For most men, the mainstream narrative is that they learned baseball from their fathers. That sun-soaked, nearly-saccharine game of catch in the backyard with their dad. Dad taking them to games and teaching them about how the game works; when to put on the hit-and-run play. Maybe their dad started teaching them how to score games about the same time they were learning math in school.
Even one of the greatest baseball movies whirlpools down to that last moment of just wanting to have a catch with dear old dad. You know you’ve all shed tears while watching Field of Dreams. Every time, without fail. I know I have, but I am hit in the emotional gut by the absence of that father.
Oh, I have a father. He’s just not around; alive, but estranged. He’s been as such since I was about 12 years old. As a Gen-X’er, I am an all-too-common child of divorced parents. I had to rely heavily on my mother, sometimes for things commonly perceived as duties of the relationship between a father and his son. It is what it is.
My mother grew up East of the Berkeley Hills in the Bay Area. Her parents moved her and her twin sister, my aunt, to California when they were just two from Virginia. By the time my mom was 12, she and my grandfather had a baseball team to root for, the San Francisco Giants.
They had the delightful privilege of watching Willie Mays in his glorious prime. My grandfather taught my mother about baseball. In turn, my mother introduced me to what would ultimately be one of my life’s passions and loves. As I’ve alluded to in my bio, I also wasn’t the stereotypical boy when it comes to someone who is a raving, frothing baseball fanatic. I was a huge basketball fan from early on and through high school. In fact, I’m not entirely clear on how the transformation began, since at the time I found baseball boring. What did George F. Will say about people who think baseball is boring?
Well, I may not be able to recall how the shift in my sporting attention and passion began, but I know when it took hold. It was nine days before my 21st birthday – that’s April 21st, 1996 for those who need to know. The Seattle Mariners were hosting the Toronto Blue Jays that day. My mom had bought us a pair of tickets for my birthday outing. She was not as into basketball as I was, so that was something I did independently. Baseball was much more conducive to the two of us hanging out, talking, philosophizing, and cheering our lungs out.
I don’t even know what tickets she originally purchased, because a friend of mine who worked in the Kingdome’s ticket office switched out our tickets for two in the third row. Behind home plate. While Ken Griffey, Jr. and Edgar Martinez just demolished Erik Hanson, what really dug the hook in was being so close and watching the pitches arrive at home plate. That’s when my mom really had an opportunity to explain to me some of the different pitches based on their movement. She illuminated me to how the human element affects the game when I was confounded by some of the ball and strike calls. Somehow, it just connected and the rocket left the launch pad. We have talked away many hours in the years since about baseball. She has often recalled that afternoon and glowed with the distinct knowledge that that was the day I started to truly see the game.
So, this is just a way to say, “Thanks Mom,” and to celebrate baseball and mothers on this lovely Sunday afternoon.