Until the End of the Ninth

Beth Mary Bollinger

FRIDAY, AUGUST 3: EAU CLAIRE

The day starts with a 6:30 a.m. television appearance, which means I drove back from Duluth in the middle of the night after the Thursday night game.  Okay, so now I really am tired….  During the interview, the newscaster mentions that I have “family” in the area, but doesn’t go into detail.  As she is wrapping up the interview, I say, “Wait – just one more thing – my uncle lives here in Eau Claire….”  Ha.  I got it in.  I leave a message for my uncle later that morning, letting him know he now been officially mentioned.  I call my dad too and tell him.  Too funny.

I am staying with my sister-in-law (my brother is out of town).  We visit with my grandmother, and then get ready for the evening game.  She is great to help me.  It’s nice, to visit, just the two of us like that.  That rarely happens.  

At the game, everyone comes up to tell me of who in my family they know that lives in Eau Claire – one uncle or the other, or my brother….  People buy books, are pleased with the donations….  It feels like this book signing is less about the book signing and more about remembering the legacy of my grandfather.  He managed a city league team back in the 1940s in this area – he would be pleased with the novel, I think.  It would matter to him.  I talk to some ball players.  I see a couple others walk into the locker room.  Rarely at games do I see the players themselves other than on the field.  It confirms my feeling that my time in Eau Claire is about being in the moment, not worrying about book sales. 

I talk to the guys doing the fundraiser for the Hall of Fame that they want to do for the Eau Claire team history.  Henry Aaron played in Eau Claire back in 1952.  I tell them that there is a connection between Henry Aaron and the 1946 team – that Ben Geraghty, who survived the bus crash, became Hank Aaron’s minor league manager down South in the only other year that Aaron played in the minors.  They say Ben was one of the best, and attribute his talent to the bus crash – that it awoke him to see the individual player right in front of him, and the potential held within.  It has been said that Henry Aaron thought Ben was the best manager he ever had, not just minor league manager.  Ben had that way.  

My other uncle has come to the game to say hello with one of my cousins.  It is wonderful to see them.  People say hello as they walk by, and my uncle introduces me.  “We’re proud of her,” he says to the people he knows.  So nice. 

The game is tied at the bottom of the ninth.  Is it going to be one of those magical games?  It goes into extra innings.  Energy is static.  At the top of the 12th, the other team hits in a run. There’s a sense of defeat in the audience.  Can the home team pull through?  We go to the bottom of the twelfth.  There is movement, there are hits.  A run scores, tying up the game.  Suddenly the bases are loaded.  But the Eau Claire pitcher is up to bat.  He is 0 for 5 for the night.  Of course.  He’s the pitcher.  He’s down in the count.  And then a wild pitch!  The base runner on third races home.  He scores!  The home team wins!   Just like at Greensboro.  I am not surprised.  How can I be surprised?  Given how the night has gone, I figured something special like this would happen.