So long, friend
If you ever met Dolores, you probably talked with her about baseball, and if you talked with her about baseball, chances are that you heard about her personal host of angels in the outfield. “I had six brothers, you know,” she’d begin, “and they’re all dead now. I call them my angels in the outfield, and when the other team hits the ball and it heads out of the park, I tell my brothers to throw it back!”
As we learned pretty quickly after making her acquaintance, Dolores’s workhorse brothers were only part of the strategy package she deployed on behalf of her beloved Cardinals. She wore all the requisite red gear and talismans when important games were on, crossed (or had someone cross) her arthritic fingers, and timed her bathroom trips for maximum juju (“did something good happen the last time I went? I think it did! And I have to go again!”). That’s not to say she was ruled by sentiment or superstition, because she was equally well-versed in facts and stats from the present day and the past seven decades, give or take. She could tell you what Dizzy Dean did in the Texas League in 1931, or why she felt the Cards should never have let Steve Carlton get away, or how much it ticked her off when young outfielders failed to use both hands to catch fly balls. And if you needed any information at all about her all-time favorite player, Marty Marion, you weren’t going to find a better source.
Dolores felt pretty strongly that the Cardinals’ amazing 2011 season, during her 96th year on earth, was meant to be her last hurrah, and who could argue? Baseball-movie scripts don’t get any better. “I asked God last night for a win, you know,” she told us during the NLCS, “because I don’t have much time left! And he probably thought, ‘you conceited little ass!’ But you know, maybe he’ll find it amusing because I’m so old and all.” Julie and Dolores and I followed that postseason together, wearing Cardinal earrings and eating lucky sprinkle doughnuts, swearing or high-fiving in person when possible and on the phone when necessary. She badgered her dead brothers (“What the heck were you guys doing? Good God! Six of you in the outfield and you couldn’t even get that?”) until they got the job done, and then we all partied like it was 1931, or 1946, or 1967, or any of the other World Series victories she lived through with her favorite team.
Truthfully, I think she’d have been content to die in her sleep the night after Game 7. But just like the 2011 Cardinals—figures!—her body refused to quit long after it had every reason to, and her spirit, typically, decided it might as well keep plugging along too.
Maybe the Cards’ 2012 season, marked by a respectable dose of 2011′s resilience but ultimately destined for a peaceable and decisive end, should have been a sign to all of us. Around Thanksgiving, Dolores’s health took a downturn from which she wasn’t expected to recover. We visited her in the hospital one day and leaned over her bed, surveying her tiny fragile frame and wondering if we’d see our friend alive again. She was asleep, or maybe half-conscious—or so we thought until we heard a soft mutter:
“That Posey kid….got the MVP….I thought it should have been Yadi.”
That’s Dolores for you. Whoever was responsible for finishing her off just couldn’t get the job done. And if I were to make a just-like-Drew-Storen-in-the-NLDS joke here, it would probably crack her up, because she carried herself just that lightly, and she grinned and gritted her way through her last few months with the same “I don’t know why I’m still here, but I may as well keep playing hard as long as I am” attitude that she adored so much in her team.
It couldn’t last forever, of course. Dolores died a week ago.
To be too sad about that would be selfish, since she was nearing 97 years old and she’d been ready to hang up her cleats for some time. And we got to spend some terrific visits with her in her last few weeks, including a 2011 World Series DVD viewing party during which she kept her eyes fixed on Julie’s laptop screen and her face in a perma-beam for two hours, except when she had to shush an interrupting nurse or snarl “that jerk” whenever Albert Pujols appeared. She lived longer, loved harder, and saw more Cardinal wins than she ever could have imagined or hoped, and she died without pain; no one could have wanted more for her or from her. Yet at this moment it’s as difficult for me to imagine a baseball season without Dolores as to imagine one without Stan Musial riding through the Busch Stadium wagon gate in a red blazer on Opening Day. That “sustained excellence” and “complete decency” Bob Costas identified in Musial? They applied to her, too and they’ll be missed just as deeply.
On the bright side, she told us more than a few times that she’d struck a deal with God: When she got to heaven (and she was pretty confident that she’d meet the entrance requirements: “I don’t care if the worms get me or if they throw me on the junk pile, ’cause my soul is going to heaven!”), she’d join her brothers in the outfield—well, okay, we suggested that she consider switching to the middle infield, if she really wanted to address a Redbird weakness—and shag flies until the Cards brought home another World Championship. “If they win it after I die,” she’d say with a giggle, “you’ll know I had something to do with it!”
So that’s something to look forward to, and until then, I’m enjoying the replays and highlight reels of our friendship, and feeling about her passing much the way she felt after the Cards lost Game 2 of the 2011 Series:
“Dammit! I could just cry! ….But it’s not over.”
Godspeed, Dolores. Stan’s going to get such a kick out of meeting you.