My grandmother’s love of the game

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NEW YORK — Last September, towards the end of the season, my phone dinged right before the first pitch of a game at Yankee Stadium. It was from my Aunt Kate. She was relaying a message from my grandmother: “Granny isn’t happy with the lineup. She says they should shake it up.”

At 94 years old, Granny had not lost her sharp mind or her willingness to express her opinion whether it was about a new hairstyle or especially the Yankees.

I will probably miss that about her the most. Elizabeth “Marie” Karsten Marshall, my tough and beloved maternal grandmother, died Monday morning. I will miss our many adventures and spending time with her. I will also miss our talks about baseball.

That shared interest was surprising to most other members of our family, none of whom were huge fans of the game. There are countless stories about how baseball threads through the generations, but ours was a little different. Granny and I came to it together later in life.

As a young girl, I remember summer nights when my grandfather would put on the Yankees game. Granny and I would wait until a few innings in, Poppy would be stretched out and snoring in his recliner. We’d quickly change the channel and watch whatever else we could find on the TV.

When I was young, my grandmother worked full-time as a nurse in a psychiatric center and I had moved too far away to see her enough. After I moved back to the New York area to start my career, I was able to get back that time with her — and we spent much of it sharing our newfound interest in baseball.

In her 70s, widowed for the second time, my grandmother found the game.

Learning to live alone for the first time in her life, like many senior citizens, she sought comfort in the familiarity of the nightly games every summer night. She liked the pace, followed the stories and she was passionate about the people.

Once I started covering games occasionally, it was another thing for Granny and I to talk about aside from family drama and the latest news.

We dove in.

I took her to her first playoff game at the old Stadium in 2003, getting there early so she could visit Monument Park for the first time. We sat in the third tier, had a beer and a hot dog and watched seven innings before heading home. I still have the thank you note she sent me from that day. When I took over the Mets beat in 2013, she found out where SNY was on her cable service and would watch their games out of loyalty to me. She even made a trip in her late 80s to Citi Field for a Subway Series game.

Her heart, however, belonged in the Bronx.

She liked Derek Jeter and felt Alex Rodrgiuez was always “trying to take attention away,” from her beloved Yankees captain. She thought Curtis Granderson was the most graceful outfielder she ever saw, “when he runs, it’s like a deer,” she said. She cheered for Brett Gardner, because “he just works so hard.” And she loved watching CC Sabathia pitch, especially when he jawed at the opposing batter.

But none of them held a candle to Bernie Williams.

The former Yankee outfielder turned my septuagenarian grandmother into a school girl. My cousin, aunt and I found that out by surprise on the morning of Thanksgiving 2003. We had lucked into seats at the start of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. My grandmother watched quietly as the bands and the balloons took off marching down the route, but when the float with Bernie Williams pulled up to the starting line that day, she suddenly jumped up and started yelling.

“BERNIE!, HI BERNIE!,” my white-haired grandmother screamed, waving her hands at the float and her favorite Yankee. “Beeeeerrrrrnnnieeee.”

My cousin, aunt and I could not speak. We were all laughing too hard, watching Granny yell like a teeny-bopper.

This last year has been tough for everyone, but particularly on the senior citizens. My grandmother lived at home with my aunt, but was isolated by the coronavirus pandemic. I visited every few weeks, sitting in the opposite corner of her garage with the doors and windows open. That’s certainly not how I want to remember our time together.

Instead, I will think of her when I am at the ballpark, think of her calling to grumble about the lineup or that day at the parade shouting her lungs out at Bernie Williams.

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