It is said baseball is a father-son game. My father introduced me to baseball. My mother made me love it.
Baseball has been at the forefront of my family since I was old enough to keep a glove on my hand and swing a plastic bat at a Wiffle Ball. When the Colorado Rockies came to Denver in 1993, I became hooked on professional ball, and we made as many trips as we could to the early games at Mile High Stadium and far more once Coors Field opened in 1995.
During my childhood, my mother, Jackie, worked nights as a waitress in Colorado Springs so she could be there to drop off and pick up my sister, Amanda, and I from school. She would get me to baseball practice and to games and then go work her shift. I couldn’t wait to show up to the restaurant to tell her how I had played. Later on, my mom would become a commissioner of my Little League, and she continued to volunteer a few years after I had outgrown the Little League level.
Even after my baseball career came to a lackluster finish in high school and days spent at a local diamond came to a close, baseball bonded me and my mom. When I went off to college in 2006, we would talk on the phone every night about our favorite players, Todd Helton and Matt Holliday.
It was in August 2007 when I got a haunting call from my sister. I needed to get home from my summer job as quick as I could. My father had abused my mother for the last time. While he was out of the house that afternoon, we quickly packed a few valuables and fled like refugees after nearly two decades of abuse. My sister would begin her junior year of college in Greeley in the coming days, and I had just transferred to the University of Colorado as a sophomore and was eager for my first days living in Boulder. Back in Colorado Springs, too poor to afford her own apartment, the family of my high school best friend had given my mom a room to call home until she could land on her feet.
A divorce followed, and my mom was left with nothing. Bankrupt for a second time and in a home that wasn’t her own, a strong woman from Buffalo, New York, found relief in baseball. For roughly three hours per night, she could turn on the Rockies, and something magical was beginning to take shape. Colorado mounted one of the greatest stretch runs in the history of Major League Baseball.
With a 76-72 record on Sept. 16, 2007, the Rockies won 14 of the final 15 games in the regular season and tied the Padres to force a Game 163 to determine which team would earn the wild card spot. Holliday, or as my mother called him, “Big Daddy,” infamously “touched” home plate on a head-first slide that busted up his chin, and the Rockies walked off into the postseason with a memorable win Oct. 1, 2017 at Coors Field.
Life was hard, but baseball was good. The Rockies swept their way through the first two rounds of the postseason against the Phillies and Diamondbacks and won the National League Pennant for the first – and still only – time in franchise history. Getting swept by the Red Sox in the World Series hurt, but that run through the end of the regular season all the way to the World Series kept my mother and I going during what had been the most difficult time of our lives.
In 2008, Mom and I went to a couple of games in the first two weeks of the regular season, but we wouldn’t return to Coors Field together again until the Fourth of July game in 2011. In that time, my mother and sister had started a new family tradition. Born July 4, 1987, my sister was never a baseball fan. I think she sometimes resented the amount of time my family spent with me at baseball games during our childhood. But my mom convinced Amanda to go to a fireworks game for her birthday, and they both became hooked on making an annual pilgrimage to Coors Field on the Fourth of July for the best fireworks display in the state. We would buy tickets for the Rockpile section each year, and that allowed us to move down and sit in the outfield grass for the fireworks show. The feel of Coors Field’s outfield grass under my feet is still my favorite feeling in the world.
We’ve kept up that fireworks game tradition every year since. Other than Christmas, it’s the one time my mother, sister and I can always count on coming together each year.
I’ve continued to call my mother on an almost daily basis, often multiple times a day. During the summer months, she’s always watching the Rockies. She watches more games than I do. During the last two seasons, the Rockies once again have helped fill a void for my mother. She and my sister had lived together for years after Amanda graduated college and began her elementary school teaching career. But Amanda moved in with her fiancé a couple of years ago. Living on her own for the first time since the two years following the divorce, the Rockies once again mounted consecutive pushes into the postseason, though falling short in the wild card game in 2017 and the NLDS in 2018.
This year, I didn’t know what to get my mom for Mother’s Day only a few weeks removed from her 59th birthday. I quickly looked at the Rockies schedule and saw they were playing the Padres. A perfect present.
But Mom became mysteriously ill in late April, and the Mother’s Day game at Coors Field didn’t seem likely. She was showing signs of confusion and depression and simple tasks such as getting out of bed, into the shower and getting dressed suddenly were taking hours. I didn’t see any way we would make it to Coors Field and into our seats and suggested we shouldn’t go. My mother defiantly rejected that idea. We were going to the game no matter what, and she boldly put on her 2007 World Series shirt to make her point clear.
My mother has always been inquisitive and commands every conversation. I often joke that I learned how to interview by listening to her ask questions. But she had become quiet, only responding when others directly asked something. But on the way to the game, she sang along to her favorite songs in the car. Once we got into our seats several rows behind the first-base dugout, she clapped along and followed the familiar cues of when to cheer at a baseball game. Those three hours of fun had given all of us temporarily relief as we sipped our fresh-squeezed lemonade and chomped on cinnamon-coated Tornadough. We took a family photo from our seats, smiles on our faces, with none of us knowing exactly what would follow in the coming weeks.
Mom had been prescribed anti-depressants, and we thought getting medication sorted out would fix the problem. But two weeks went by, and matters were only getting worse. After being urged by my mom’s best friend to get her into the emergency room, my sister took my mom to the hospital May 19, one week after we spent the afternoon at Coors. Mom had an MRI, and it revealed a large brain tumor. The next morning, I was on speaker phone from Durango when a doctor informed the family it was cancer. Glioblastoma, the type of tumor that claimed Senator John McCain’s life last year.
I raced to Colorado Springs, and the next few days, and the several weeks since, have been a blur. Mom was in the hospital for four days, and her biggest complaint – other than the stitches and staples in her head from a brain biopsy procedure – was that the Rockies games weren’t on the TV in her hospital room.
On cue, the Rockies caught fire after a disappointing stretch of play early in the season. Going into Friday night, the Rockies held the best record in baseball since May 22 at 15-7. Mom has loved every minute, especially when Colorado had four walk-off wins in a week to end the month of May.
We began radiation and chemotherapy treatment June 6, and it will continue through June 27. My mom has been a survivor her entire life, and doctors believe she will react well to treatment they say will be able to control the tumor for a time. All this time, I once again have been blown away by the support of our Durango community.
Now moving with the assist of a wheelchair, I hope to take Mom to the first game of the new rookie-league Rocky Mountain Vibes on June 21 in Colorado Springs for my 31st birthday. Formerly the home of the Sky Sox, UCHealth Park – a fitting stadium name sponsor, as my mom has been undergoing treatment at UCHealth Memorial Hospital Central – the Vibes will take the field in their debut game against the Grand Junction Rockies. If we can make it, we will all cheer for the Rockies that night in a stadium I spent many childhood nights watching the Sky Sox while ripping open packs of trading cards with my pals.
I’m not sure Mom will be able to make the game, as we weigh options for placing her in a full-time rehab center to try to regain her motor skills and the voice we all miss so much. But there’s no way I’d rather spend my birthday than at a baseball field with Mom, watching her clap her hands to the organ and stomping her feet, even if only onto the supports of a wheelchair instead of the concrete stands.
This year, the Rockies will play the mighty Houston Astros for a fireworks game July 3. They won’t play July 4 on a travel day to Arizona. I’m going to do my best to get back to Coors Field to see those fireworks one more time with my mother and sister beside me. I’m not sure it will be possible.
I’m thankful for the special moments the Rockies have helped provide during the most difficult times of our lives. During these last few weeks, I’ve often thought back to the Mother’s Day game. I can only hope it isn’t our last together and that we will be able to see her current favorite players, Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story, play in person once more.
I’ll never walk through the gates of Coors Field or watch a baseball game at any level without thinking of my mom. More than anything, she’s the reason I love the Rockies and the game.
John Livingston is the Regional Sports Editor of Ballantine Communications. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jlivi2