Mom, the World Series & Breast Cancer

I feel that everyone associated with raising awareness for breast cancer can never be thanked enough for their efforts. This campaign has been everything that cause marketing should be. Build awareness, create platforms to raise monies to fund additional awareness programs and become part of the consciousness of the general public.

Today, you cannot miss the ubiquitous pink ribbon associated with breast cancer awareness, especially in October, which is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Whether you are watching an NFL game, turning the pages of a magazine or watching a local newscast, the breast cancer awareness message is prevalent.

I thought I would reflect a moment on how I wish this effort would have been as strong as it is now, 35 years ago. For years, I have dated my life by my passion, baseball, especially the New York Yankees. Regardless of what was happening in my life, I could recall a situation as it related to the Yankees or an event in major league baseball.
Thirty five years ago today on October 14, 1975, I sat down at the dinner table with my brother Frank and my dad Arthur in our small kitchen in the Bronx, as my mother Rose prepared to dish out some of her delicious sauce and pasta. However, just as everyone began to eat, my mom rose from the table and abruptly told us, “I have a lump on my breast and will need a mastectomy.”

These words sent a chill down my spine. I was only 13. I had suspected something was wrong the weekend before when I visited my grandmother in Brooklyn and saw my mother huddled with my grandmother and sister, showing them her side. I didn’t know for sure what was going on and didn’t say anything to her on our 20-minute drive home to the Bronx. Then confirmation of the problem came at the dinner table the following week.

Everyone was speechless. My mom was a very strong woman and didn’t normally reveal her emotions. She surely deserved to, having previously lost a baby at birth and my sister Geraldine at 2 ½ years to leukemia.

That night, still numb from the dinner conversation, I watched the World Series Game Three between the Cincinnati Reds and Boston Red Sox. To this day, this World Series is one of the greatest ever played and one of the most memorable ones I ever watched, not only because of the drama in each game, but because of the memories involved with my mom’s revelation of breast cancer.

Game Three went down in history because of a bunt play involving a little-known outfielder Ed Armbrister of the Reds. In the tenth inning of Game 3, with teammate César Gerónimo on base and nobody out, Amrbrister collided with Boston Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk while attempting a sacrifice bunt, leading to a wild throw by Fisk. Gerónimo was safe and the home plate umpire Larry Barnett did not rule interference. The Reds won the game 4-3. That play and Ed Armbrister, became forever etched in World Series lore.

A couple of weeks following Game Three by mom had a radical mastectomy at Mount Vernon Hospital. She then began her radiation and chemotherapy treatments. Stoic as ever, she kept her strength and humor, joking about her loss of hair and the salt and pepper fuzz that was growing back. She resumed work at a deli in New Rochelle. Everything seemed fine and it was soon another baseball season and my beloved Yankees got off to an amazing start and wound up wiring the field in the American League East.

Back then, there were no divisional series. The eastern and western division champions met in a five-game championship series for the pennant. Fortunately, my brother and his friends sent in for a mail lottery for tickets to Games 3-5 which were to be played at Yankee Stadium. They got eight tickets for each game, each with a face value of eight dollars and I was to be part of the group!

We sat eight rows up in the section right before the right field foul pole in the upper deck at Yankee Stadium. I’ll never forget the crowd roaring as Yankee pitcher Dock Ellis walked in after warming up in the bullpen prior to the game. The series was tied at a game apiece but it was time for the first post season game at Yankee Stadium since the 1964 World Series. I had waited my whole life for the Yankees to be good. Now, I was there at the playoffs and my mom and dad were watching the games at home.

My mom grew up a rabid Brooklyn Dodgers fan. She once had a baseball signed by the 1955 World Champion Dodgers but it got lost. She also told us she knew all of the members of the Brooklyn Dodgers Band. Her interest in baseball was no surprise to me. Ever since I was young enough to remember, family and friends of my mom would relay stories of her athletic prowess growing up in Brooklyn. Her nickname was “Butch” because she was a tom boy and one of the best athletes in the neighborhood. Unfortunately for my mom, she grew up in the 1930’s and 40’s before Title IX and before girls playing organized sports was allowed and encouraged. She probably could have competed as a collegiate athlete if she grew up  today.

The Yankees won game three and then dropped game four as George Brett smacked two long home runs off of Catfish Hunter that both landed a section over past the foul pole in the upper deck. We were so close that I can recall hearing the spin of the ball as it flew by. Now it was down to one game.

The Yanks led 6-3 and we started counting down the outs. Then, Brett hit a three-run homer off of Grant Jackson, stunning the crowd and it was 6-6. I was deflated but still confident. All series I kept saying that I thought the pennant would be won on a home run by Graig Nettles. He was the third batter due up in the bottom of the ninth-inning. However, there was a delay as fans in the right field stands began throwing objects on the field. Finally, after what seemed like at least a 15-minute delay, Chris Chambliss connected on Mark Littell’s first pitch and sent a towering fly ball to right field. I was able to watch it all the way and when I looked down, the Royals rightfielder Hal McRae leaped to try and catch it, but the ball cleared the wall and the Yankees were champions. We jumped up and down like little kids, hugging each other. The Yankees had finally won the pennant and I was there. The field was a sea of bodies as fans completely engulfed the field to celebrate and rip up the turf. Chambliss in fact never touched home plate. We then made our way down to the lower deck and then jumped down from the right field wall onto the field to celebrate. I’ll never forget everyone just hugging each other and chanting “Pete Rose sucks.”

When I got home, my mom and dad were all excited. They had watched the game. Since I got home late and woke up with the chills the next day, my mom allowed me to stay home from junior high school. Losing the World Series in four games to the Reds really didn’t matter. To me the World Series was the playoffs against the Royals, and when Chambliss connected for the pennant-winning home run, it was at the time, the greatest moment of my life.

Baseball had always filled a huge void for me in life. It had also erased a lot of bad memories. While I was at the ballpark I never once was thinking that a year earlier, my mom had told us of her breast cancer.

When I began writing this and looked up the dates of the Armbrister bunt and the Chambliss home run, I was amazed to find that they were both October 14. Thus, exactly one year to the date of my mom’s revelation that she had breast cancer, we were both celebrating in a different way. I was celebrating because my Yankees had won the pennant and my mom was celebrating that she had made it through one year of fighting cancer. She also was celebrating my enjoyment.

A year later, when the Yankees returned to the World Series and played the Los Angeles Dodgers, my mom was not there. She had died on May 16. However, I think when Reggie Jackson hit those three home runs in game six, she was in heaven cheering, even if it meant her beloved Dodgers were going down to defeat. As long as I was happy and had baseball, she knew I would be fine.

Tom Cosentino

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2 Responses to “Mom, the World Series & Breast Cancer”

  1. What a beautiful story Tom. So creative, so touching and memorable for sure. Thanks for sharing this gem. I am sure your Mom is still with you and proud as can be.

  2. Thank you for sharing this with us. Your Mom is proud!

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