School started at 7:55 am, hearkening back to the days when productivity and livelihood were tied to sunlight. I'm 9 years old: I'd be up an hour earlier, because at 6:55 my father would finish the part of his routine he completed in the bedroom, and would saunter past my door on his way downstairs.
I'd stagger downward, shovel some form of cereal in my face while I watched my father say goodbye to my mother in the same way, every day, with a kiss on the cheek while she’d finish cleaning over the sink. When he'd leave, I'd turn off the TV.
As much as my family had tried to instill in me a love of sports, until that time it never had become something I took ownership of, something I chose for myself. It was like a religion, but only in the way that participation was more for keeping up appearances than any sincere devotion.
The religion of the family was baseball, and the denomination was New York: Yankees and Mets. They had, after a period of glory preceding my birth, suffered a decade of shame and defeat, and during the winter before 1996 my family had begun the seasonal mix of excitement and dread that preceded every April. I noticed the shift in tone more than I understood its genesis, so I didn't really connect with it.
Until I started listening to what was on the TV, the annoyance that I silenced upon my fathers departure, the second sister I could silence at will, establishing a more reasonable distribution of attention. The program was SportsCenter, and the voice Stuart Scott.
I though Stuart Scott was funny as hell. I would watch, transfixed, and laugh belly laughs at subjects I knew nothing about. I'd recite lines and quotes at school, noting who saw them familiar: it was a genuine surprise that others watched him too, because I was so caught off guard by how much I enjoyed listening to Stuart and his fellow commentators joke around with each other that I couldn't believe no one had told me about this yet.
For me, I didn't watch SportsCenter for the content, I watched it for the voice, and Stuart Scott was that voice. He made me interested in topics I couldn't have cared less about because I knew he cared about them. I trusted him, a guy on TV, nothing more than a voice and a face.
People mourn Stuart Scott because, as was my case, their trust was not misplaced.
I could finally be conversant in the family drama, and 1996 was perfect timing. ESPN was the narrator for the victory of the year, and the happiness that flowed through our home began in their spring. It was a glorious summer with an October to remember forever, and for the first time I felt truly connected to my family, a real part of the team.
It was later that I understood how deep the current went. How my middle name comes from Keith Hernandez, first baseman for the world champion 1986 New York Mets, in a time when that statement was a laughable proposition at best. How my mother and father’s love was a fire kindled at ballparks and around televisions and radios, when there were games and then there was The Game. The retirement plans of traveling to all baseball parks in a summer. Subtract nine months from July, and the puzzle pieces start to fit into place.
Eventually, teenage years turned into periods of rebellion, and the relationship we’d began had soured. Fights and tears became more and more common, and by college had disintegrated into a barely conversational exchange of shame, regret and currency. I was angry at them, never able to articulate why outside of barely formed resentments.
Rekindling a relationship is a strange experience. There's the same timidity of starting something new, but with none of the excitement of discovering new things about a person. It's like examining a crime scene, tiptoeing around bullet casings and broken glass. The past isn't even cold yet, but love makes you stare at it like a corpse. It's the most painful period of transition I've ever been through.
Slowly, though, the temperature rose. Winter turned slowly into spring, with conversations becoming lighter and easier to find. They weren't strangers anymore, but there's still a chasm between friendship and family.
Then April arrived. They'd talk baseball, and I did what I knew I could do: I listened. I listened to them talk excitedly about what was coming, about what they'd seen, about what they were excited about. It provided a perfect opportunity for me to practice patience, but more importantly it showed me how valuable it could be to be a good listener, to ask follow up questions, to truly make a person feel like what they said was important to you. It wasn't the only thing that brought us to the conversational table, but it was there.
My room wasn't on the way downstairs, when I was growing up, when I thought the world revolved around me and that I deserved everything i'd been given. He gave that to me. He made the trip for me, to see me, and the least I could do was make the trip myself now, to walk to my seat at the table and sit down, bringing whatever I had, but coming even when I was empty handed.
Things have improved in the 7 or so years since then. Last fall, my father and uncle and I had lunch with friends around a table in DC. We then caught the last Nationals game of the season, with Zimmermann throwing the first no-hitter in team history. We had seats in the nosebleeds, and we were ecstatic - together. I remember having my hand around my dad and uncle's shoulders, jumping and high-fiving, and knowing that we were all at the same place at the same time, seeing the same thing, feeling the same thing. Another example of a chasm erased through time and perseverance, celebrated over sport.
Yeah, he was funny, and caring, and kind. His wit was infectious and delivery impeccable. That's not why I celebrate him, and mourn his early death. That's not what I think about when I read the memorials in his honor. What I think of is what he introduced me to, what he cared enough and was passionate about enough to show me. For me, that was my family. For me, it was my personal history.
Thanks for that, Stuart. That was really nice of you.