In Stealing Home, Donnie attends an Atlanta Braves game at Turner Field with his father, who has late-stage Alzheimer’s. An impatient man by nature, Donnie is torn between correcting his father’s belief that they are watching the Yankees of 1960 and relaxing enough to enjoy what might be the last game they attend together.
About the Author
Ray Morrison lives in Winston-Salem, North Carolina with his wife and three children. Ray is a practicing veterinarian, and when he’s not writing short stories, he ministers to the needs of dogs, cats, and rodents.
Ray’s debut collection of short stories, In a World of Small Truths, was published by Press 53 and is widely available. His fiction has appeared in Ecotone, Beloit Fiction Journal, Carve Magazine, and other literary journals.
Learn more about Ray’s work at his website: www.raymorrison.com
Stealing Home by Ray Morrison
My dad elbows me, scrunches his eyebrows, and says, “My God, Joltin' Joe looks awful. His swing has gone to hell.” Dad shakes his head. A glob of mustard clings to his chin. I reach over and wipe it off with a napkin.
He always says this when we come to the ballpark now. It doesn’t matter who the batter is or what team is playing. I'm learning not to argue with him. The first few times it happened, I had patiently explained that DiMaggio died in '99, and besides, we were watching the Braves. A couple of years back, before the Alzheimer's got too bad, he would consider my explanation and snap out of it for a bit. He’d say something like, “Oh, yeah, I meant Chipper Jones. He's swinging too early.”
Now I try to follow his doctor’s advice and just let him tell it like he sees it. But sometimes, like this afternoon, when he starts in again with the disparaging remarks about Joey D, it gets to me, so I squabble with him. I'm forty-seven years old, but his illness makes me feel twelve again.
I say, “If he's swinging so bad, how do you explain his batting average?”
He narrows his eyes and taps his finger against his temple. “You don't think I know he's hitting .325, do you?” He gives me a you-can't-fool-me wink and then thrusts his thumb in the general direction of home plate. “But that won't last long, he keeps this up.”
Even though I inherited my impatience from my father, it still feels bad when I use it against him. I often wish I were more like my mother. Sometimes I think God sent her to him because he knew what was coming at the end, that my father would need someone like her.
The three of us were at a restaurant the other day, and every time the waiter came by, Dad would complain that he didn't have a spoon.
“How do you expect someone to eat soup without a spoon?” he asked.
The waiter would look confused, and my mother would touch the waiter's arm and give him a smile. The kid would disappear into the kitchen, and then my mother would pick up the spoon resting next to Dad's plate and hand it to him.
“Here's a new spoon, dear,” she said.
Dad took the spoon and glanced at it, trying to figure out what he needed it for, and then he put it back on the table. This was repeated over and over, and each time the waiter walked away, my mother would once again offer the same utensil.
By the sixth or seventh time, I'd had it. I snapped at him. “Dad, please stop asking for a damn spoon.”
I apologized to the waiter, but it was pointless. I knew it would happen again. And not just there. Everywhere. Later that evening, and the next day, and for as many days as we had left.
In a crazy way, I envy my father. Every repeated sentence, every repeated action, is brand new for him. Each delusion is as real and solid as the ground he walks on. It is, I think, the disease's only mercy.
“You know what I could go for right about now?” my father asks. “A big ol' hot dog, that's what. Nothing better than a red hot at a ballgame, Donny.”
I glance at the half-eaten hot dog lying on the tray perched on his lap. I pick it up and hold it in front of him. “Here. I'm not going to finish mine, you can have it.”
“You sure?” he asks, taking it from me.
The crowd boos loud and long, and I turn to see that Andruw Jones has been called out on strikes to end the sixth inning.
“See there. What'd I tell you?” Dad says. His cheek is bulging with hot dog, and his words are garbled. He stretches his neck toward the field and cups his hand around his mouth. “C'mon, DiMaggio! Get it together or stay on the bench.” Little wads of hot dog and bun spray as he shouts, and a couple of men in the row below us turn to give Dad a dirty look.
“It'll be okay, Dad,” I say, putting my hand on his arm and guiding him back into his seat. “He'll get out of this slump soon.”
I check the scoreboard clock. It's a few minutes shy of three o'clock. I decide to leave during the seventh inning stretch so we can beat traffic. Barring any delays, we’ll make it back to Shelby by seven-thirty or eight.
“Hey, Donny, look at Yogi. Does he look a lot taller than usual?”
On the field, the Braves are getting set for the top of the seventh. The catcher adjusts his chest protector and then squats to take warm-up pitches from John Smoltz.
“Dad, that's not Yogi Berra. It's Javy Lopez.” But as I watch the catcher, it occurs to me that Lopez was traded to the Orioles a couple of years back. The catcher's name is Johnny Estrada. I start to tell my father, but he is staring out across the diamond. It doesn't matter.
“Remember when I brought you here the first time?” he says. His head rotates slowly from right field to left, taking in the ballpark.
Without effort, my mind retrieves the memory. My father—handsome, muscular, and younger than I am now—drove the three of us to Atlanta from North Carolina. I was seven and bouncing in the enormous back seat of our beige Rambler. My mother tried to get me to sit still, but Dad explained that it was no use because I was too excited about going to the game. He turned around and gave me a smile, like we shared a secret she could never know. And when we walked into Fulton County Stadium that afternoon, the outfield grass was so perfect and green—greener than any lawn back home. It was like I was finally seeing the color God intended for grass. The infield dirt was smooth and brown like sanded wood. I thought I'd never see a more beautiful place as long as I lived.
The announcer calls the name of the Phillies' batter as he steps to the plate.
Dad squints and leans forward, and his eyes look a little sad. The cardboard tray drops between his feet. He says, “Mantle and Maris played in the outfield. I'm glad I was able to take you to see them. There won't be many like them playing together.”
It takes me a second to realize he remembers our first game together as being at Yankee Stadium, a place I've never been.
“Hey, Donny, I've got an idea,” he says. “What say we work our way down to the field right after the game and get the two of them, and maybe Yogi if we can, to sign a ball for you?”
With arched eyebrows and eyes full of expectation, he waits for my reaction to the surprise gift he's given me. And then it occurs to me that this is our last game together.
What would it cost me? A couple hours' delay getting home? It would be easy, too. After the game, we’d head down to the railing with a ball I'd buy at the souvenir shop and get any player—heck, maybe even the batboy—to sign it. I would explain quietly what was going on and see if they’d write the Mick's name. The rest would be a snap. The two of us oohing and aahing over our treasure—just Dad and me.
I stand and say, “Well, we'll need a ball. Let's go to the souvenir shop and get one.”
My father grins, grips the handles of the seat, and tries to push himself up. I take his arm—thin and bony and fragile—and help him. We amble down the ramp toward the dark tunnel that leads to the concourse.
As we make our way, my mind searches for the Yankees of my youth. “Hey, Dad, how 'bout after Mantle and Maris, we try to get Tony Kubek to sign the ball, too?”
My father stops and jerks his arm from my hand with surprising strength. He glares at me. I can't read his eyes, but I feel he is onto me; his memory has cleared for a moment, and he knows what I am trying to do.
“Kubek?” he says. He turns to look at the field for a moment then takes a step closer and puts his face so close to mine I can smell the hot dog on his breath. “You tell me you want to have Tony Kubek's signature on the same baseball as Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris?” He sighs and shakes his head. “Why, Kubek is nothing. Now, Rizzuto—there was a shortstop. No, son, Kubek ain't spoiling our ball.”
My father heads down the ramp. I reach forward and grab his elbow and let him lead us away from the brilliant sunshine of Turner Field.
About the Story
In Stealing Home, a middle-aged man grapples with the frustrations and challenges of dealing with his father's late-stage Alzheimer's disease. At an Atlanta Braves baseball game, the man realizes he may have one last chance to connect with the father he loves and will soon lose.
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