I don’t like going this long without posting for you, but have been away. I drove to Ohio Sunday to visit my father, but the visit was unfortunately extended for a funeral.
Everybody loves their father for their own reasons and I am no different. There are some I can’t share and others I do so openly and proudly.
The most important was his love for his family and the moral principles he lived by, but another was his love for baseball, which he gave to my brother, George, and myself.
Among my earliest and fondest is he coached both our Little League teams. It was here where I learned sportsmanship and Little League baseball is to learn the game and have fun.
His belief was if you showed up for practice you would play regardless of how good you were. The games were seven innings and everybody played at least three. If for some reason you didn’t play three, you automatically started the next game.
The emphasis was enjoyment of the sport, not winning, and definitely not learning at a young age one had limited talent. There would be plenty of time for that in high school sports. There would be plenty of opportunities for life to disappoint and he didn’t believe Little League baseball should be one of them.
Where our league’s boundaries ended at the town line, today there’s a Little League World Series that is not only televised, but extends to foreign shores.
We went for ice cream after the games, win or lose. I grew up and played at a time when there were not even sponsors from local businesses, let alone corporate advertisers and television commercials. It was a time when the game had its natural disappointments, like committing an error or striking out and ten year-old kids don’t need cameras stuck in their faces.
It was a simpler time, one when I wasn’t exposed to the more negative and disturbing aspects of sports.
It is almost cliché to mention it, but the best times were playing catch and him hitting me grounders and fly balls in the front yard. We never shot baskets or tossed a football. It was always baseball.
Growing up, there was no such thing as cable and we only had four channels. We’d sometimes watch “The Game of the Week’’ and almost always the Indians.
Those were bad Indians teams that featured Rocky Colavito, Sam McDowell, Sonny Siebert and Max Alvis. I remember the first game he took me to, won, 5-0, over the Orioles. Years later, when I covered the Orioles, they had every box score in franchise history so I copied that game’s and sent it to him.
My dad took me to a lot of games at old Cleveland Stadium, and when I briefly covered the Indians for a small local paper after college, I was glad when I got to take him.
One of the best perks of the job was getting to take him to spring training and buy him World Series tickets when the Indians finally made it. Too bad he never got to see them win it all. Would have been nice.
My dad grew up a Brooklyn Dodgers fan, and when I covered the Orioles, former Dodgers pitcher Rex Barney was the PA announcer and I brought him up to the press box after a game to introduce them. When I came back to the press box nearly an hour later after working the clubhouse, I was happy to see Barney still talking to him.
The Dodgers were his team and he told me about Ebbets Field and Gil Hodges, Jackie Robinson and Carl Furillo. Our family has roots in New York and New Jersey and we’d visit every summer after Little League season and he’d take me to Yankee and Shea Stadiums.
One year, he insisted we see the Mets against the Dodgers to watch this guy pitch. During my first spring covering the Mets, I got to meet the pitcher. I introduced myself and told him I didn’t want to interview him – although I did – as much as I wanted to tell him how my father thought it was important I see him pitch.
Then Sandy Koufax asked me what game it was and when I sheepishly told him the Mets ripped him, 10-4, he said he remembered.
Like all fathers and sons, we had our rocky moments, but whatever they were, we always were able to talk about baseball. And, many of our later conversations were about baseball and the Indians.
My dad was 85 and was ill on and off for his last ten years. He was a shut-in and derived much of his pleasure watching the Indians and baseball, often with my sister, Anne.
Baseball was a passion and there are millions like him who feel the same way he did about the sport. This is something I wish the owners of the sport realized about its fans; that people love and cherish the traditions and simplicity of the game. I wish they understood this before they tinker and attempt to change the sport.
My dad taught me a lot of things, but I will always be grateful to him for giving me his love and appreciation of baseball.
I will forever love and miss him, and sure I will never watch another baseball game the same way.