A conversation with Pops
by rick olivares
Saturday, September 27, 2003
“Huh? Whozat? Lolo? Is that you?” I rubbed at my eyes.
“Have you forgotten? You have to wake up. We’re going to be late for the game.”
I fought off the last vestiges of sleep and sat up on my bed. Directly across me was my Lolo Ramon. “Where am I?” I said stifling a yawn.
“You’re in Clinton Avenue, New Jersey. Where else?” he said putting down the paper. “Big game today. The Baltimore Orioles are in town. Roger Clemens is pitching.”
“What you are is late. It’s one o’clock in the afternoon.” I got home early Saturday morning after watching a concert in the Bowery. Today was an afternoon game that was scheduled to be played at 4:05pm.
I bounded out of bed and headed for the shower. I thought the cold water would jar me back to reality. But pops was right there outside reading the sports pages. The stench from his tabacalera cigars as always assaulted my olfactory senses. But that wasn’t my concern. I felt hot tears stream down my cheeks (that the water washed away).
When I was done, I dried myself up and put on my replica Yankee jersey of Derek Jeter and looked at the mirror.”
“Like Mickey Mantle!” my gramps pronounced of his favorite Yankee. He put down the paper. It was time to go.
“I’m excited,” I beamed suddenly reverting to that young shy kid who came alive on the baseball diamond. “Thanks, pops.”
“Love you too, kid. Now let’s go. We have a game to catch.”
We took the 99S bus along JFK Boulevard to Port Authority. It was 10:15am and all in all it would take us about a little over an hour to get to the Bronx. Sitting next to him on the bus, I looked at pops. “Pops, how are you?” I said biting my lip as I tried to fight back the tears. I knew he had cancer.
“I’m okay,” he said in that reassuring tone I knew so well. “The pain is gone.”
He paused for a second then changed gears. “You think Clemens still has it?”
I was grateful for the diversion but there was so much I wanted to ask him. We talked about the game and the state of the Yankees post-Paul O’Neill, Tino Martinez, and Scott Brosius. Just when it looked like the dynasty had come to an end with the loss in the 2001 World Series to Arizona, the Bronx Bombers looked good this year. There was talk of another World Series title. I told him that I saved quite a lot of money to buy a lot of Yankee paraphernalia. We were going to witness history.
Gramps cautioned me about my spending ways: “You don’t have to spend all your money, son. The stadium isn’t going away. Spend only what you need. You have to send money back home.”
We took the D train from 42nd and 6th Avenue. A lot of the straphangers were in Yankee attire.
When the train emerged from beneath the subway into the hot afternoon sun, several of the fans let out a yell of delight and gleeful anticipation. Pops ruffled my hair.
We had arrived in pinstriped heaven. There were thousands and thousands of people milling about 161st and River Streets. There were stores that sold Yankee gear and memorabilia. There were carts that sold sausages, hotdogs, pretzels, and kebabs. There were a few tailgate parties being held.
“We’re finally here!” I said as I was suddenly seven years old again. I was flush with excitement as it was my first time. "I can't believe it but we're here!"
“Let’s walk around the stadium; we’re early anyway,” said a smiling Pops. It was his first time here as well. We had photos taken around the area. Talked to some other fans including a Filipino family from also lived in New Jersey.
Around 12:30pm, we made our way inside. Our tickets were in the Upper Tier meaning the highest level of the stadium. On a hot summer afternoon in New York, we brought some caps and sunglasses. We bought a couple of hotdogs with everything on it. You simply had to do everything to absorb the ultimate stadium experience.
We sang along to the Village People’s “YMCA” while the grounds crew groomed the infield after the fifth inning.
We sang along to “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh inning stretch.
We waited for Jason Giambi to hit a home run but playing DH that day, he went hitless in two at bats. Instead, we saw Juan Rivera (playing first base for Giambi that day) crush the fourth pitch thrown to him by Jason Johnson in the bottom of the fourth inning scoring Hideki Matsui and Aaron Boone to break a 2-2 tie.
Four innings later, Rivera clubbed a solo jack for a 6-2 lead that would eventually be the final score.
Cuban defector Jose Contreras took the mound from Clemens in the seventh and pitched two scoreless innings before handing it off to Felix Heredia for the ninth.
We got to see Alfonso Soriano, Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, and Hideki Matsui play. We hoped for Mariano Rivera to close it out but better for the Yanks to bash the Orioles than keep a close game. That game was special too because the Yankees won their 100th game of the season.
We exchanged high fives with other delirious Yankee fans in the stands. Pinstriped heaven indeed.
When the match ended and the PA system was blaring Frank Sinatra’s “New York New York”, Pops and I stayed until the song was over. It was about seven in the evening.
“C’mon. Let’s get some dinner,” urged Pops.
We took the 4 train to Union Square where we bought food from the street vendors. We sat by the park and watched the world go by us.
“How do you like living here,” Pops asked while taking a bite out of sandwich.
This was it. This was where gramps was going to set me straight. To tell me to grow up and take life seriously.
“I like it. It tough. Definitely no cakewalk but I like it. There are days when I get lonely. There are days when I feel like I am on top of the world.”
“This will be good for you,” he said in a sage-like manner. He then lit up that tabacalera he brought along. “Victory cigar,” he interjected referring to the Yankees’ win. “Going back… this whole experience will toughen you up.”
We talked some more until Pops checked his wristwatch. "It’s late. If we don’t get back to Port Authority we’ll have to go downstairs where the busses run on later schedules.”
It was past 11pm when we got back to New Jersey. We got off at the corner of Clinton Avenue and made the short walk to the house. I kept looking around mindful of a mugging a few days ago.
“We’ll be okay,” promised Pops. “I’m here.”
Pops put his arm around me and muzzled my hair.
At the house, I fished for my key and opened the door. “I had fun today, Pops. Real fun. It was the best.”
“Me too, kid. Me too.”
“Pops, are you okay?”
“Never better.” Then he looked me in the eye: “Remember what I told you earlier about this place toughening you up?”
“You’ll be just fine. You’re made of stern stuff.”
I gave him a hug.
“Goodnight, Pops. Thanks. This was truly a great day.”
He broke the embrace. “See you soon.”
I went inside and closed the door. Like an idiot who forgot something, I quickly opened it and peered out but Pops was gone.
“I love you, Pops.” I said aloud. “Wherever you are.”
I went to bed and cried myself to sleep. You see, my grandfather passed away in 1991. More than a decade after his death, I missed him terribly. But he was always with me. And he still is to this day.
In all my life, I don’t recall telling my grandfather that I loved him. Maybe I did. But I don’t remember. The quote from 18th century American author Harriet Beecher Stowe (who wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin) has been a painful reminder: “The bitterest tears shed over a grave are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone.”
As a kid, I spent my summer and vacations with my grandparents in Tarlac where my mom hails from. I always looked forward to going there because I enjoyed being with my Lolo Ramon or “Pops” as I called him. He was a strong person who meant a lot to me. One time, during a typhoon, his old Chevrolet Malibu stalled in a flood. He got down along with my uncle to push the car. He stepped on a nail that punctured his shoe. He went back home. Got it cleaned out then put back his boots and went to work. That made a strong impression on me which is why to this day even if I am not feeling well, I go to work. It was what Pops would do.
Being in Tarlac meant I’d go to Clark Air Base where I could buy comic books that weren’t available in Manila. We could go to Dau and I’d buy vinyl albums of my favorite bands. It also meant that I could play baseball all day long.
In Ateneo, football is the first sport you take up. At least during my time. As much as I loved the game, I took to baseball. I’d spend afternoons watching these American kids play baseball at Clark or sometimes Subic (I could get in because my grandfather once worked for the US Army). When I had no one to play with, my grandfather would play catch with me and those remain a wonderful memory.
He introduced my to the New York Yankees and we’d listen to radio broadcasts on the US Armed Forces radio.
It wasn’t only in sports where we bonded. My grandfather was an excellent writer and a voracious reader. He passed on to my priceless issues of Time, Life, Newsweek, and Reader’s Digest that I still have today. It was he and my uncle who introduced me to comic books as well.
“Pops” passed away in 1991. His passing left a gaping hole in my heart.