat and he isn’t doing well. He’s down 2 to 1 and the opposing pitcher is throwing heat! I tense up! I sit down and pick up my book hoping to distract myself from what’s going on in the room. The batter is out by a 95 mph pitch straight across the plate. The next batter is up and the pitcher’s arm must be a bit tired from that last fast ball because he throws 3 balls and the batter stands tense and ready at the plate. The pitch is thrown and the batter swings and misses! Another fast ball! “He should have been expecting that!” My husband growls. I tense again and walk into the kitchen to see if I can find something else to do. The dishwasher is finished so I empty it, grab my water glass and book and flee to the bedroom. Jim doesn’t even notice. He’s into the game now and if I want to continue watching the program I was watching I’ll have to do it in the bedroom.
I plump my pillows, get myself settled and turn on the TV. I haven’t missed too much of the program WE were watching. I get back into the program and relax even though I can hear Jim groaning and growling in the family room. I close Jim out! I relax some more and rest back against the pillows.
Suddenly I hear my husband’s footsteps and there he is in the bedroom with a look of disgust on his face. He walks to his side of the bed sits down, leans back and says, “They are playing lousy tonight. I couldn’t stand watching another minute.”
We relax together, snuggling up and I forget about the surly Jim that was in the family room watching the Cardinals lose. I’m enjoying the closeness, the intimacy and the TV program. Suddenly, Jim has the remote and the game is on again. Sigh! He can’t look, but he can’t look away! I can’t stay and I can’t stand to be away from him! I’m engaged and interested to the very end.