When I was my son’s current age, my dad took me to my first baseball game ever.
It was a minor league baseball game, where the El Paso Diablos played the San Antonio Dodgers. Though I enjoyed the experience, I wondered what it all meant. I think I get it now.
Was it a message to be a great baseball player? After the game, I put on my Rod Carew glove, went out and threw tennis balls at the wall until my arm fell off, snagging grounders on the rebound. I even fashioned a strike zone from some well-placed stones. But I never became a big league pitcher.
Dad did teach me to hit. I was a natural righty, and he was a natural lefty, so he taught me how to bat left-handed. Being a switch-hitter in college was great — for co-ed intramural softball, where guys had to bat with their opposite hand.
I was just about the only guy who could get an extra base hit, much less hit the ball. But intramurals was the height of my baseball career.
Maybe it was about being a great manager. As soon as my son was old enough, I became his coach. Our Bad News Bears team of all the wait-listed kids actually managed to have a winning season.
I certainly had a lot of enthusiasm, but I think I had the advantage of pitching to Zach for years — he hated tee-ball and preferred hitting a thrown ball — over more talented dads, who were unfortunately better at getting strikeouts than inducing from easily-to-hit pitches. But I didn’t have enough skills beyond that, and was glad to be a first base coach or third base coach, relying upon the smarts and talent of other coaches.
Could it be about being a great statistician? After all, dad taught me how to keep score at that first game. And if it wasn’t for sports, I probably would never have passed math.
Learning how to calculate batting averages and earned run averages whetted my appetite for regression analyses and nonparametric statistics, with politics as the subject, instead of sports. But I still don’t think that was the lesson.
Might it have been about being a great sportswriter? I melded my dad’s enthusiasm for athletics with my mom’s ability and passion for writing.
My first job was to write for the sports section of the El Paso Herald-Post, while in high school. Though both parents were pleased, I am not sure that’s what the real point was of getting me interested in baseball.
As I took Zach to yet another baseball game in Atlanta, where we watched Freddie Freeman hit for the cycle, I taught him to keep score and listened to him recite facts from the program — like pitcher Jim Johnson happens to be from Johnson City, Tennessee, it hit me what dad was trying to do at that first baseball game. He was trying to show me how to be a great dad.
After all, isn’t that the point of so many great baseball movies? Kevin Costner’s Ray Kinsella gets to play catch with his dad in an Iowa Cornfield in “Field of Dreams.” Roy Hobbs, played by Robert Redford, ends the film “The Natural” tossing a ball with his son, the ball boy, as Iris looks on.
Father and son reconcile at the end of the 2002 film “The Rookie,” starring Dennis Quaid, about one of the oldest rookies in history. And what major league ballpark isn’t having a Father’s Day special?
There’s something special about baseball and Father’s Day that goes beyond the sport itself. It’s about showing the best gift is about spending time with one another.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College. He may be reached at [email protected]