“It was awful for him,” Kaiser said. After the Indians’ bus crash, Lohrke took it upon himself to drive one of his teammate’s widows back to her parents’ home in San Francisco. Then, continuing on to San Diego, he consoled another teammate’s widow there. When he finally reported to his new team, the owner chewed him out for taking so long to arrive from Spokane. “Where have you been?” the man barked. Lohrke replied, “I’ve been delivering widows.”
Suddenly, I heard myself thinking aloud in Kaiser’s office, struggling to process my own, more banal good fortune as much as her dad’s. How could Jack Lohrke — how could anyone with moral integrity — look back on his survival and feel unequivocally good and deserving of it and also not wind up racked with compassion and hypersensitive to risk? “I think,” Kaiser said, “you’d have to be pretty egocentric to think there’s some overriding meaning about the importance of your life as opposed to somebody else’s.
“He was always worried about us,” Kaiser went on. Lohrke usually seemed quite even-keeled, but he would fly into a panic whenever one of his children failed to get home before dark. Kaiser remembered one day, when she was 7 or 8, her dad was up on the roof fixing something, and she begged pitifully to be allowed up to help. Finally, her father caved. “Dad said, ‘Aw, bring her up here.’” And she was hoisted up.
Lohrke sat his little daughter down, pulled the extra denim of her pant legs away from her body, and proceeded to hammer nails through the fabric, all around, securing his child to the shingles so she wouldn’t slide off.
“I was happy as a clam,” Kaiser told me, “just sitting up there, just being where he was.”
I bought two hot dogs in the top of the fourth but didn’t win any money. In truth, I suspected I didn’t even have a chance of winning money, because I happened to order my hot dogs at a moment when the smaller of Avista Stadium’s two concession stands momentarily ran out of hot dogs — a fleeting and completely forgivable collapse of hospitality that, nevertheless, I’m sure will pain Otto Klein to read about here. Within minutes, workers scuttled in from the stadium kitchen, first with a tray of hot dogs, then with two bags of buns, to clear the backlog of customers. I watched the people behind the counter assemble and wrap them together as fast as they could. In their haste, they seemed to have abandoned the project of stuffing any dollars in the dogs. Later, though, I learned that this wasn’t an oversight. All the money was disbursed in the early innings. I’d misunderstood and missed the whole thing.
Honestly, I didn’t care. It was a trivial blip of disappointment at worst. I realized I hadn’t been to a baseball game since I chaperoned my daughter’s field trip to see the Mariners in the spring of 2019, and I felt grateful just to soak up all the usual, wonderful baseball stuff happening around me, the nuanced inflections of an experience that I’d known all my life. I was reconnecting with all the nostalgic clichés — the crack of the bat, and so on — but also subtler particulars: the helpless sensation of scampering to the bathroom and hearing, from the other side of the stands, a tense, collective roar, then a terrible, collective groan, and knowing I missed an opposing player’s home run; watching a little redheaded girl, the age of my younger daughter, creep down the right-field seats toward the Indians bullpen clutching a green Crayola marker, flip through her program and match the number on the closest player’s back to his name, and then screw up the courage to ask Mr. Whoever He Was for his autograph; the anesthetizing, stadium-wide wash of white noise and murmuring that can miraculously set in during the doldrums of a very long at-bat.