Friday, June 15, 2007
Love, dad and baseball
By Jonah Keri
Special to Page 2
Thanks to everyone who shared their favorite dad-related baseball memories. Hundreds of people wrote in with a wide range of heart-warming, inspiring and yes, hysterically funny stories. Sons paid tribute to their dads, daughters paid tribute to their dads, and some dads spoke wistfully about their own children. Our 10 favorite entries appear below. All 10 received copies of "Baseball Between the Numbers" -- which makes a great Father's Day gift, by the way.
To all the dads reading this: Enjoy, and have a great Father's Day weekend.
1. I grew up in NYC, a Yankees fan. I grew up going to Yankee games in "the glory days" of Willie Randolph, Chris Chambliss, and Reggie Jackson. At the time many people said my dad looked a bit like Reggie Jackson. One day when there was "helmet day" my dad was wearing the helmet they gave away. He looked not like Reggie Jackson ... I was sure when looking at him that he was Reggie Jackson!
As we waited outside the Yankees locker room exit like we often did, some kids came up to him and asked him for his autograph. Word quickly spread that Reggie was giving autographs. Before we could do anything about it, we were surrounded by kids chanting, "Reggie! Reggie!" My dad smiled, rustled their hair, and signed balls, bats, anything they gave him. Of course, he signed his name "John Fernandez," but it was such a scribble, they couldn't read it. He never said he was Reggie, but we had some fun, and those kids got to see, feel, and touch "Reggie Jackson."
--Johnny, Emeryville, Calif.
2. I was a 14-year-old baseball fanatic during the summer of 1969. My dad and I shared a great love of the Twins. As he lay dying of cancer in the hospital that summer, we listened to all of the games and talked about the Twins' great chances that year (they won the AL West). After listening to the Twins win an extra-inning game, his final words were, "You can turn the radio off ... we won." Just 50 years old, he passed away a few minutes later. My love for the Twins continues, and I named my first-born son Kirby.
--Rob, Gardnerville, Nev.
3. Baseball has always been a common bond between my dad and me. Each spring break from elementary school, middle school and high school, my dad and I would take a trip to a city, and one of the high points of each trip was always catching a game in that city -- I have fond memories of games at Wrigley, Shea, SkyDome, and many more.
But one game in particular stands out. In the spring of 1987, we went to Los Angeles and were busy eating dinner at our Holiday Inn, making plans to attend the Astros/Dodgers game at Chavez Ravine the following night. In the middle of our conversation, a young man eating at the next table alone leaned over and politely asked, "Did I hear you two saying you're going to the Dodgers game tomorrow night?" After we said yes, he said, "My name's Tracy Woodson, and I'm going to be playing first base for the Dodgers for the next couple weeks -- I just got called up from AAA because Pedro Guerrero went on the DL. They give each of us a few tickets, and I don't know anyone here. Do you guys want two tickets?" My dad and I didn't know how to react. We probably just nodded and smiled. For a seven-year-old, to have a professional baseball player talking to you is one of the coolest feelings in the world.
We went to the game the next night, and I still have an image of my mind of a perfect 75-degree Los Angeles night, looking out into the hills as my dad and I cheered on my new hero. I'm sure for Tracy Woodson this whole thing wasn't that big of a deal and he probably forgot it a couple nights later. He probably didn't realize that in L.A. that night, he made two lifelong fans. My dad and I kept watch over all 506 at-bats of his five-year career.
4. Growing up, my dad coached Little League games for my brother and me. My favorite baseball moment was the year my dad was coaching my brother's team. They had beaten the first-place team to win the championship. The coaches on the other team protested that because they had a better record, a final "championship" game needed to be played to figure out the "real" champion. Nowhere in the rules did it say that my dad had to agree to play another game. In fact, everyone we knew put their two cents in and told him not to play the game. Much to the chagrin of many people, my dad (the king of sportsmanship) agreed to play the extra game. I was furious with my dad and wasn't even on the team that year.
Anyways, the extra game came down to the final inning with the score tied. A kid who couldn't hit a ball to save his life came up and swatted a ball to the outfield to win the game. My dad's team had triumphed in a game they didn't have to play. The best part? He never bragged, gloated, or paraded himself around. He didn't have to. He was a champion before the outcome of the game was ever decided.
--Nate, York, Pa.
5. The first outdoor baseball game I ever went to was at County Stadium in Milwaukee when I was 10. Being from Minnesota, I was used to watching games in the Big Inflatable Toilet. In the 3rd inning, Kirby Puckett (who is still my favorite player of all time) hit an absolute screaming foul ball right towards us. My dad reached up and somehow one-handed the ball. I was so happy, thinking he would give me the ball. He refused to do it, saying I needed to catch one if I wanted one. I was so mad I didn't talk to him for almost the entire ride home.
Then, on my birthday a few months later, I was all done opening my presents, when my father came out with a small box and handed it to me. I opened it up, and it was the ball he caught, autographed and dated by Kirby. "To Kris, my #1 fan -- Kirby."
--Kris, New Hope, Minn.
6. I was the first member of my family to be born in the U.S.; my entire family was born and raised in South Korea. Having grown up in Chicago, I was raised as a Cubs fan. Looking back now, I realize how increasingly difficult it must have been for my very traditional Korean-born father to find common ground with his very American son. Baseball became the main thing we shared and enjoyed.
While I was away at college, my dad would frequently call me up and extol the virtues of Hee-Seop Choi. He kept on telling me how this kid was going to be the next big thing: patience at the plate, power to all fields, a slick glove. I was reluctant to believe him, as very few Koreans (at that time, one) were part of the MLB scene. When it became more and more realistic that Choi would, indeed, make the big-league club, I shared my father's enthusiasm. Granted, my enthusiasm was more team-related than race-related, but we both still had someone to follow and root for. However, after watching him struggle at 1st base and hit a modest (no, painfully shy) .218 that year, I was ready to give up on him.
My father's love, like the love of most fathers, persisted. Later, when I finally broke the news to him that Choi had been traded for Derrek Lee, my father took the news pretty well. I was shocked, as if my father's dedication was just skin-deep (no pun intended). When I asked him why he was taking the news so lightly when he had devoted the last couple years of his life to following Choi, he replied, "Well, at least we got back another Korean guy, right?" I didn't have the heart to tell him that Derrek Lee was in no way, shape, or form Korean.
As a Father's Day gift two years ago, I took my dad to Wrigley Field to watch the Cubs play Boston. We were having a great time until my dad looked over at first base and realized that a stranger was manning the base. My father stood up, pointed toward the bag, and loudly asked why there was a tall African-American man wearing Derrek Lee's jersey.
--Peter, Ann Arbor, Mich.
7. When I was ages 5 to 9, we used to go to Orlando every spring. The Royals always stayed in our complex. One day when I was five, my brother, father and I played pickup baseball with Bret Saberhagen, his son, and a few other people. Bret was the catcher, and as I rounded third on a play, he had already received the ball. I ran hard and stopped in front of him. Then, while he waved the ball in a show that he was going to tag me, I punched him in the stomach and scored. I don't remember making my dad smile so much at any other point!
8. Back in the '80s, my Dad had a ColecoVision video game console. He used to like to beat me at all of the games when I would visit on the weekends. When I was 10, I stayed with him for a couple of weeks during the summer and played the baseball game every day until he got home from work. Then on that Saturday he said he wanted to play me before he went golfing. Not knowing that I had been practicing, he stated it would be a quick win for him. He wanted to bet me that he would win. He said, "If I win you have to wash my car while I play golf." I said, "If I win, you have to not play golf and take me to see the Dodgers play the Giants." He said with a smile, "Deal." He beat me 20-2 ... and I couldn't even look at him!
I was about to turn the hose on and start my car-washing duties when he stopped me, showed me field-level tickets, 15 rows up on the third-base side, and proceeded to take me to my first game ever.
--PJ, Murietta, Calif.
9. I grew up in a racially mixed urban city in New Jersey. In 1964, when I was nine, I told my parents I wanted to play in the city's Little League. This was an issue, since the ball fields were on the other side of town, while we lived in the Jewish section of the city. In addition, to that point in time, no Jewish kid had ever played in the league. I, of course, didn't understand the big deal, nor did I consider myself the "Jewish Jackie Robinson" of my city. My parents relented and, at my very first practice, I was the subject of taunts from other kids over my clearly ethnic surname. It made me cry. Always wise in such matters, my mother's advice was to "just play your game" and the teasing would stop.
Over the span of the next several practices, the taunts from the kids did stop. I got assigned to a team and became the shortstop, replacing the incumbent shortstop from the previous year. At the first actual game, that kid's father showed up, and began taunting me from the stands, at one point screaming "Get that Jew off the field!" At nine, I didn't get it. I just wanted to play ball. All I could understand was that I saw my father and this man in a fight. It was awful and bloody. I later learned that the other man came to the game drunk.
I learned a few things that summer: a little baseball and something about "real world" prejudices. But, most important, I learned about standing up for who and what you are from a man who served both his country and his religious heritage in World War II. I have also applied my mother's wisdom, and have "played my game" when facing every challenge throughout the rest of my life.
--Rob, Hollywood, Fla.
10. It was October 25, 1986. My father and I were at a local fish and game hall that was set up with a bunch of chairs around a TV to watch Game 6 of the World Series. Being from New Hampshire, we were all Red Sox fans. My father is not, and has never been a sports fan, but he knew I would enjoy watching this momentous occasion with other baseball fans. It was getting to the end of the game and my father, being the warm, generous, others-come-before-me type was really "into" the game. He probably didn't know if he was watching baseball or cricket.
It was now the infamous 10th inning and everyone was glued to the small color TV on a stand with bunny ears protruding out of the top. Mookie Wilson hit a slow grounder at Bill Buckner. As it went under his legs, the hearts of about 10 million Sox fans dropped -- except for one, my father, who bless his sport-ignorant heart, jumped up and down yelling "Run, run, run!!!" while violently waving his arms. Run, run, run? Who was he talking to?
After about 50 dirty looks he realized that it was either not good to miss a crucial grounder in the extra innings of an elimination game in the freakin' World Series!, or he thought maybe it was the Red Sox that were at bat. Or even worse, he thought the batsman had guarded against the wicket, and that we had won the all-important cricket match.
--Cal, Raymond, N.H.
Jonah Keri is a regular contributor to Page 2 and the editor and co-author of "Baseball Between the Numbers." You can contact him here.