Designated HitterJune 16, 2005
Cool Papa Dwell: Memoirs of My Dad and Baseball
By Joe Lederer

"Hey, wanna have a catch?"
-- Ray Kinsella, Field of Dreams

Alomar, Alou, Armas. Bell, Bonds, Boone. Grieve, Griffey, Garvey...well, I'm sure someone fathered by Garvey will make the big leagues -- he just won't have the same last name.

Baseball, perhaps more than any other sport, is deeply engraved in the foundation of father and son relationships. From Herm and Jack Doscher to Steve and Nick Swisher, fathers and sons have been a common occurrence in baseball. But it's just not in the big leagues. For every Ed and Bobby Crosby, there are thousands of Rich and Joe Lederers.

joepirates.JPGBaseball is almost a rite of passage when it comes to father-son bonding. The root of this bonding most likely starts with a game of catch, or better yet, one's first baseball glove. How many of us actually remember our first football or basketball as vividly as our first glove? They say smell is the sense that triggers the strongest memories, yet I can't conjure up any memories of my Dad's cologne after he showed me how to shave. I don't remember the smell of grass the first time I helped my Dad mow the lawn. But I can still remember the trail of oil and leather wafting from the kitchen into my room when my Dad was breaking in my first glove.

Oh, how baseball did spoil me! Baseball gave me what seemed like adult privileges as a kid...privileges I could share with my Dad. Playing catch with my Dad was my way to stay outside long after the street lights clicked on. Watching baseball games on TV with my Dad -- never on a school night though -- allowed me to stay up past my bedtime. Taking a trip to the stadium with my Dad for a game was my opportunity to enjoy hotdogs and ice cream sundaes (inside miniature helmets, of course).

As front yards shrink and the work week grows, I fear there is less and less interaction between fathers and sons. The simple game of catch has fallen by the wayside along with other father-son activities like building a tree house or changing the oil of the family sedan. I've always liked Harry Chapin's "Cats in the Cradle," but just recently I noticed one heart-wrenching verse:

"My son turned ten just the other day
He said, "Thanks for the ball, Dad, come on let's play
Can you teach me to throw," I said "Not today
I got a lot to do," he said, "That's ok"
And he walked away but his smile never dimmed
And said, "I'm gonna be like him, yeah
You know I'm gonna be like him"

A father not having time to play catch with his son? That's grounds for child neglect in my book! The notion of "an American boy refusing to play catch with his father," as Kevin Costner's character says in Field of Dreams, well, that's just downright inexcusable. I can only hope that every boy can enjoy the bond with his father that is the game of catch.

Playing catch with my Dad was not like any catch you have ever played. Usually it'd start out like any normal soft toss. But the kid inside of him would shine through and before I knew it, my Dad was winding up like Bob Feller and throwing a huge floating changeup that made my knees buckle. Or sometimes he'd flip it behind his back at 70 MPH for a strike. Then there were the risers from his fast-pitch softball days that would leave my glove hand bruised. And when he'd release the ball while still in his windup like some wannabe Al Schacht, we'd usually have to end the game because I was cracking up so hard. When throwing batting practice, my dad was Tom Seaver. Coaching me, he was Earl Weaver. At home, Ward Cleaver. To this day, I refuse to not believe that my Dad was the best baseball player I ever came in contact with. He was, and still is, my idol.

This Father's Day, grab your glove out of the garage and go play catch with your son. Or if you're older, don't hesitate to call your Dad and tell him 'Thank You' for playing catch with you.

Dad, thank you for writing such an outstanding blog so I, and everyone else, can enjoy your fantastic writing and love of baseball.

Thank you for telling fascinating stories about Lou Gehrig and Sandy Koufax.

Thank you for allowing me to sit in on your APBA and rotisserie drafts when I was a kid.

Thank you for impersonating Al Hrabosky.

Thank you for consoling me the night you had to break me the news that I couldn't play on the All-Star team due to living outside of the district.

Thank you for bestowing upon me the difference between Darryl Strawberry, the hitter and Darryl Strawberry, the man.

Thank you for coaching me in Little League and managing me in AYSO soccer.

Thank you for pronouncing 'Alejandro Pena' like you spent the entire 80s as the U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic.

Thank you for continuing to fill in the blanks about the grandfather I never met.

Thank you for supporting me in whatever sports I wanted to play, be it baseball, soccer or golf.

Thank you for teaching me the "Dodger Song." ("Oh really? No, O'Malley!")

Thank you for laughing at me when I came home with a Kevin Maas rookie was a lesson well learned.

Thank you for turning me on to Vin Scully and off of Joe Morgan.

Thank you for showing me how to throw a curveball ("shake hands with the center fielder") and a changeup ("pull down the window shade").

Thank you for taking me to see George Brett play in a charity softball game, for meeting him was quite possibly the start of my love affair with baseball.

Thank you for introducing to me to Bill James, OPS+ and park factors.

Thank you for surrounding me with coaches like Vern Ruhle, Jeff Burroughs and Mark Cresse.

Thank you for letting me take a break during homework on the evening of May 1, 1991.

Thank you for explaining to me how to keep score and read a box score.

Thank you for playing catch with me.

Thank you for being my Dad.


Happy (early) Father's Day!

[Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]


Wow! I love celebrating Father's Day three days early. What a pleasant surprise to wake up to, Joe. You and Bryan pulled a fast one on me.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart. That was really, really special and very thoughtful. Lots and lots of great memories, including that photo you chose of me sitting on the bench watching you catch a ball (and two-handed, at that!).

Excuse me while I go buy some stock in Kimberly-Clark (the makers of Kleenex tissues).

Love always,


A fantastic post.

Happy Father's Day my own dad, and every other dad out there!

Joe! I am so impressed! I almost cried- I can't imagine how your dad must feel. That's so nice.

Joe, you've got your old man's sly sense of humor--the Garvey line was a classic--as well as his gift for tugging at the old heart strings. I really enjoyed this post, and am envious that you had a father who took the time to share his love of the game (it could be anything really) with you, as well as enstill a sense of discipline and order in your life. You are a lucky man, and it's really cool that you appreciate it. Great post...and I can't wait to see the Mad Hungarian routine in person one day!

Yuda, Amanda, Alex: Thank you for all the kind words. All the credit should be directed right back at my Dad who taught me (almost) everything I know.

Glad you enjoyed it, Dad. Does this mean I can take back the necktie?


Great post. You show a maturity beyond your years. I KNOW your dad is proud. And by the way, the reason you can't remember the first time you cut the lawn with your dad, is because you can't remember your dad cutting the lawn...

Yea, he's catching it two handed, but it looks like your eyes are closed Joe. Go take a lap!

That was wonderful. Nice parenting, Rich. Nice sonning, Joe.

Just wonderful stuff, Joe. You and Rich are a couple of lucky fellas, indeed.

Joe, I am so proud of you being such a wonderful man. I have known for many years that your father was a great dad, but nothing seals the deal like reading this.

If Rich wasn't blubbering by the time he finished reading this I would be very suprised.

Congratulations on having such a wonderful relationship with the most important man in your life. And, most of all, always remember to enjoy and celebrate that relationship every chance you get. Nothing you ever do would make your dad happier.

As for you Rich, I know what "stuff" there is out there in being the dad. I know it isn't always roses. But, I would say you are enjoying a monumental return on all of the time, attention, direction and energy you offered your son. Congratulations to you. This, as much as anything, is your life's work. Well done.

So, what was the significance of the Blue Jays/Rangers game?

Great post, BTW.

Okay, never mind. I figured it out.

Great stuff, Joe. Happy Father's Day to Rich and to all the dads who have shared baseball with their sons.

Wonderful I told Rich, it's almost enough to make me drag my crepid Mantle glove up to my dad's house and forgive him.

I said ALMOST.