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Fathers and Baseball

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I know not everyone who loves baseball got that from their father. Mothers, grandparents, uncles, friends, movies, books - these have certainly been responsible for leading countless people to appreciate this great game. But today is a special day for dads, and whether you have one to celebrate, you are one, or you just want to read a sappy, but heartfelt, ode from one guy to his old man, here are my reflections on my dad and baseball.

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My dad is a great man.  I don't mean that in the grandiose sense of the word; he's not famous, he's not a world leader, he hasn't invented anything that has altered the course of human history (although he DID consider trying to patent a clipboard that could be oriented both portrait and landscape - it would have changed the portable writing surface industry forever).  He's just a really, really good dude.

I've inherited quite a few things from my dad: scrappy white guy athleticism, competitiveness, a love of science fiction and fantasy novels, an ability to quickly recall and sing a snippet of song in virtually any circumstance, a number of classic rock CDs (these were less "inherited" than quietly smuggled out of my parents' house over the years), a love of good wordplay.  There are other things my Dad possesses that I have NOT inherited: an almost saint-like patience with others, the ability to grow a Tom Selleck-worthy mustache, his few remaining classic rock CDs...but hey, you can't have it all, right?

However, the thing I cherish most that my Dad has given me is a love of baseball.  Some of my earliest memories include watching America's Pastime with him.  I remember being there with my Dad at an Angel game in the mid-1980's when I was no more than four or five years old chanting "Reggie!  Reggie!  Reggie!"  A couple years later found me sitting next to him and chanting to the same cadence, only this time for a new player - "Wally!  Wally!  Wally!" (That player's poster had the prime spot on my wall for several years.) I remember him telling me about Lou Gehrig, and how much he liked Cal Ripken Jr. because he showed toughness and dedication and consistency.  My Dad loves good players, but he has always been attracted most to the hard workers, the guys who simply went about their business.  The Baseball Everymen.  He grew up loving Steve Garvey, and later would take a particular shine to Darin Erstad.

His influence on me extended beyond major league rooting interests; he taught me to play the game.  He was my t-ball coach and would coach my teams whenever he could throughout my Little League career.  Even when work commitments kept him from officially volunteering, his free time was always open for some extra instruction.  When I needed work on hitting, he would throw me soft toss.  When I needed fielding work, he would hit me grounders.  When I wanted to try being catcher, he threw me balls in the dirt and helped me release the ball quicker.

I have three boys of my own now, ages 9, 7, and 5.  All three of them have played at least a couple of years of Little League, and the younger two will probably be playing for many more years.  When it came time to sign them up to play, there was no question in my mind that I would coach, because that's what my dad did for me.  Parents make so many sacrifices for their kids, and comparatively, this one may seem trivial.  But now that I'm old enough to look back with a measure of perspective, I see how much it meant to my dad to be there for me on the ball field.  And how much it meant to me.  I can see now how the lessons he taught me there have stuck with me, since I find myself imparting those lessons to my sons and to the kids on the teams I coach.  Some of these are phrases he would repeat ad nauseum, some are bits of wisdom he would impart, and some were simply absorbed by watching him set an example for how to play.  Lessons such as:

  • Always swing hard, just in case you hit the ball
  • Sprint to first base no matter what
  • Don't step in the bucket
  • Wave the ball goodbye when you throw
  • Keep the barrel of the bat above the handle when you're bunting
  • Encourage your teammates
  • Respect your opponents; don't show them up
  • Have fun, but always try your best to win

I'm sure there are plenty more I'm forgetting, but that's something else I've inherited from my dad - a memory that's not exactly a steel trap.  I try to teach these lessons to the kids on my teams, and I still try to implement them when I'm out on the slow-pitch softball field (although I admit that sometimes I step in the bucket when I'm trying to hit the ball down the left field line - sorry Dad).  When someone compliments me on how well I coach, I make sure to acknowledge the man who gave me the tools I need to do it well.  My entire goal as a coach is to help kids love baseball because I love baseball.  I love baseball because my dad loves baseball, and he showed me how.

Not every child was fortunate enough to have a dad so committed to his children.  I recognize how incredibly blessed I have been, and still am.   Thanks, Dad.  Thanks for everything you've given me and continue to give me.  Thanks for the sacrifices you (and Mom) made for the good of me and my sisters.  Thank you for helping me work through all my bad throwing habits, for being patient with a bunch of rowdy 10-year-olds wielding aluminum bats, for playing catch with me any time you had a chance.

Thank you for showing me how to love baseball.  Happy Father's Day!