One hundred and eight is the number of prayer recitation beads in at least three faiths and the number of sun salutations. It is the number of feelings we recognize and the alcohol proof of Wild Turkey Rare Breed Bourbon Whiskey. One hundred and eight is the number of stitches on a baseball and the number of lessons that can be found in that game for managing an alcoholic life.
This summer, in 54 innings and counting, while my seat neighbors follow games on the scoreboard and in the program, I have been taking commentary from Mickey Mantle. With his memoir “All My Octobers” tucked inside me, I have watched baseball as a metaphor for alcoholism come to. Even with the togetherness for which it is known, baseball is a game of aloneness. No one can field the ball that is yours, or correct the pitch that leaves a catcher’s mitt empty because the ball you threw met the bat instead. And when you are granted a walk, only you know how much you might make of that unexpected chance.
Over time, every game is reduced to an inning. Errors, outs, hits and runs are absorbed by final scores. Players are ultimately described by career averages that don’t reflect their best moments. The ones for which they are remembered. Like a hit that turned around a series, or a catch that became the reason for the transfer of a pennant from defending champions to a team long-in-waiting. It is the highs and lows in equal measure that craft the forward to our time at play.
Like in baseball, a life with alcoholism has its wins and losses. Too often, the decisions not taken that could have changed the game are forgiven. And forgotten. While some can stay in the game longer because of a strong support system, good health or luck, only one in ten people with alcoholism ever round home plate. The others remain on base, hoping the next hit will bring them closer. Some never take a swing.
Swenny will not even pick up the bat. When confronted again this week about his escalating drinking, he is choosing to wait. For me to either change the subject or deliver an expectation that doesn’t send him away from home. A sober house? Rehab? He has tried those, he tells me, and they didn’t work. When I suggest he consider getting a place of his own, there is no response at all.
So that leaves me in a batting order of one. Before I step up to the plate, though, I am going to take a lesson from number seven and kneel first in the on-deck circle. To take in all that is at play so that my approach has purpose. Because if it’s true that grace bats last, I need a hit.
“Thank God for Baseball.” ~ Mickey Mantle