Love, loss and the Indians

Club's postseason run much-needed after family heartbreak

November 4th, 2016

hit that home run, and I thought about James.
I had visited his grave on my way to Game 7. It's not something I'm prone to do, because I know he's not really there, and seeing your son's name on a headstone is a hurt I wouldn't wish upon anyone. But in that moment, I felt the need to thank him. Because as much as losing a baby halfway to term tests that faith instilled in you in all those formative years of ill-fitting Catholic school uniforms and midday masses and incense stinking up the hallways, when amazing things start happening in the wake of such a loss, you start to wonder if somewhere there's a tiny hand wrapped around your world.
We found out about James in August, at the 19-week mark. We didn't see it coming. We were just a few days from the ultrasound where we'd find out the gender. This was a routine checkup. The silence as the doctor searched for the heartbeat was deafening. We delivered him, we buried him and we miss him so much. It's an experience that has given us even greater empathy for all the families who go through similarly awful circumstances -- the miscarriages endured in awkward isolation, the stillbirths so close to or during labor.
It seems you're not supposed to talk about this kind of loss. You're supposed to grieve in the dark. Many of our friends didn't even know my wife was pregnant with our second child, so you're supposed to let it pass and play it cool when people say things like, "So do you guys plan to have more kids?" You're supposed to swallow hard when you take your daughter to the playground and another little girl comes up to you, unprompted, and sweetly says, "I have a little brother!" You're supposed to carry on quietly.
But James existed. I saw his picture. I heard his heartbeat. It's not his fault or my fault or my wife's fault that the umbilical cord got wrapped around his neck. And just because I never met him doesn't mean I didn't love him.
So what do you do with a loss like that? You pour yourself into your first-born daughter and your work. And in my wife's case, you root, root, root for the home team making magic and warming your broken heart.

My wife is an Indians fan and former team employee. That's how we met. We have so many wonderful friends in that organization, people who have endured the puny crowds and the incessant negativity and never stopped believing that the Cleveland Indians could do what they darn near did Wednesday night. My job, which once involved covering the Indians exclusively, is to be objective, and fandom, frankly, was beat out of me long ago (I never did completely forgive the Indians for trading future Hall of Famer Cory Snyder when I was an impressionable 10 years old). I root for good stories, period.
But is it OK to admit I wanted badly for the Indians to win the World Series? Because of what it would have meant for my hometown. Because of what it would have meant for my friends. And mostly, because of what it would have meant for my wife.
Crazy things started happening this October. The Indians beat the Red Sox in the American League Division Series. They beat the Blue Jays in the AL Championship Series. They won the pennant for the first time in 19 years, and I was blessed to be there for every inning. Baseball's parity has improved in the time I've been covering it, but I can honestly tell you, with the way things went down in 2007, when the Indians coughed up a 3-1 lead on the Red Sox in the ALCS, I honestly never thought I'd cover a Cleveland club in the World Series. Especially not in a season in which they lost two stud starters and an All-Star outfielder.
But it happened, and my wife was pumped. She got matching Tribe shirts to wear with our 22-month-old (who became quite good at following your "Let's go" with her "Triiiibe!") before every game. She had "Rally Together" towels all over the house, and one folded up neatly next to James' grave. She was into it, I was into it, everybody in Cleveland was into it, and a ballclub that does great things in your community, plays with passion even while short-handed and wins and wins and wins has a way of beating the objectivity right out of you.
So, yeah, I wanted badly for the Indians to win it all. Sue me. And as their incredible postseason ride played out, I couldn't stop myself from thinking, against my better judgment, that James was pulling some strings for his parents.
I remember going to Progressive Field the day after we delivered James, fighting back tears just before an MLB Network hit as I thought about the games we wouldn't attend, the moments we wouldn't have, all that father-son stuff. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind he would have been a baseball fan, a Tribe fan, and so, sure, it was only natural for that Catholic kid inside of me to feel his fandom impacting the outcomes.
This is the surge of feelings that ran through me when Davis connected on that improbable blast off an unhittable lefty fireballer. I felt chills, I choked up and I said, "Wow, James."

And I guess that's going to have to be enough, because the Indians, as you might have heard or saw, went on to lose that epic ballgame. They are not the World Series champs but, instead, a punch line for the snarks and the cynics who will hammer them for blowing a 3-1 lead. It's unavoidable, but also unfair, because this team meant something to me, to my wife and to so many others who loved the fight they showed against a team that was just deeper and better. And while it's ultimately silly to use sports to help heal a heart, that's what was happening here, which only makes the outcome all the more confusing and difficult to process. But as my sweetheart of a wife said to me just now, "There's a Cubs fan somewhere who really needed that win." Thousands of them, I'm sure.
What can you do, then, but be thankful for the experience? Baseball will break your heart, much like life itself. It's different than it is in your dreams. But the Game 7 result isn't enough to dissuade me from being thankful for the ride, and forever thankful to Terry Francona and the members of this incredible team that brought my wife so much joy in a time of need.
I'm writing this not for sympathy, because I know too well there are many people dealing with far worse than we have. I'm writing this as my own personal means to move on and to celebrate the invigorating power of sport as we all play through pain.
I never got to take my son to a World Series game. But I feel like he just took me to seven of them. Love you, son.