Yankee relief pitcher Mariano Rivera completed his season-long farewell tour of America's ballparks a couple of weeks ago. He has retired, and next season, the Yankees will be without their star closer.
In the mid-90s, around the time Mariano was making a name for himself with the Yankees, we welcomed a baby girl into our life -- Caroline Lawlor. Caroline will be leaving for college next year, so everything we do now is part of a quasi-surreal farewell tour.
My wife wanted to go apple picking last weekend.
"Why?" I asked "Tom Rutz dropped off a big bag of apples last week, and we are still making pies."
"I gave the rest of the apples to my mother," she said.
"Why?" I asked, then quickly said, "Never mind. We have a lot of work to do around the house today."
"You don't understand," my wife persisted. "Every year we go apple-picking, and this is the last time Caroline will be here for apple-picking. This is the last time we will be doing it as a family"
"We can still apple pick as a family," I said.
"No we can't," she insisted. "Caroline will be in college by next October, then Julia, and then who knows what will happen."
She announced we were leaving for the orchard at one o'clock"
"Are we going to the apple-picking place where you spend $20 for a bag of apples that you could buy at Stop & Shop for $10?" I asked. "Plus we have to do the picking. At Stop & Shop, they pick them, wash them and have them nicely displayed at a heated store three minutes from our house."
"True," she said, "but the experience is worth the extra $10."
"Really?," I asked, incredulous. "Remember, I grew up on a farm. I did manual labor. And we never had tourists do our work for us and then eagerly pay double."
We went apple picking.
In 1983, I saw a game during Red Sox star Carl Yastrzemski's farewell tour. Every stadium honored him when he visited it the last time. He played all of his 23 years with Boston. I remember some of the opposing teams fans were choked up, and all stood to honor the future Hall of Famer with a standing ovation. It was the same for Mariano Rivera's last time around the league.
We went to Caroline's high school orientation for parents a few weeks ago for the last time. At first period, we sat next to Beth and Hogan Love. We met them at Caroline's kindergarten orientation 12 or 13 years ago. (I always get it confused whether it's 12 or 13. Do you count the year you are in?) We saw many of the parents we met at Mill Hill Elementary that kindergarten year. When we came home, we talked to Caroline about it. Caroline accused us of being overly dramatic.
"Stop it," she said. "I'm not dying."
Stored on my phone, I keep the words of Lou Gehrig's farewell speech at Yankee Stadium, delivered when he was too ill to continue playing. He really was dying.
He talked of the 17 years he had been a major league player, and I think of the 17 years my daughter has been with us. Maybe that's a little dramatic. Yes, we will see her in college, but her mother is right. It won't quite be the same.
Although terminally ill, Gehrig told the Yankee Stadium crowd that after spending 17 years in ballparks, "I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth."
I consider myself pretty lucky for the last 17 years.
The people at the apple orchard did not share in our "Grand Farewell Tour" concept. The cashier just stared blankly ahead as she rang up our order. But I was sure that our fellow passengers on the hayride would appreciate it and maybe give a standing ovation. If not, perhaps a smattering polite applause. We would settle for just a nod.
Over the noise of the tractor, I said to another dad, one with a Yankees cap on, "This is the last time we are apple-picking as a family. Our daughter is going to college next year."
The dad gave me knowing look, I thought we had a moment. Then he said, "Yes, we've visited Holland."
I thought maybe I could scream something about Lou Gehrig or Mariano Rivera, but that would have confused both of us.
At the end, I stared down at my $20 bag of apples and thought that, for 20 bucks at Yankee Stadium, I could get a beer.
Thomas Lawlor lives in Southport with his wife and two daughters. His "A Father's Journal" appears every other Friday.