Thursday, August 10, 2006
If I have told the story once I've told it a thousand times - there would be no Claire Smith, baseball writer, if it were not for Bernice Anastasia Ximines Smith.
My mother was an avid sports fan. She especially loved the Dodgers - for the reasons most African Americans of her generation did. The Dodgers of Brooklyn had integrated the major leagues by signing Jackie Robinson in 1947, and, by doing so, captured the hearts and loyalties of a fan base previously shunned by professional sports.
My mother regaled me with tales of the Dodgers, Jackie and The Great Experiment that helped change America.
Superman never seemed more heroic to me than Robinson. I, too, became a Dodgers fan, a baseball fan. I didn't realize until much later in life that before Robinson, my hero was my mother - a superb human being and superwoman in the best sense of the word. Because she, like Robinson, was a trailblazer in a time that it was difficult to rise up from under the weight of segregation.
Mom, the daughter of immigrant house servants from Jamaica, became a chemist, worked for General Electric in its space exploration wing. She was a vocalist, a model, travel agent, insurance exec, world traveler, political activist. Did I mention she was a great mother and even better friend.
At every stop, though, Mom was a sports fan. Having spent her formative years in Philadelphia, she eventually gravitated to the city's teams, adding football (the Eagles) and basketball (76ers) and, yes, the Phillies, to her list of loves.
I stuck with baseball. The passion never waned. My mother never judged, but rather encouraged me to explore the possibilities. I did, eventually wedding a love of writing with the love of a game that changed America.
On Monday, my mother passed away at age 82 after a long battle with Alzheimer's Disease. She had not been aware of baseball for some years and, in retrospect, that makes me sad. Because I think she would have loved the idea of Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels, much the way she loved Jackie, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Sandy Koufax, Garry Maddox, Steve Garvey, Don Baylor, Dave Windield and Willie Randolph.
The lady knew ball and she knew talent!
I will always think of my mom when I think of the game. I smile today knowing that somewhere in the section of heaven reserved for baseball, she is again sitting in the sunshine, cheering on her team. And, who knows, perhaps she is even trying to convince an angel or two that the Dodgers are still No. 1.
The Inquirer and Daily News did very nice jobs writing about my mom in today's editions. Their wirters I think captured what I always knew: she was an extraordinary woman. Here are the links. I hope you enjoy at your leisure.