Late Night Drive

Nate and I hit the road for Albany late last night, leaving Cooperstown at 11 PM to pick Karen up at the airport. She’d been in Santa Monica the last week, avoiding all the snow. Nate and I hung out to his satisfaction, taking trips to Oswego, Syracuse and Oneonta, and going out to eat a few times. That’s about all it takes from him to be happy, which works for me.

As we drove last night, with the usual backdrop of ‘80’s hits (though he humored me with the occasional switch to the ‘70’s channel in time for two of my favorites – “Ooh Child” and “Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get”), we talked about cartoons when Nate wasn’t spouting some of his usual catchphrases and occasional nonsense.

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One of his go-to reflections is about second grade, when he was mainstreamed back to regular school in Lincolnshire, IL. Ms. Johannsen was his teacher at Sprague School and Nate always talks about an assignment he did badly. He was supposed to write about what he liked and he wrote: “I keep it. I look at it. I take it. I get it.”

Ms. Johannsen told him to start over and he wrote several things that he liked – “I like to eat. I like to work. I like to play.” Much better. He likes that story.

I’ve heard it a million times before, but I wanted to see if I could get from Nate what it felt like then, to not understand and not be understood.

“Ah, it was OK,” he said.

“But it wasn’t OK Nate,” I told him. “You were very frustrated and angry, and you got violent a lot.”

“I was confused.”

I’ve never heard him refer to himself that way. It’s not easy to think like Nate, to try to be inside his head, but I tried to imagine how it must have felt to be 8-year old Nate, completely at sea, wanting to be part of things and trapped in a situation where he couldn’t. It struck me harder than ever. It must have been terrible for him.

Trying not to let on that I was getting teary (Nate doesn’t like when people cry), I told him how proud I was at all his hard work, and ours, to get him to where he is today.

“I can talk now,” he said.

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About Jeff Katz

Jeff Katz is Mayor of Cooperstown, the “Birthplace of Baseball” and home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. His latest book, Split Season:1981 - Fernandomania, the Bronx Zoo, and the Strike that Saved Baseball, (Thomas Dunne Books, 2015), received national attention, with coverage appearing in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Sporting News and NPR’s Only a Game, among others. Katz appeared on ESPN’s Olbermann and The Sporting Life with Jeremy Schaap and MLB Network’s MLB Now, with Brian Kenny. Split Season: 1981 was a finalist for the 2016 Casey Award for Best Baseball Book of the Year.
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One Response to Late Night Drive

  1. Kathleen Johannesen Tomei says:

    The thought of Nate always being a smile to my face. I’m so proud of all he has accomplished. I’m hope my words all those years ago were more gentle than “start over”. Working with and learning from Nate was like a dance we both learned together. With great fondness for your family, Ms Johannesen

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