“What ever happened to Gaylord Perry?”
Before I could even glance at the menu, my grandma handed me a blank notebook.
We were having lunch at a Chinese restaurant, the prototypical hole-in-the-wall eatery that always seems to offer more savory food than any mainstream dining spot. Being the Chinese food savant that I am, I wanted no part of whatever activity my grandma had in store. I just wanted to devour my generous portion of Kung Pao chicken and fried rice.
Of course, this was a business lunch. My grandma was my de facto manager, a position appointed to her, by her.
As I clutched the notebook, filled with hundreds of barren, white pages, she began to rattle off story ideas. I had been hired full-time by MLB.com about a month earlier. My grandma was the first person I called to share the news, which was as exciting to her as it was to me.
So there, at the Chinese restaurant with only about 10 tables inside, my grandma and I sat as she unleashed an onslaught of ideas she hoped I could transform into 800-word masterpieces.
“You can write something about baseball cards. Do kids still collect those?”
“What ever happened to Gaylord Perry?”
“What percent of baseball players are from foreign countries?”
As I often did, I let her finish her always-lengthy train of thought before finally interjecting: “Um, grandma, I don’t have a pen. Can’t we do this another time?”
Without hesitation, she summoned the waitress, not for tea or water or wonton soup, but for a writing utensil. My grandma’s ideas were going to be etched onto paper, if not engrained in my memory.
“Can you do something on Ted Williams?”
“Do older players haze younger players?”
It takes a special person to take interest in your interests, especially when that bond is genuine. My grandma wouldn’t know Jason Kipnis from Jason Voorhees, but once my career took me to the realm of Major League Baseball, the sport became a greater part of her life as well. That, of course, was by her choice. And that’s something I’ll always appreciate.
Many grandparents are storytellers, and my grandma was no different. Some relatives will bore you to tears with tales of days past that have no relation to your life or interests.
Sports, however, have a magical way of linking together different generations. The history and tradition in baseball makes that especially easy. The Browns and Cavs didn’t always exist when my grandma grew up in Cleveland. The Indians have been around for more than a century.
I earn a living watching and writing about baseball, yet there are always facts about the sport that my grandma could deploy that I’d otherwise never know, random tidbits about Bob Feller or Lou Boudreau. That’s the thing about baseball: Everyone, everywhere has some story or memory.
My grandma pulled a slip of paper from her leather purse. From across the table, it looked like a single piece of notebook paper that had taken a spill in a vat of ink. Blanketing both sides of the sheet were illegible scribbles. To her, they were fodder for future stories. To her, the chicken scratch was pure gold.
I recalled the seven or eight times she told me the story of how the Cleveland Browns would practice at a nearby high school field when she was a teenager. She would watch from afar and star running back Jim Brown, she claims, would stare at her and flirt with her.
I recalled how she heard on TV one day that the Indians were giving a Mike Hargrove bobblehead to fans in attendance. She remembered Hargrove as a player for the Tribe in the ’80s and not as much as the manager who led the club to a pair of World Series appearances a decade later. When I brought her the figurine one day, she sat and watched its incessant twitching, amazed at the concept’s simplistic absurdity. For some reason, she kept referring to it as a “googlehead” or “bubblehead,” almost as if she was purposefully refusing to address the thing by its actual term.
Some people strive to make a difference in other people’s lives. Her list of story ideas, many of which I’d never even consider taking on, demonstrated her drive to assist me in any way she could. It’s not just me — she spent more time volunteering than anyone could imagine.
When I returned home from lunch, after I snapped out of my food coma, I placed the notebook on my nightstand where, over time, papers and receipts and cards pushed it out of sight and out of mind. I did write the piece on rookie hazing, a feature story that ran last week. I have yet to discover what Gaylord Perry is doing with his spare time, though he’ll be inducted into the Cleveland Indians Hall of Fame in August, so I suppose I’ll have a chance to cross that idea off the list.
This is one story idea I wish I never had to conceive. But now I realize that I’m armed with tales of a remarkable woman that I can share with the rest of the world.