Let me begin this by saying my story is not an uncommon one, but it is my own. A lot of us learned to fall in love with the game of baseball through our fathers. I can say this is definitely the case for me. My father passed away a dozen years ago. The game of baseball was a sort of throughline in our relationship. My father was a die-hard Los Angeles Dodgers fan; I am sure there was a slight disappointment when it became apparent my team of choice would not be his. He never held it against me though, as I am sure he was happy to have another baseball fan in the house. I am sure shared passions are something all parents hope to have with their children. This being Father’s Day, and in the middle of the baseball season, he is on my mind, especially today
My father was not one to buy me toys. I guess he left that to my mother. The one toy he did buy me was a plastic ball and bat that we put to good use. I could barely walk, but I was already in the yard taking my swings. It annoyed our Vietnamese neighbors to no end. My father being a veteran of the war in Viet Nam knew what was being said when they began to insult us one particular day, so he put the neighbor in their place. My father was a quiet and easygoing guy, but he would always defend his family if it came to that.
I recall the days playing catch with him as I was learning how to throw. He did his best to not get frustrated when his son would seem to throw the ball everywhere except to his glove; at least it felt that way to me. I was lucky enough to have a left-handed father, so got to see lots of same-handed pitching when I was learning how to hit. My father looking out for me continued into my first foray into little league. He was a coach on my team the first couple of years I played. He did his best to ensure I got a fair shot and was able to integrate into playing with other kids in organized baseball. My teams were horrible the first few years I played, but my father kept it fun and always wanted to share in my triumphs or commiserate in my failures. By the third year of my playing on teams, my father had stopped coaching with the teams I was on. He would call every night from work to ask me how the game went, so he was never too far away. I loved to tell him about the good games I had. He always reminded me to not be satisfied, by asking me what I could have done better in that game in order to have something to work on before the next one.
We all know baseball is a game of ups and downs. My father would always encourage me in his own seemingly stoic way. When I was a kid I could hear his voice reminding me with his verbal cues, saying things like “keep your elbow up” when he would look at my batting stance. He wasn’t a super technical baseball guy, but our verbal shorthand worked for us. During my high school years as I transitioned into pitching, he would drive me the hour to Los Angeles multiple times each week for me to play and practice in the Reviving Baseball in the Inner cities program. No, I wasn’t from the inner city, but they invited me to play, and my father was not going to let a commute be the reason I didn’t take advantage of the opportunity. I will always recall my games at Rancho Cienega Park my first summer in R.B.I. My father would quietly watch me try to find the strike zone; I basically walked or struck out everyone for the summer. We can say I was semi-effectively wild. I got a bit better as the years wore on to the point where I got to give my father a thrill when I pitched at Dodger Stadium in my last game before heading to college. My father was very excited that I got to play college baseball at Cal. State, Los Angles. His job was about ten minutes away, so he was able to watch me play as schedules allowed.
Once I started coaching baseball once my college days had finished my father was there to see if I could handle myself in a new role. It was comforting to have at least one person in the stands who didn’t think the coach was an idiot if we lost. I learned a lot of my father had rubbed off on me through the years while I was coaching. There wasn’t any yelling at the players as I found the bench to be a much better motivator than my voice would ever be. I took the approach that if a player did not know what they were doing, or failed to do what was expected of them then it was an error on my part for not properly preparing them to play. Very much like how my father would tell me to be ready for the next game when I was in little league.
Somewhere along the way, my knowledge of the game surpassed my father’s. Rather than having his ego get in the way about this fact, my father embraced it and began to lean on me for more knowledge of the game we both loved. My father and his best friend started calling me “G.M.” when I would break down the latest transactions or rules for them. I can only imagine what he would think about the current trends such as the use of the shift, or the use of advanced analytics. I loved having him to talk about the game because he saw greats like Willie Mays and Hank Aaron firsthand. My father joked “Wille McCovey showed up hot and never cooled off” when we were talking about McCovey Cove as the Giants were moving into their stadium. My increased knowledge only strengthened our bond and made us closer.
Baseball was still front and center at the end of my father’s life. The last caper we had was an incident where duped me in order to get out of the hospital for a few hours to watch his beloved Dodgers in the playoffs. The NLCS wasn’t on the television in his room and they told him he couldn’t hijack the television in the visitor area. He called me to say the doctor said he could go out as long as he was back by nine. The game was in Philadelphia so with the time difference it would be over around seven. I dropped him off at home to watch the game only to have the hospital call me to ask if I had seen him. I told them I had dropped him off at home for a few hours because he said the doctor said he could. They said if he wasn’t back by nine then they were going to consider him checked out against medical advice. When I went back to get my father all he could do was smile while sipping on his beer. I was so mad when I took him back to the hospital, but now it is a fond memory reminding me how far he would go to watch his team.
Father’s Day is a unique day for me to think back on the most significant male figure in my lifetime. Not a day goes by where I don’t think about him for some reason, but during baseball season the memories are the most vivid. I will always consider myself blessed and fortunate for having my father. We loved each other in our own understated way. I didn’t realize it at the time, but now I understand all of the sacrifices he made for me.