Vol. 3, No. 2: Today’s Baseball Fans photo

ICUDerek JG Williams

My mother chose the day of her dying. How many of us get to do that? She, who couldn’t keep living, fixed it, like an appointment on a schedule. On her never-ending to do list, it was the last task to be completed. The results, like every other task in life, uncertain.


I’d brought a book with me to the hospital. There’s a book for every situation, but I didn’t read that day. There was a television mounted to the wall of the room, near the ceiling. It was angled down at us, the sound muted. My father didn’t bring anything. He quietly watched TV. We sat together. Saskia had brought a book too, along with some crocheting. I absently changed the channels. Saskia worked on an afghan, a bag of yarn beside her. My mother’s eyes were closed. I changed the channel. I changed it again, and again. Flip. Flip. Click. Like how we used to do it. A baseball game was on. The season hadn’t started yet, but preseason games were happening in Florida and Arizona. It was still morning, too early for a game. I stopped flipping and left it on. We kept watching, and I realized it was a replay of a classic: the 1996 World Series, Yankees, Braves. I left the game on.

Look what’s on. 

My mother opened her eyes. They’re not playing yet—it’s too early. 

It’s not live. This is an old one. Remember this game? It’s an old game. They come back. The Yankees come back and win. 1996, I think? 

We watched all those games. We went to so many games during those years. She smiled.

Leave it on.

It was true. There were years, when I was a teenager, we went to ten or twenty Yankee games a season, driving the two hours there and the two back on weekends. We split the tickets, Sunday tickets, with a family friend. They were on the first base side. We sat six rows back, near the home team dugout. They were amazing seats. If it was quiet enough, if there was a lull in play, you could hear the players in the dugout. 

In the 1996 World Series the Yankees were losing to the Braves. They were losing the overall series too. In 2022, we watched the game; they were down six to nothing in the middle innings. As a teenager, watching at home in Connecticut, I’d given up. I couldn’t stand it. It was too difficult, excruciating. With the Yankees down six to nothing, I’d abandoned the television and my family, who huddled around the game together on the sofa. I went to my room and closed the door. I turned on the radio. I turned off the lights and lay in bed. I thought it’d be easier to hear them lose, rather than watch it happen. I tuned the radio to 660 AM out of New York. It came in clear that night in 1996. They came back. I listened to it happen: hit after hit, runners rounding the bases of the dirt diamond framed by so much lush green grass. The crowd noise tremendous from the small cheap radio beside my bed. 

My mom yelled from the living room, clapping, yelling for me: Derek! You’ve got to see this!

I rushed from my room when the Yankees tied the game. It went to extra innings. I sat with my family and watched them come back and win. In the days that followed, they came back and beat the Braves in the series and won their first World Championship since 1978. 


My mother closed her eyes again. I turned up the volume on the game. The excitement of the announcers voices and the steady clamor of the crowd were our soundtrack. The doors to the room slid open and closed when nurses came in and out, shielding us from the rest of the ICU. The room gave privacy, which was the opposite of almost every other hospital experience I’d ever had with my mother. When you’re dying, you finally get the good room—I guess that’s what it takes. The nurses brought in sandwiches from the cafeteria. My mother wanted a burger and fries. My brother took her order, what she wanted on it, and left to get it while we grazed on the bland sandwiches and coffee. The Yankees won. With the game over, a pregame show began for a live spring training game from St. Petersburg, Florida.

Mom, they’re going to play now. It’ll be live. This is happening now.

Leave it on, she said.

I hope Judge is playing.

Aaron Judge is a twelve-year old’s idea of a professional athlete. He’s six-seven, and weighs two hundred and eighty pounds. He hits home runs with a flick of the wrist. He’s that strong. When he debuted on the team as a rookie, a section of fans sitting in the right field of Yankee Stadium, where his home runs often landed, began dressing up in long black gowns and white wigs. They were the Judge’s Chambers. It was a good bit. 

We watched and the game began. My mother ate almost all of her burger, and picked at the French fries. The Yankees were at bat, hitting. Judge stepped to the plate, towering over the catcher and the umpire, both crouched near him. 

The moment before the pitcher begins his windup, looking in at the catcher, getting the sign, nodding, the batter looking on, is all possibility. Anything could happen. Outcomes narrow when the ball, it red seams spinning, leaves the pitcher’s hand. When the hitter makes contact, and the ball jumps off the bat, aloft, the camera wide, the arc of the ball, the flawless green expanse of the outfield with the fielder drifting back, effortlessly—joy and disappointment are possible. More likely than not, it’ll be disappointment. Fans knows this. Great hitters fail far more often than they succeed. The players know this. Disappointment wins. But possibility is vital and eternal. The home run hit and not hit, caught at the warning track. He got under it too much. The wind shifted. The fielder made a great catch, timing his jump, reaching over the fence, robbing the batter, delighting or disappointing the fans, depending on their rooting interests. 

The home run is in defiance of death. It’s the least likely outcome in the face of inevitability. We sat together, my father, Saskia, my brother, his fiancé, and I. My mother lay there between us all. The ball left the pitcher’s hand. We watched Aaron Judge’s flawless swing. 

That one looks good, I said. He got all of it and then some. 

The home run is an affirmation of life—at least it was that day. The home run is a relic: numbers and history. The arc of the bat. The plane of the swing. The lift of the ball. The rotation of the hitter’s hips. Head down, he makes perfect contact. The path of the ball preordained by the swing but difficult to predict—the commentators call it towering. Massive. The crowd’s intake of breath before cheering, airless and so much gravity, doing its job, flags out beyond the bleachers, the American flag extended, waving. Head up, the hitter trots to around the bases. He’s at his leisure. Head down, the pitcher kicks at the rubber on the mound. He paws at his glove: the smell of leather that has defined his life.

A home run. 

Judge, massive; he can mash. Aaron Judge crosses home plate and celebrates. It’s a small celebration. It’s only spring training, after all. It’s 2022. He will hit 62 home runs, most ever in baseball’s post-steroid era. Most in the American league since 1961, when Roger Maris hit 61. These numbers are so beautiful, odd and even, asymmetrical. The popularity of baseball is waning and I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. It’s a slow game, a game that is an experience. It’s a painting you look at that moves. It’s better to attend, to go to a game and see the dimensions of the field, to eat and drink and watch. 

We watched Judge homer in the hospital ICU. My mother opened her eyes when I told her about it. She watched the replay. She smiled so much that day.