Rachel’s Spirit & I Visit Comerica Park
Earlier this month I took my niece Rachel’s spirit to Comerica Park, where we saw the Detroit Tigers host the Chicago White Sox. We arrived a few minutes before the game got underway, so a bit of ballpark exploring was conducted. Then it’s off to find some seats just in time to catch the singing of our national anthem and the ceremonial first pitch. Then the game started. I’d never seen the White Sox veteran right-hander Gavin Floyd or the Tigers fast-baller Max Scherzer pitch in person, and was pleasantly surprised when both performed well. A pitcher’s duel quickly unfolded.
That was all right with me. There’s a sort of poetry to a game of this nature, and in its quietness, I got a chance to get in touch with my feelings and to remember the events of the previous year, a time when my twenty-six year old niece fought a valiant but ultimately losing battle against cancer. She fought like ten tigers and then, surrounded with love, fought some more. Selfless care from family, friends and loved ones enabled Rachel to remain in her home in Washington, DC for as long as she could. Her fight had ended and now the family had returned to Michigan. I held over longer than most to spend time with the family, and to come to the ball park, where somehow, the game wasn’t very important.
That was okay. This was my day to remember Rachel in my own way. The first occasion I spent some significant time with her was in the summer of 1994. That’s when I took this picture of Rachel and her younger sister Jessica. We all had a lot of fun together. I remember a spirited game of Clue, one of those Milton Bradley board games that you played when you were a kid. It was during that game that I gave the sisters their nicknames. You see, if you are a woman or girl in my life and I love you, you get a nickname. There are two things I remember about that game, and the other one was that I could tell that Rachel played to win.
Slowly, as if coming out of a daze, my attention returned to the game. All had been quiet and now here we were in the bottom of the second, when the Tigers found and exploited sweet spots between the White Sox second baseman, shortstop and third baseman. Both Andy Dirks and Austin Jackson struck ground balls that snuck through the infield and hopped happily into left field. Sometimes the balls really do miss the gloves. Other hits by Alex Avila and Jhonny Peralta were added to the mix and just like that the Tigers led by a margin of 2 to 0.
So we went into the third inning on the upbeat, happy with the action and hoping for more. But Scherzer remained sharp and Floyd regained his command, so the pace of the game quieted down once again, and the zeroes began to take over the scoreboard. I found myself thinking about baseball. It’s a different kind of sport, and in some ways, a bit off from the others. When a team is on offense its opponent holds the ball. Every outfield is different. There’s no clock. If the teams continue to tie each other, a game can go on forever. The players wear caps to keep the sun out of their eyes, and most of the games are played at night. The rules, players, managers and other factors remain the same, yet each game is different. Sooner or later this team sport comes down to personal achievement. You step up to the plate in the spotlight, with hope, expectation and skill, trying your best during each at bat.
Yeah, Rachel was like that, trying her best, and usually succeeding at whatever endeavor she undertook. Blogging. Cooking. Friendship. Hiking. Networking. Debating. Living. Loving. This young woman had a healthy batting average, and boy, did she have power, in every sense of the word. Home run power. Knock your socks off power. Zinging sense of humor power. Telling it like it is power. Unforgettable power.
I looked up and tried to bring my attention back to the game which I was both watching and ignoring. Then I slowly began to realize that my thoughts and remembrances of Rachel directly reflected the action on the field. The measured pace of each pitcher’s dominance gave me the space to feel sadness, sorrow and loss. When the action picked up, and the runs were scored or a terrific defensive play was made by a player in the field, I celebrated this dazzling, vital, spirited young woman who was much more than my niece. Rachel was my teacher, encouraging me to start this blog and talking me through some of the technical problems that I encountered. Rachel was a totally cool and hip young woman who lived her life non stop, communicating her truth at all times. I burst at how proud I was of her. I loved her.
The contest entered its final phase when the relief pitchers took over. It looked like the Tigers were going to win the game when they entered the top of the ninth leading 2 to 1. Then came a White Sox base runner and an Adam Dunn home run that was hit so hard and so far that it’s probably still going. That home run gave the Chicagos a 3 to 2 lead, but that was the least of it. It reminded me of Rachel. That home run was pure Rachel, changing the game in one stroke and immediately getting the attention of 45,000 people. That’s how the game ended, too, Chicago 3, Detroit 2. Fans emptied out and the stadium grew quiet.
I was reminded of Rachel once again. In pure baseball terms, she was a grand slam who lit up the park as she triumphantly ran the bases and touched home. Now she has touched a different type of home, one that was unexpected, and countless people feel an emptiness, a space that will be difficult to fill. Yet we must. To know her and remember her is to honor her, and to honor her we must get on with our lives. She wanted people to follow their hearts. She sure followed hers, and by doing so packed more living into her twenty-six years than most people do in a lifetime. Rachel is in our hearts, rooting for us and cheering us on, with a presence so real, so vital and so energetic that we can feel it. It is in that presence that she is still with us. She will always be with us.
So ladies and gentlemen, please allow me to introduce to you, now batting leadoff, for eternity, Rachel Pauline Kahan.