You hear it all the time: Baseball is about fathers and sons. No Game of the Week broadcast is complete without a couple of little boys eating ice cream in the stands, a doting father no doubt nearby. Rarely does a Hall of Fame induction speech end without thanking dad for throwing all that BP and coaching all those Little League teams.
Hollywood buys into this line of thinking, too. Field of Dreams wasn't so much a baseball movie as it was about repairing a relationship between a father and son. (The filmmakers didn't even bother to make Shoeless Joe a left-handed hitter, so unconcerned they were about the facts.) Remember the closing scene of The Natural? It was Roy Hobbs playing catch with his son. Hobbs' career, dilatory as it was in any case, was ruined by that old bullet wound and he didn't even get to play in the Series, but everything is OK because now he's playing catch with his kid, a strapping young man who doesn't mind the fact that he had a deadbeat dad all these years.
Meanwhile, as a father of one little girl and with another bambina on the way, I'm left to wonder: What about fathers and daughters? Has fate conspired to keep me from forging the same bond with my daughters that dads everywhere enjoy when they play catch with their sons, picturing the day he will be suiting up in Yankee pinstripes or Red Sox stirrups? Are we not entitled to our own little slice of baseball Americana?
For myself and fathers like me, "Double-X" isn't just a nickname for Jimmie Foxx. It's a chromosomal pairing that means we won't be tying our offsprings' right hands behind their backs to force them to throw lefty, which for boys would ensure them of unending riches as they follow the path laid down by Jesse Orosco, the patron saint of LOOGYs. Diamonds of the lustrous variety are a girl's best friend, but baseball diamonds are for men only, even though only a precious few will ever don a major league uniform.
So does this mean I should give up on transferring my baseball passion to my children? Should I stand idly by as their bedrooms fill up with Barbies and other such dress-up dolls?
To Hell with that.
I'm raising my girls as what they are -- the sons I never had. Some kids watch cartoons on Saturday mornings. Hannah, my 3-year-old, settles for Baseball Tonight reruns. She knows how to spot a home run, though I'm guessing it will take some time for her to appreciate the beauty of the RBI groundout -- let's hear it for the National League, baby! If she learns how to read before her classmates, it may have a lot to do with her endless hours of exposure to the ESPNews ticker. Her bedtime is 9 p.m., but there is a standing rule that she can stay up late as long as the time is spent watching baseball, or "game ball," as she calls it, with her daddy. When I come back from the road, I bring back a plush mascot of the home team of whatever stadium I was just visiting, and I never leave Cooperstown without finding a suitable piece of Rockford Peaches paraphernalia.
Ballet classes are in order, yes, but so is T-ball and Little League. With any luck, she'll be the biggest tomboy this side of Tatum O'Neal (aka Amanda Whurlizer from Bad News Bears). She'll take the mound with her hair pulled up in a hat, hiding behind youthful androgyny to save the boys from the embarrassment of getting struck out by a girl.
So far I think my strategy is working. Invariably I come home late from a ballgame and miss her bedtime, and when I do she grills me the next day about going to the game ball without her. (On a related note, she also got upset with her parents when, upon seeing our wedding album for the first time, she realized that she had not been invited to the ceremony, which took place four years before she was born.)
Earlier this summer I decided it was time to take her to her first big league game, and we booked a weekend trip to Philly for the occasion. But as soon as we got to Citizens Bank Park for a Braves-Phillies tilt, a wicked thunderstorm pounded us for the better part of three hours. The rain dampened her clothes but not her enthusiasm for her first ballgame. She had the same wondrous stare that we all did upon first setting eyes on a big league field. Though the players were all safely ensconced in the clubhouse doubtlessly playing cards or dominoes, Hannah wouldn't take her eyes off what must have seemed to her as unending acres of perfectly green -- albeit soaked and partially tarped -- grass. (We don't get much of the green stuff living in Hoboken, N.J., across the river from New York City, after all.)
We waited out the delay until the game was called. As we filed out of the stadium along with the remaining crowd, Hannah's disappointment was palpable. Among the three of us, she took the rainout the hardest. I wouldn't be surprised if she took it harder than most anybody in the stadium that day. For the first time I harbored hope that she really is interested in game ball beyond an excuse to stay up late or veg out on the couch with me. Maybe she sees it as an easy way to connect with her seamhead of a father, who would love nothing more than to make baseball a lifetime connection with the first of his beloved daughters.
Jacob Luft is a baseball editor/writer for SI.com.