After 17 years of involuntary polygamy—being married to Ted Simmons and to baseball—Maryanne Simmons has learned to live by several rules, among them, "You don't go to a game on a hot summer Sunday afternoon in a city south of Pittsburgh." Which is her way of saying not today.
So having dropped off her husband, the Atlanta Braves' veteran catcher, at Atlanta- Fulton County Stadium, she won't stay to see the game against the Cincinnati Reds. Clearly, Maryanne Simmons, 37, is not a typical baseball wife. In the early '80s she founded a consciousness-raising quarterly written by and for baseball wives called The Waiting Room. Nine issues were published before sluggish circulation put her highly specialized periodical out of business. One of the facts reported in its pages: 72% of all ballplayers' wives live somewhere other than the city in which their husbands play, a statistic that doesn't bode well for a baseball marriage.
"When we started The Waiting Room," Maryanne says, "we were looked at with great skepticism and a little bit of fear. Front offices were not cooperative [in supplying addresses and distributing copies]. We were talking frankly about things. Most wives still believe that if they conform, dress properly and do a lot of charity work, it will help their husband's career. It will not."
She admits she was naive in believing baseball wives would be grateful for an attempt at creating a sense of sisterhood. She soon found, to her amazement, that wives of, say, Braves, hesitated to befriend wives of, say, Reds. (What if their husbands get into a brawl, as indeed they will in the game today?) Still, The Waiting Room struck a responsive chord among at least some baseball wives and helped establish or improve lounges for them and their children in several ballparks.
But, after nearly two decades in the game, Maryanne's greatest contribution to the younger Braves wives might be her lesson in durability. Certain passions—antique furniture, history, the education of their sons, Jon, 16, and Matthew, 11—Maryanne and Ted share enthusiastically. Baseball less so. She does not want to be seen only in Ted's reflected light. "Women in this game tend to be judged by their husband's importance," she says. "Once in a while a delightful woman gets shunned because her husband is a marginal player. On the other hand, if she's the wife of a superstar, the other wives might hang on her every word. It's very interesting to see that go on, but very disappointing too."
On this day Maryanne, a University of Michigan graduate, feels that it is more important to delve into a volume of Shelby Foote's The Civil War: A Narrative than to swelter in the stands behind home plate, dutifully registering a range of emotions for the benefit of the WTBS camera. "Mood swings [among the wives] go with the fortunes of their husbands," she says. "When a guy's gone 0 for 45, she's not going to be the easiest person to live with, because he's not. The reactions that you see in the stands are very human."
Late in the afternoon, with Matthew and General Long-street, the new family dog, in tow, Maryanne returns to the stadium. On the television in the waiting room she watches Ted fly out as a pinch hitter leading off the 10th. The Braves lose 6-5. "My interest in what Ted's doing has never waned," Maryanne says. "But I consider my physical presence less important. It took me about eight seasons to figure that out.
"Here I'd been sitting around for years asking myself what Ted's profession meant in the broad scope of things, and the answer kept coming back, "Nothing.' " But the book on the Civil War, of all things, has provided her with some answers. "Among other things the war showed how we have this great desire for heroes," she says. "Baseball feeds that need. Myths sift down through our psyches, and we use them as excuses for 'building character.' I like that. It makes me think Ted is doing something fulfilling. It tells me why I'm here."
By the time Ted has showered and changed, Maryanne has pulled their Buick Regal up to the clubhouse door. He hops into the shotgun seat, and they pull out of the tunnel and into the light.