Cool Papa Dwell: Memoirs of My Dad and Baseball
"Hey, Dad...you 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.
Baseball 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 card...it 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!
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