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The Sorcerer's Apprentice
GARY SMITH
August 01, 2005
Mike Veeck, the wizard of the minor leagues, has passed on his love of baseball and penchant for comic spectacle to his teenage daughter, REBECCA. She has taught him a few things too.
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August 01, 2005

The Sorcerer's Apprentice

Mike Veeck, the wizard of the minor leagues, has passed on his love of baseball and penchant for comic spectacle to his teenage daughter, REBECCA. She has taught him a few things too.

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Mike and Rebecca pull into Cooperstown to see Bill's plaque in the Hall of Fame. Mike lifts his daughter to see a picture of his dad beside Larry Doby, the African-American ballplayer whom Bill chose to break the American League's color barrier with the Indians in 1947. The little girl presses her face to the photo of the middle-aged white man and the young black outfielder, runs her fingers over it, turns her head to the side to see if her peripheral vision can do any better. Then she asks the most bittersweet question that Mike ever heard: "Which one is Grandpa?"

Mike can sense it beginning to happen, the slow melting of ego. A glimpse of the world through the eyes of someone who can barely see. Rebecca looks up at the blue sky one day, holding his hand, and says, "It's O.K., Daddy, if I go blind, because I'll always have you and Mom to tell me what you see."

******

If you've ever stood inside a chalked box with a 1-2 count against a fastball pitcher in a big league ballpark in the late afternoon, then you know. A man, after considerable anxiety, can adjust to a shadow, but almost as soon as he does, the shadow moves. So he can never relax.

Mike returns to his minor league empire. Rebecca goes back to school. The sun moves across their blue sky. The shadow shifts.

The black holes in the center of Rebecca's vision grow larger and begin to devour the periphery as well. The closed-circuit TV monitor that magnifies her school texts to 10 times their size is no longer enough. The schoolwork grows more complicated. Each test she must study for, each homework assignment, takes twice as long for her as for her classmates. All those straight-A report cards and honor-roll ribbons disappear from the Veecks' refrigerator door. She hits puberty. It's a different condition, blindness at 13, from blindness at eight. A whole new kind of darkness for her and her dad to navigate.

Now she yearns, more than anything in the world, just to be like the other kids at her middle school just outside of Charleston. Yearns to smash the Braille typewriter that clacks out the difference between her and them. Yearns to ditch the full-time adult aide who accompanies her to every class to help her take notes. Yearns to read one of the notes that kids pass in class, just once, so she can know what they're giggling about. Yearns to walk the hallways without worrying if a book bag's waiting on the floor to send her sprawling. Dammit, she won't use that white cane that her orientation-and-mobility tutor keeps urging on her. Won't take people's arms unless she has no choice. Won't admit she missed that plot turn on the movie screen. And don't you dare mention a school for the blind. She's mainstreaming, no matter how big and crowded and confusing high school will be next year. "I like big!" she gushes. "I love crowds!"

She says, "I'll be fine. I'm a Veeck." That means no retreat. That means you scoff at your handicap, like Grandpa, never give in. Damn, it's confusing for a kid. A couple of times a month she'll say something that makes her dad look at her in awe and say, "You're him." Grandpa. Reincarnated. Both blue-eyed, blond-haired lefties overloaded with sauce and smarts and spunk. It floods her with joy when he says that. She'll Google Grandpa and hear the robot voice on her Jaws software read the text about Bill's legendary tenacity. She'll go out in the yard, lift her right leg and hop on the left one for 10 steps and tumble, just to know what it felt like to be him. And now her teachers and Braille tutors and parents are telling her that damn the torpedoes won't work, that she's got to accept her blindness, use the cane, use the Braille, stop the bluffing, let people know that she can't see and needs a hand before she finds herself in deep trouble.

She concedes, finally. Once. The Veecks are changing planes in Atlanta last summer with Mike on crutches, his femur fractured in three places from his attempt to ride his bike, catch a basketball thrown behind him and shoot at the same time--why not? The foot traffic is pitiless, bumping the blind girl and her hobbling father. Rebecca finally halts, thrusts out her jaw, jerks off her backpack, yanks out the telescoped white cane and takes the lead, tapping and shouting as she goes, "Coming through! Cripple coming through!" Meaning her father, of course.

"I accept that I'm blind," she says, "but I never totally accept it. You can't. You don't. Because pride will be lost if you totally accept it. Accepting it means I'm O.K. with it--and I'm not. You give in if you accept it totally. One percent of me--no, one and a half percent of me--doesn't accept it. I keep that one and a half percent for me. I want my sight back. I'm only 13, but I'm sick of waiting. I just want my vision back. I'm at the age where I'm realizing I'm not going to be able to drive or maybe even see my own kids when I have them. I think God did this for a reason. I just don't know what it is yet."

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