Yesterday comes

About the author

Don Barone

Don Barone

db has been in the reporting biz for over 30 years, won some Emmys and other awards, but is proudest of his four-decade marriage, his two kids and the fact he founded Tackle The Storm Foundation to help children.

"People say I'm crazy,

doing what I'm doing..."

Dateline: Greyhawkin'

I remember his hands.

Rough.

I remember how he talked.

From the right side of his mouth.

The left side of his mouth was always on fire.

I remember it glowed.

Red.

And ashes fell from it. I thought they were his teeth.

But it was his basement that I remember most. Stairs taken one at a time.

Rough hands guiding me.

A voice that came from his cheeks. A mouth on fire. Teeth floating down as flakes to his belly.

With my right hand I would hold onto each post of the stairs. And I would stop and look at it. Put my fingers around the top and slide it down as far as it would go before the post was bigger than the hand.

My hand.

And with each post came a story.

From the side of the mouth, with the teeth flaking off. He would turn, one leg straight and anchored several steps down. One knee bent and resting on the step where I held the stair post.

And the story would come.

Fourteen tales in all.

Story one began the same.

As did the 14th.

It began simply.

"Well Donnie, that one ... "

Story one began that way when I was 5 or 6.

"Well Donnie ... "

Story one began that way when I was 25, or 6.

"Well Donnie ... "

Before I knew of castles.

Before I knew of Tinkerbell.

Before I knew of mouse ears.

Before that, I had my own magic kingdom.

Of 14 steps.

" ... well they give me all kinds of warnings,

to save me from ruin ... "

And at the last step I would leap off and would swing in a huge circle of glowing flakes.

Land on one foot.

Then the other.

Facing the 14th step.

And I would back up and sit on the 12th step. Next to the wall.

The stairs would creak, move, and he would sit on the 11th step, his speaking cheek facing me.

"Well Donnie ... "

And he would grasp the top of the stair post with his right hand. The hand would close and move back and forth ... remembering.

I would tap my sneaker on the cement basement floor, and watch his hand remembering. And I would try to remember to.

But his thoughts drifted back to before there was a "Donnie."

And we would sit.

And he would talk.

And the glowing flakes would land on his belly.

His right hand would rub the stair post.

His left hand would rub the top of my head.

And the glowing flakes would land on his belly.

As would the tiny drops of water.

"Well Donnie ... this, this here baseball bat ... this was the bat I used in the World Series ... we was at Cleveland ... my one World Series at-bat."

Whether I was 5, or 6, or 25 or 6.

Me, and my Uncle Sibby ... Sibby Sisti ... once a major league baseball player for the Boston Braves and then of Milwaukee.

On the stairs to his cellar where the stair posts where all used baseball bats.

Each bat brought a story.

But it was the final bat that brought the sit-down tale.

Brought the glowing flakes of ash on his belly.

Brought the tiny drops of water on his golf shirt.

It was there when I was 5 or 6, or 25 or 6, where I learned of playing a sport, for the love of the sport.

Love of the game.

By watching the rough hands remembering.

By listening to the cheek speaking.

The glowing ashes.

The drops.

As I sat on the second from last step.

Staring at the 14th baseball bat.

And learned.

Of the love.

For the game.

" ... when I say that I'm ok

they look at me kind of strange ... "

Then Uncle Sibby would take my hand and we would walk his basement. A cinder block treasure cave.

Between each wooden rafter, a tiny brace between the floor above and the support below. The space between top and bottom, the size of a baseball.

Game used baseball.

"Well Donnie this here ball ... see who signed it."

And he handed it to a child who was just learning his ABC's. So he would read the ball to me.

"Donnie see here ... those are the signatures of Abbott & Costello."

And he would turn the ball in my tiny hand.

"Donnie back here ... that's Herbert Hoover."

And he would turn the ball in my tiny hand.

"Donnie ...over here ... that was signed by Babe Ruth."

And he would turn the ball in my tiny hand.

"Donnie ... you know this guy ... he's the one who signed that baseball mitt I gave you ... see right here ... it says Mickey Mantle."

He would then take the ball back, and place it up in the rafters for the next time I would visit.

And then we would move on to the next ball in the rafters.

And the next.

And next.

Every ball came with a story.

And a gentle laugh about, "the guys you know."

Looking straight up into the rafters, I learned about, "the guys you know."

I learned of team.

I learned of respect for your team, and for the other team.

And I learned, later on, that when Uncle Sibby was telling me about, "the guys you know," what he was really telling me about was sportsmanship.

Years later his basement was gone.

And I sat on his bed and listened as he once again walked me under the rafters.

I was still Donnie.

And he was still the Major League ballplayer.

And he told me tales, a play-by-play, of the guys you know.

Uncle Sibby told me about how during the winter months he, and the guys you know, would drive truck, lay brick, work the trolley, and barnstorm the country playing baseball here and there, "so come spring we would have the money to go play Ball."

Whenever Uncle Sibby said Ball, even from out of one side of his mouth or the other, when Uncle Sibby said, "To play Ball," Ball was said with a capital letter.

In the 40 or 50 years that I knew and loved the man ... I knew that Uncle Sibby couldn't NOT play baseball.

Ball.

By the time I sat on Uncle Sibby's bed, I had been at ESPN for a decade or so, something Uncle Sibby was very proud of, something he said he caused, and he would call me once a week, and over the phone, he would tell me other stories about playing Ball.

Never about plays.

Never about hits.

Never about catches.

But about the guys you know.

Mainly, about playing the game. Ball.

The last time I bent over and kissed his cheek, I told him I had to leave Buffalo to get back to Connecticut and I said goodbye.

And held his hand.

"Well Donnie ... you know ... I wished you were around back then ... wished you'd been on the barnstorming bus ... writing that stuff like you do ... you missed it kiddo ... we did it because we loved it so. Loved it so."

Uncle Sibby, wish you were here for me to tell you so in person.

But after all these years.

I found it.

Kiddo.

Barnstormers.

In boats.

And when they speak of what it is they do, when they say fish, they capitalize, Fish.

They cannot NOT do what it is they do.

And in the off-season, they drive milk trucks, they wrap boats, and they barnstorm around the country, tournament to tournament. So come spring, they can Fish.

If I found a 55-gallon drum and filled it with water, and a Fish, 90 some guys, the guys you know, would throw a line in it.

Uncle Sibby I know, because they would be chasing their game, the Fish, whether we were here or not.

They have told me that.

And I can see it in their eyes.

And I know, that someday, at the end of their basement stairs.

The 14th post, will be a fishing pole.

And on the second to last step, will be a child.

Who will have his head rubbed.

And his hand held.

Who will listen to the stories.

Who will watch the drops on the shirt.

Who will never take his eyes off the 14th post.

Who will learn of, the guys you know.

The Elites.

And about.

The love.

Of the.

Game.

Uncle Sibby, yesterday, has come.

 

"People say I'm crazy ... "

Watching The Wheels

John Lennon

 

— db

 

Don Barone is an award-winning outdoors writer and a member of the New England Outdoor Writers Association and the Outdoor Writers Guild of the U.K. You can reach db at www.donbaroneoutdoors.com.

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