Grace of the game

I have a man cave. It’s a room with a TV, an exercise bike gathering dust and my chair. 

My centerpiece is a floor-to-ceiling bookcase stuffed with pictures of my daughter and her kids, icons and religious art, antique tin cans and a few old tennis trophies from when I could move. 

I’ve also got three baseballs. One is a personally autographed ball from Tom Seaver, the Hall of Fame pitcher from my New York Mets.  

Along with his signature, Seaver wrote: “To Bob, Go Sox!”  

It was signed by Seaver in the last year of his career when he was finishing up with the Red Sox. 

It was meant to be funny, as this was 1986 and the Sox were about to play the Mets in the 1986 World Series. Seaver wouldn’t pitch in the series because of an injury. 

The punch line is that this was the famous — or infamous — World Series where the Mets forced a seventh game with a come-from-behind ninth inning win when a ball went through the legs of Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner. The Mets went on to win the seventh game and the Series. 

“Go Sox,” indeed. 

The second ball on my bookcase is signed by a bunch of guys from St. Gregory Parish in Zelienople, Pa., thanking me for a talk. They gave me the ball and gas money — one of the best deals ever. 

Baseball is a funny thing. It seems downright silly to somebody who thinks of baseball as paint drying. But when you love the game and everything about it, eyeing a ball that’s been somewhere and done something is a catechesis on how grace builds on nature. 

My son and I did a pilgrimage to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., recently. We got there the night before and stayed at a little motel run by an old feller who told us the rooms were cash only and had no phone or a clock. Seemed perfect. 

The next morning before heading over to the Hall, another old feller approached me as I waited by the car. Retired truck driver, it was his first visit, too. “I’m going over with my son,” I said, and I loved his answer: “You’re too old to have a son.” 

I explained that I was talking about my 35-year-old son, not a little guy, and that made sense to him. 

If you love baseball, you will love the Hall of Fame. It’s one of those rare man-made places on God’s good earth that exceeds expectations.  

I’m in a place where I’m looking at Babe Ruth’s bat with my son, then peering at a priceless Honus Wagner baseball card as if we were viewing the “Mona Lisa” at the Louvre.  

I told my son all the old stories about the old players as if they were personal friends. 

I was sitting on a bench when the old feller from the motel parking lot spotted me and took a seat. We talked a bit of baseball and then my son came over and I introduced him. The old feller began to really chat him up. 

Eager to see the next exhibit, I pulled my son away and gave a rather quick goodbye.  

It was only later that I realized that the old feller was by himself and a kid — even a long grown-up kid — would have made for good company. Too often I don’t realize the right thing to do until it is too late to do it. 

Yes, grace builds on nature. And sometimes our nature lets grace down. 

The third baseball in my bookcase was last hit on June 13, 1991. It was a game-winning home run “hit on the big dimond” by a kid just a season out of Little League — a better ballplayer than speller. 

But he went to the Hall of Fame and listened to his old man’s hagiography of the game. And that’s all that really matters. 

Happy Father’s Day to all.

Robert P. Lockwood writes from Pennsylvania.