“It was terrible for him,” Kaiser said. After the Indians’ bus accident, Lohrke took it upon himself to drive one of his teammate’s widows back to her parents’ home in San Francisco. He then moved on to San Diego, where he comforted another teammate’s widow. When he finally reported to his new team, the owner chewed him out because it took so long to arrive from Spokane. “Where were you?” the man barked. Lohrke replied, “I have delivered widows.”
Suddenly I heard myself thinking aloud in Kaiser’s office, struggling to process my own, more banal happiness as her father’s. How could Jack Lohrke – how would someone with moral integrity – look back on his survival and feel unequivocally good and deserve it, and also not be tormented by compassion and hypersensitivity to risk? “I think,” Kaiser said, “you have to be pretty self-centered to think that the importance of your life is more important than anyone else’s.
“He was always worried about us,” Kaiser continued. Lohrke normally seemed quite balanced, but he would panic if one of his children didn’t come home before dark. Kaiser recalled that one day, when she was 7 or 8, her father was on the roof fixing something, and she pitifully begged to be allowed upstairs to help. Finally her father gave in. ‘Daddy said, ‘Ah, bring her here.’ And she was hoisted up.
Lohrke set his daughter down, pulled the extra denim from her trouser legs away from her body, and drove nails through the fabric all around, securing his child to the clapboards so she wouldn’t slip off.
“I was happy as a clam,” Kaiser told me, “just sitting there, just being where he was.”
I bought two hot dogs in the top of the fourth but won no money. Frankly, I suspected I didn’t even stand a chance of winning any money, because I ordered my hot dogs at a time when the smaller of Avista Stadium’s two concession stands temporarily ran out of hot dogs—a fleeting and completely forgivable collapse of hospitality, of which I’m sure Otto Klein will hurt to read here. Within minutes, workers rushed in from the stadium kitchen, first with a tray of hot dogs and then with two bags of sandwiches, to clear the backlog of customers. I watched as the people behind the counter gathered and packed them together as quickly as possible. In their haste, they seemed to have given up on the project of stuffing dollars into the dogs. However, I later found out that this was not a mistake. All money was paid out in the early innings. I had misunderstood and missed the whole thing.
Frankly, I didn’t care. It was a minor disappointment at worst. I realized I hadn’t been to a baseball game since accompanying my daughter’s field trip to see the Mariners in the spring of 2019, and I felt grateful to take in all the usual beautiful baseball stuff around me, the nuanced inflections of an experience I had known all my life. I reconnected with all the nostalgic clichés – the creak of the bat, and so on – but also more subtle details: the helpless feeling of rushing to the bathroom and hearing a tense, collective roar, a terrible, collective groan, and knowing I’d missed an opponent’s home run; watching a little red-haired girl, the age of my youngest daughter, crawl past the seats on the right field to the Indian bullpen with a green Crayola marker in her hand, flip through her program and match the number on the back of the closest player to his name, and then muster the courage to call Mr. Whoever He Was To Ask For His Autograph; the narcotic, stadium-wide wash of white noise and murmurs that can miraculously occur during the slump of a very long at bat.