Baseball and Fatherhood
Did Jeter and Ruth play together?
What’s the black stuff under their eyes?
When is Didi’s birthday?
Is 37 old for baseball?
How come Matt Holiday shakes his butt when he hits?
What’s a resin bag?
These are the questions I am peppered with on any given night from my two oldest children, ages 4 and 7. It has become a nightly ritual in our home to turn on the Yankees game and plop down in the living room together for a few innings after dinner.
We are a family of Yankees fans. That’s offensive to some of you, but I can’t help it.
Born and raised in New York, to parents born and raised in New York, it’s as much a part of me as anything else. My most vivid childhood memories are not from the playground, but the park…as in the ballpark. I remember just as easily what former Yankees outfielder Mell Hall looked like trotting around the bases as I do my childhood friends. I was born at the perfect time. Too young to care when the Yankees stunk in the 80’s and early 90’s and old enough to become enthralled with the winning that began in my adolescence.
I love baseball and am unabashedly exposing my kids to it.
Some will say it’s boring.
That there’s too many games.
The games are too long.
The pace of play is too slow.
But what if those things aren’t weaknesses, but strengths. Yes, football games are a spectacle. Games are once a week, the season always hanging in the balance, tense moments, a produced and hyped pregame-ceremony, cheerleaders and blimps and mind-numbing hits and celebrations. But baseball is different. 6 games a week, it’s as routine as dinner time. There’s a rhythm to the season that is methodical and almost mundane. It’s the game that’s always there. A faithful friend and a sense of home. The majority of games begin at 7pm before primetime and are carried out over the airwaves of radio and on obscure regional networks. In the dog days of Summer you can turn a game on in the 1st inning, catch a few at bats, and come back to the game an hour later without having missed much. In football every trip to the red zone is a battle of wills and determination. In baseball, a run may score without fanfare via a walk, a passed ball and a bloop single. Talk about routine.
My 7-year-old daughter knows the names of each of the 2017 Yankees starting 9. She knows that at the moment, Aaron Hicks is hitting above average and that Chase Headley is in a slump. She wakes up in the morning and inquires about the previous night’s game. She rarely gets to stay up late enough to see the final out. She loves that I played college baseball against Yankees left fielder Brett Gardner and she calls him by the nickname endowed to him by his college teammates. We sit next to each other on the couch, my arm around her and questions about baseball turn into stories about the day and books she is reading and anything else that she cares to openly invite me into. It seems as though watching baseball is the perfect context for being a Dad. I find myself hoping this never changes.
My four-year-old floats in and out of interest, never sitting still for more than a few moments…he’s more suited for running bases than watching other people do it. But he never misses an Aaron Judge at-bat. In fact, even my three-year-old is captivated by the 6’8” right fielder she calls “T-Rex.” I recently had bright lights installed in the giant oak tree that stretches its branches over our cul-de-sac. It’s a damn good whiffle ball field. Short porch in right, green monster in center (20 feet high and 75 feet long holly bush) and a moveable left field fence constructed from orange netting and 4-foot-high traffic cones. Now that it’s summer we take batting practice and catch fire-flies on most nights. My 4-year-old son swings and misses more than he doesn’t, mind you he’s swinging a 32 inch yellow bat and trying to hit a moving object. Put it on a tee and he turns into Mickey Mantle. As I try and give him pointers on how to hold his hands or keep his head still, I inwardly hope that my instruction isn’t received as a condemnation that leads to feelings of antipathy for the game I love, or me for that matter. And so I cheer even his most futile swings.
I counted recently and I’ve been to 18 major league ballparks, mostly with my Dad. Those trips are some of my favorite memories. I’ve never made it to the great ballparks in Pittsburgh or San Fran or St. Louis, but no absence is more egregious than never having visited Wrigley Field. I would love to go there one day. I recently took my two oldest kids to Yankee Stadium to see Derek Jeter’s number retired. We had the trip planned for over 6 months. My son and daughter, in unison with the 40,000+ other fans, chanted Jeter’s name, the same way I did for all those years. I didn’t so much feel old in that moment as I did complete. As Terrance Mann said in Field of Dreams, “baseball has marked the time. This field, this game…it’s a piece of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good. And that could be again.”
This Sunday is Father’s day and the Yankees play at 4pm. They’ve been on the West Coast all week, which means their games don’t begin until 10pm. We hate West Coast trips. Come Sunday, I’ll be in the living room when my kids wake up from their afternoon naps and the game will be on. If all is right, Michael Pineda will have his good slider, I’ll have an Americano in one hand and my kids will be by my side on the couch asking me whatever questions they want.