The love of Cleveland Indians baseball runs in her veins. She reads and listens about the trades in the offseason. Debates at the dinner table touch on issues surrounding the starting lineup, pitching matchups, and who’s hot and who’s not. She defends every decision that Tito makes during a game — even when others may disagree. The debate can get heated. But when Nana shakes her crooked, arthritic finger, the room concedes to her opinion.
On game day she begins to plan and prepare her meal with a snack tray in front of the television. Perched in her lucky spot on the couch next to my husband, Jay — inches from one another, popcorn in their laps, the room begins to buzz. Unfortunately, her macular degeneration makes it hard for her to see the faces of the players with great clarity. To compensate, her private sports announcer begins the play by play with the added benefit of colorful commentating on questionable calls while she shoots back expletives that can be heard in the neighbor’s yard.
As the oldest and most devoted fan, she has been blessed to receive the VIP treatment from the Dolan family. Honored to throw out the first pitch when she turned 100 years old — but not just any pitch. Determined not to throw an “old lady” underhanded toss, she practiced her windup and overhand pitch for several weeks in the front yard. With the help of five generations who tossed the ball in a line from the pitcher’s mound to get her closer, she successfully threw a high-and-tight heater to Zach McAllister.
When asked why baseball is so important to her, she answers, “For three hours, we get to watch America’s game — the game that makes time slow to a pace where we can savor each moment. Other sporting games are fast-paced and aggressive. I like the rhythm of baseball — the sharp, crisp, and joyful movements. It is like being a child again — playing for the fun of the game,” she says. It is why Omar Vizquel is still her favorite player. “Watching him play was like watching a very talented kid have fun,” she laughed. To honor Nana, Omar signed a personal message on a jersey for her, and for her 102nd birthday she was invited on the field when he was inducted into the Cleveland Indians Hall of Fame.
Now, at the ripe age of 104 years old, she wears a shirt that says, “Just One Before I Die.” The owners laugh, saying they want to blow up that picture and put it in the locker room to motivate the players. But Nana believes that there is something already very special about this group of young men. She thinks they are motivated as a team — no egos on this squad. She prays each night for the health of the players that this special group of “young men” will get to experience a World Series victory together as a team. For herself, she hangs on to the desire to live long enough to just once more feel the thrill of watching her beloved Cleveland Indians win the World Series. Then, with her raspy voice, she laughs hard and says, “After that I will be ready to die — I think.”
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