Songwriters: Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, Neil Peart
Original Release: Grace Under Pressure
Definitive Version: Experience to Extremes, 1984.
There are two things you never want to hear. The first is a phone call that wakes you up in the middle of the night. It’s never good news. The other thing is your name at a ballpark when you aren’t on the field. Same reason.
In July 2001, Scott and I both were going through a rough patch. I, of course, still was reeling from my breakup with Debbie. Scott was struggling with the ill health of Shani’s father.
OK, that’s putting it mildly. Shani’s father was going to die, soon. He had pancreatic cancer, which began sometime the year before and spread quickly. When Scott and I went to Chicago for the first Executive Game, we stopped in Marion, Ind., on the way. I hadn’t seen Johnny in a while, and I was shocked by his transformation. Scott, of course, was used to it by then and said, on the whole, he looked pretty good that day.
Shani was going back and forth from Cincinnati to Marion as often as she could, and Scott didn’t want to be alone all the time. Neither did I. How about coming down for a baseball weekend, he suggested. We could do Louisville on Saturday and Dayton Sunday. Sounds good: Let’s get tickets.
We drove to Louisville, Scott’s former hometown and the site of the greatest concert I ever saw—Pearl Jam in 1994. It was a bit overcast but still shorts weather. We went to the Louisville Slugger factory to kill some time, but we arrived too late to take a full tour, so we went to a nearby bar on the Ohio River for a little pregame activity.
Before long, the gates to the ballpark opened, so Scott and I hiked over to have tour the yard before the game. It looked nice, although it looked like Grand Rapids’ new minor-league park. Hmmm, it seems minor-league parks are kind of going through a bit of a retro cookie-cutter phase, too.
We got a couple hot dogs and beers and made a lap around the park, although the threat of rain was enough that no pregame activity was going on on the field. We were in left field behind the bleachers when I heard Scott’s name over the p.a. Huh, I thought. Someone else here has the same name. What are the odds?
No kidding. That’s exactly what immediately came to mind when I heard the pressbox announcer instruct Scott to go to customer service for a phone message. My next reaction was the correct one: Uh oh. Sure enough, the message awaiting Scott was from Shani: Johnny was in the hospital, and he wasn’t expected to last the evening.
I made the only decision that could be made as the game was about to begin: Let’s go. Even though we drove Scott’s CRV, there was no question but that I would drive. Scott was beside himself, and I held his hand and told him, it’ll be OK. We’ll get there in time before he goes. I promise.
Fortunately, Louisville is just a straight shot up I-65 to Indianapolis where Johnny was taken, and Indiana is known for not spending much time patrolling its highways. We got there in about an hour and a half.
Even more fortunately, I had brought my new clamshell iBook with me—why, I don’t remember. As Scott went to Johnny’s room, I occupied myself with trying to find an outlet to plug in, so I had something to do while I awaited what was expected to be a bad report.
After awhile, Scott came to find me. It wasn’t Johnny’s time just yet. In fact, Scott said he looked pretty good, all things considered, and was feeling much better. It had been a false alarm. Well, that’s good news.
However, our changed plans required further alteration. It was about 10 now—11 in Cincinnati—and someone had to go back to Cincinnati to let Kirby out. That someone being me. Scott would stay behind and drive Shani’s car back to Cincinnati the next morning. Shani was going to stay in Marion.
Scott said that meant the Dayton game likely was out, too. He just didn’t think he’d feel up to it. No problem; baseball is secondary. Scott said he might feel different in the morning; he’d have to see. I could go by myself, he said, but I wasn’t going to do that. I just figured I’d get up and drive home.
I drove back to Cincy alone—and quiet—and took care of Kirby. In the morning I fed the cats and was about to leave when Scott called. He said he needed a distraction, and if I still was up for it, he’d like to go to the Dayton game after all. I’ll be here.
We drove separately, so I could just head home when the game was over. It was a glorious summer day, and the new park was nice, in a minor-league retro cookie-cutter kind of way.
I focused on Reds superprospect David Espinosa and wrote an article about him for BBT. I watched him with a scout’s eye and determined rather quickly that he didn’t have the quickness to play short in the majors and might not hit enough to get there. I was right. He never made it, although he’s still playing in the minors.
Scott was feeling pretty good, although tired, when we parted. I was glad that I was there when he needed me—both to drive to Indianapolis when he was miserable and then to cheer him up the next day.
The false alarm only delayed the inevitable. Johnny lasted the summer, dying just before Labor Day. Scott and I always talked about making another trip to Louisville to finally see a game, but we haven’t gotten around to it yet. We owe it to ourselves to get back there.