A lot of people who play in the annual Artists & Writers softball game in East Hampton every summer have been doing so for 25 years or more. People mark their calendars to make sure they are here on the sandlot baseball field in the park behind the Stop & Shop on the appointed day. This year it was August 19. Presidents have played in the game. So have movie stars, mayors, boxers and baseball stars, billionaires and, of course, artists and writers. Billionaire Mort Zuckerman was at a weeklong birthday party in Morocco for Malcolm Forbes some years ago, but left three days before it ended to get back to pitch that day.
I’ve been the umpire of the game since 1982. It’s not hard for me to get to the park. I live here. But then there was this year.
On August 15, which is my birthday, I was midway through what was supposed to be a two-week visit to see my kids and grandkids in Los Angeles. My two four-year-old grandsons, supervised, made a birthday cake for me. But although my wife would remain in L.A. for the rest of the vacation, I’d cut my visit short. I needed to get home for the game.
The crowd of several hundred people who saw me trot out to the mound just 30 seconds after “The Star Spangled Banner” could not know I had arrived just three minutes before. They also would not know I was unshaven, wobbly, and in the same clothes I had put on two days before.
I went and stood behind prominent New York sportswriter Mike Lupica, who would be pitching that day. Behind the plate was catcher Carl Bernstein, the Pulitzer Prize–winning Watergate reporter.
My journey had begun Thursday with an Uber ride down the heavy, eight-lane superhighway from Santa Monica to Los Angeles International Airport. The flight to J.F.K. was on time, but the change in cabin pressure as we took off and landed bothered me. I did not sleep on the plane. From J.F.K., another Uber took me to our apartment in New York City. The plan was for me to get our dog, Bella, and bring her from the apartment to East Hampton. I was in bed after 1 a.m., slept badly and got up at 5 a.m. anyway—jet lag—and then took the dog, a dog box, my shoulder bag and the suitcase to the Hampton Jitney stop at 85th Street at 11 a.m. I couldn’t sleep on that bus. An article needed to be written. From the Omni in Southampton, I took my car to our Southampton office and began to feel weary. Soon I was feeling VERY weary. Best to go home with the dog, get some sleep and be fresh for the game the next day.
So Friday, at 5:30 p.m., 22 hours before the game, I left the office and was driving east down Main Street in East Hampton listening to music on the radio to keep myself from falling asleep. I began singing along to the music, shut my eyes for a moment and then was awakened with a start by the shearing sound of crushing metal as I crashed into a parked car on my right. I was still at the wheel, the car sideways to the road, with the parked car I had hit also sideways. We were in front of the East Hampton Presbyterian Church. Shaking, I staggered out of the car into the street, then walked around the wreck to the sidewalk and leaned against an elm. Nobody was around except a man on the sidewalk in a red sweater.
“Are you all right?” he asked. I didn’t respond. “Do you want me to call the police?”
“Who are you?” I asked.
“I’m the pastor of the church.”
I thought, am I in heaven? Then I told him to go ahead and he took out his cell phone.
I would like to thank the police who attended me at the scene, the three paramedics who took me to the hospital, my friend Dan Simone, who lives in Amagansett and arrived on the scene after I had left in the ambulance with everything left behind in the car. He took my shoulder bag, luggage and my dog—the pastor had watched her—to my house and set it all just inside our front door. I’d also like to thank the people at Southampton Hospital emergency room, the folks in the X-ray room who photographed my chest and injured hand, the people in the CT scan room, where they imaged my head and brain, and the doctors and nurses who said I should stay overnight under observation. I’d also like to thank my son David who came to visit (“send me a selfie” he had written when I had texted him), who arrived later that evening with my computer bag, toothbrush and a milkshake. I’d also like to thank the medical staff who got me a room, kept me overnight and in the morning made
it their business to see to it I could be discharged by noon on Saturday, if tests were negative, so I could be in East Hampton for the game at 3 p.m.
I thank GEICO for their cheerful and wonderful service over the phone arranging for all the insurance needs, and I’d especially like to thank my wife who, having learned Friday afternoon about the first accident I’d had in 30 years, scrubbed the rest of her vacation in L.A., hopped on a redeye and flew to J.F.K. and took a hired car out to the house in East Hampton to be ready to receive me there Saturday afternoon.
I’d also like to thank my friend Tom Swiminer, who came to the hospital at 1 p.m. on the day of the game to drive me home. The idea was I’d leave off the stuff David had brought the night before, change from my accident clothes—I’d failed to ask David to bring me fresh clothes the night before—and be off with my wife to the start of the game at 3 p.m.
Tom arrived with a gift. It was an orange towel you could soak in cold water, wrap around your neck and stay cool for two hours.
“It’s very hot out there. And the game’s at two, not three,” he told me.
We’d have to rush, but there was terrible traffic between Southampton and East Hampton. There had been an accident. I’d barely get to the game on time. Better to just drop me off, then continue to the house and drop off the stuff.
“You’ll need your hat,” he said as we drove through Water Mill.
“My hat’s in the car,” I said.
Emergency Mechanical in Wainscott is right on the way. We found the Tahoe sitting forlornly next to a bashed pick-up. Nowhere in the car was a hat.
“Tell my wife I love her,” I said. “I have a spare hat on my desk. Drop it off on your way back to Southampton.”
At ten to two, Tom dropped me in the lot next to the game. From inside the park, I could hear the announcements over the P.A. I walked to the field. The players were out at their positions and 200 spectators were standing quietly, hats over their hearts, singing “The Star Spangled Banner.” Having no hat, I placed my injured hand over my heart and sang too. People applauded and now it was time for the umpire to take over.
As I started to trot out, I felt a hat placed on my head and heard Tom’s voice from behind say “she says ump two innings, tops. Come home when you can. She’s exhausted and going to sleep.”
Moments later, I was at my spot behind Mike Lupica on the pitcher’s mound. I raised my arms. None of the needle marks from the IVs showed.
“Play ball!” I shouted.