Cliff Bennett died today. He and his wife had just sold their home in Georgia and bought one in Arizona to retire and be near their youngest daughter and youngest grandchild. But both of them caught COVID-19 around the beginning of the year. His wife recovered. Cliff was admitted to the hospital, eventually intubated and put on a ventilator, then given a tracheotomy. In February he was transferred to a rehabilitation hospital to try to wean him off the ventilator. But then he had to return to the hospital with a fungal infection and sepsis. He recovered from the infections, but his lungs were too far gone to be able to survive off the ventilator for long. His family made the difficult decision to take him off the machines keeping him alive on Saturday. He had been so healthy before catching Covid that his body lasted until today.

Cliff was my dad’s best friend, the principal of my small church school, later my pastor, and the officiant at my wedding. He and his wife agreed to be in my mom and dad’s will to take care of me and my siblings in case something happened to them while we were still children. Cliff had an astonishing ability to talk to and listen to anyone. He loved shopping for antiques, entranced by the story each little treasure held. He seemed to love all things old: old music, old movies, old baseball, and old pickup trucks. But maybe most of all old friends.

My favorite part of school as an elementary student was when the whole school would gather in assembly (there weren’t that many of us), and Cliff (back then Mr. Bennett) would read to us. He would read long engaging books to us, one chapter at a time. Sometimes he would read shorter pieces, and I’m pretty sure that’s where I first heard “Casey at the Bat”. The job of principal obviously called for being serious a lot of the time, but when he’d get to an especially funny part in a book, he’d try to keep reading while starting to uncontrollably laugh, before eventually having to stop, catch his breath, and exclaim, “Oh, me!”

I think it was Cliff’s first e-mail address that was tinkertoeverstochance, and he loved explaining its meaning. It was a baseball announcer call whenever Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, and Frank Chance performed their signature double-play while playing for the Cubs between 1902 and 1912.

Baseball’s Sad Lexicon Franklin Pierce Adams

These are the saddest of possible words:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”
Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds,
Tinker and Evers and Chance.
Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,
Making a Giant hit into a double-
Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”

I think I have to disagree. These are not the saddest of possible words.

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