Monday Over Coffee: "Where Have You Gone, Joe DiMaggio?"

Published November 21, 2022 by Greg Funderburk

There's always someone in the stands ... who's seeing me play for the first time, or someone who may be seeing me for the only time or for the last time.
— Joe DiMaggio

Willie Mays, Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver, Johnny Bench, Hank Aaron, and my all-time favorite, Roberto Clemente—I got to see all of them at the Astrodome growing up. Looking back on it, I have to hand it to my dad for taking us—my brother David, a teenager in the Big Brother program named John, and me—to so many Astro games. Dad had a taxing job, and while I know he liked going, enjoyed being with us, and serving as a mentor to John, those must have been some long days: leaving the office, getting us ready and into the car, picking John up, driving out to the stadium, parking, settling us down into our seats and feeding us, and tolerating our general rambunctiousness with our popcorn container megaphones and our many questions about the game. Then, after very likely experiencing a lopsided loss, he'd corral us all up again, struggle to keep us together on the bustling exit ramps on the way out, fight all the traffic again, get John home, then put David and me to bed. The energy. The commitment. Well done, Dad.

It certainly wasn't my dad's fault that I never got to see Joe DiMaggio play. I was born too late and he was in the other league anyway, but from all I've read and seen on old film, DiMaggio was one of a kind. Whether his team, the Yankees, were up five runs in the opening week of the season, down five runs in the heat of the summer, or locked in a one-run pitcher's duel with the pennant on the line, DiMaggio played exactly the same way. All out. All the time. If DiMaggio hit a lazy fly to the outfield that was sure to be caught, he'd gallop full speed to first base anyway, touch the bag, and be on his way to second as the fielder circled under it to make the easy catch. Likewise, on defense, DiMaggio would dash, then crash headlong into the outfield wall no matter the score or circumstance if a catch could possibly be made. That's just how he played. Every game. Every inning. Every time up.

When he was asked about this, he'd explain, "There's always someone in the stands, some kid in the stands, who's seeing me play for the first time or someone who may be seeing me for the only time or for the last time. I owe them my best effort."

This is actually true for all of us in a sense. While on a less dramatic stage than that of Yankee Stadium, every day someone is seeing you for the first time. Maybe it's a kid in the stands, so to speak. Perhaps it's a younger person who's subconsciously looking for a mentor, a model for how to live. Or perhaps it's someone you'll meet today and only encounter but once in your life. In the waiting room at the dentist's office. In line at the DMV. Next to you on a flight. This is the only time your lives will ever intersect. Or maybe today marks the last time you'll closely connect with someone you've known for a while. Will these encounters mean anything? Will any of these folks' lives be enriched by crossing paths with you? With what impression will you leave each of them?

To what and to whom we choose to give our attention is important, but so is the quality of attention we offer in each case. There's always someone in the stands who's watching you play for the first time, for the only time, for the last time. What are they witnessing? What are they seeing when they see you? Maybe just the thought of approaching life like this—always on, always on stage—seems exhausting. And of course you might say Joltin' Joe DiMaggio only had to exert max effort for a few hours a day. No one can actually live their whole life that way. And this is true enough, I guess. But consider this: for the kid that's watching, for the person you'll encounter once then never again, for the friend or colleague who offers you the chance at a meaningful conversation today, for our God who gave us life and every blessing we enjoy—for all their sakes—don't ever just phone it in. Not ever. Not a single day.

God — Help me offer my best to everything, to everyone I encounter today. I owe them that. I owe You that. Amen.

— Greg Funderburk