A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I, with the baby in the backseat, were driving home to spend the weekend with my parents and see some friends and relatives. We got to talking about my grandma, who passed away some seven or eight years ago. There was no one quite like Grandma Long, a spunky lady who overflowed with wisdom, loved people and fun, and worked harder in her retirement than I will likely ever work in my life. Every loss leaves a hole, but some holes are bigger than others, and the void created when she was killed one night in a car accident was massive.
As we were saying we missed her, I realized, and said to Lisa, that it’s sad knowing Wyatt, my son, will never know her. That someone who was such a major part of my life will be known to my son only through stories is something I had never given much thought. Life moves on. Lord willing, he will know and love people I will never meet, but there are people and memories I wish could be part of his life as they are mine.
I had a similar thought yesterday in the Mariners team store. They had a collection of the new alternate jerseys with the usual suspects on the back: Cano, Felix, Cruz, Zunino. And there at the end of the row was Griffey’s #24, and I thought, with another tiny bit of sadness, “Wyatt will never see Ken Griffey Jr. play baseball.”
It’s surprising, when you stop to think about it, how short a baseball career is in the course of a life. My brother is about nine years younger than I am. At this point, we experience much together, because we are good friends but also because we are grown and finally at similar points in our lives. Still, that nine year gap distinctly changes memories. He was five when the ’95 Mariners made their playoff run. I frequently rave about Randy Johnson, but he has few memories of the Big Unit as a Mariner. His pitching hero, as a fellow lefty, was Jamie Moyer, about whom I’ve always been somewhat lukewarm, probably because of those Johnson memories. Nine years is not much between friends or brothers, but it’s half a career for the greatest left-handed pitcher of all time.
What is thrilling and restorative about sports is there is a new legend for every generation. I have Griffey and Randy and Edgar, and Jordan and Pedro and Vlad and Marques Tuiasosopo and so many others. But I grew up listening to my dad talk about Willie Mays and Sonny Sixkiller, whom I didn’t come close to seeing. We might miss a legend, but if we are lucky enough to live a long, full life, we will see many more.
I envy Wyatt those early years of fandom and discovery, which I’m long past and from which he’s still some years away. He has yet to make his first trips to Safeco and Husky Stadium. He gets to experience for the first time baseball and football and basketball, not to mention books and music and everything else that makes life wonderful. He spent his first months in the hospital, fighting to live, and it thrills my heart to know he will never remember those months, that I can bear those hard memories for him as a father so he can fill his memory with sunny days spent with those he loves.
I don’t know who Wyatt’s legends will be. He’s too young to really remember anything but the tail end of any current player’s career. Maybe Mike Zunino, who I’ve decided is his current favorite player, will still be around. The timeline could be about right for Alex Jackson or even maybe Taijaun Walker. He’ll be wearing a Felix jersey onesie tomorrow for opening day, and I hope he gets to half-remember a couple of his vintage seasons. Most likely, his sports and music heroes are currently teenage kids in the middle of nowhere, waiting to be drafted or get their big break.
Sports are regenerative, and I can only hope Wyatt’s legends are as great as mine were. I know they will be, because that is their nature; legends are made as much by our lives and memories as they are by their own greatness. I don’t know the names, and I don’t know where his life will take him, but I know he has so much ahead.