|Into the District 5AAA State Championship... RIVETED!|
Like all the Bensens, she grew up in a baseball environment.
At the time, I really didn't have an answer as to why mom was so into it. I suspect it was deeper than the pageantry, spirit and color of a locally televised championship ball game being played in the new stadium at Tulane University on a breezy, cool, spring evening. Spending much of her time at home, bored and unable to get around like she'd like, my brother would escort her, when she felt up to it, to many of the games Tony Jr. played, in this, his senior year. Like so many of the elderly, with many of her friends deceased or incapacitated especially since hurricane Katrina, which devastated much of her neighborhood, mom's attitude and mental capacity has worsened.
Of all of the ball players in our family, my middle brother was the most talented. The ectomorph of the family, Tony, who we all called Hilton as a kid, could play just about any sport and excel at it. No one knows why, but he somehow lost most of his hearing at a real early age and suffered greatly at the hands of many, especially doctors, psychologists and therapists in the sixties who thought he was mentally handicapped. He was actually taken away from the family when he was ten years old and admitted to a mental institution for about two months for tests and who knows what else. It was traumatic for everyone. It was most especially horrid for Hilton because he didn't understand what he did wrong to be treated so horribly.
It is an understatement to say the medical industry knew little about the mentally challenged or mentally ill in the sixties... in the south... in Louisiana.
As all mothers do, mom fought hard to help her son believe in himself, telling him he was as normal as any other child, though I'm sure Hilton seldom felt as normal as everyone else. When I played baseball in high school, our head coach, Skeeter Theard, a well-known and well respected baseball man here in New Orleans, took a liking to Hilton and invited him to sit in the dugout to be our bat boy. After my graduation, Hilton, who now wanted to be called Tony, attended all of Skeets' many ball games as the team scorekeeper and then, as a pitcher with a wicked knuckle ball. Many sessions of pitch and catch had me chasing his "knuckler," it moved so much. Unfortunately, in those times, there wasn't much available to a kid with limited hearing. The hearing aids then were delicate, the size of today's cell phones and had to be connected to the ear by a chord. Tony never really got the chance other players received to show their talents.
Fast forward to the championship game, just this last Saturday, where a five run lead dwindled to one run in the bottom of the seventh. Three ground balls were hit to end the threat and win the game and therefore, the state high school championship, for the Jesuit Blue Jays. Two of those three grounders were hit to the long, lanky and rangy six foot, four inch shortstop playing his last game for his alma mater, and looking to play at the next level. Fielding it cleanly, as he did in each playoff game, he zipped it over to first base for the final out. Gloves and blue caps were thrown skyward into the cool night air as they all piled onto one another in a gigantic, celebratory mound with big, bright smiles all around.
Understandably, my brother and my mom's smile, were one of the biggest and brightest!
Copyright/Ben Bensen III/ 2011