My father taught me how to throw and catch a baseball. He loved the game and wanted to pass that love along to his son. So, he took the time to teach me how to hold the ball properly, put my glove on properly, and catch the ball before it hit me in the face. Unfortunately, I took one in the mouth before I finally caught on. With all my trial and error, I did become pretty proficient in not only throwing the ball but catching it. I spent a lot of time playing catch after that whenever I had the chance. For me, throwing a baseball was almost therapeutic.
My father also took me to my very first professional ballgame. We had an AA League team in our town of Birmingham, AL. So, our team was a couple of levels down from the “Big Show.” That didn’t mean that we were without some very talented ball players. They were just usually very young and trying to earn the right to move up to the major leagues. Over the years we saw many players who listened, learned, and earned their way up the ranks to become “big leaguers.”
Rickwood Field was the stadium our local team called home. It amazed me the things I can still recall about that old ballpark. I can still envision the color of and shape of the seating we occupied for the home games we attended. I can still remember the smell and taste of the hot dogs cooked on a flat iron grill. I still can’t find a hot dog that tastes as good as those did to my eight or nine-year-old taste buds. What an epicurean delight they were. My mouth is watering as I write this just thinking about them.
When he was a younger man my dad had played baseball in the old industrial leagues in Birmingham. Because Birmingham was known for steel production there were many factories spread throughout the city. Many of these factories provided various recreational interests for their workers. Baseball played a big part in this mix, too. My dad shared a time when almost every community within the city sported their own ballpark where the adult men played as much baseball on Saturday nights as did the children. Unfortunately, by the time I was in my pre-teen years, the industrial leagues had all but disappeared. I’m sure that is why my dad gravitated more towards watching our local pro team. That, and the fact that he was getting a little too old to continue to play.
That played into another memory I recall about visiting Richwood Field with dad. We sat in the same area every ballgame. Actually, we sat in the same seats for every game. We didn’t have season tickets, though. Dad just made sure we got to the ballpark early enough to get “our” seats. I tried to get him to move from time to time, but he was adamant that sitting on the first base side a couple of tiers from the field was the best vantage point in the stadium. Every batter that hit the ball had to go to first base before moving on to second, third or home. So, we would see every hit. He also said that most batters were right-handed. That meant we could see every pitch thrown their way while in the batter’s box. Later I recalled that dad had been a catcher most of his playing days. The real reason he liked sitting in this particular part of the stadium was that he felt like he was still calling the pitches. He could tell the difference between a fastball, curve or any other pitch from the first base side. I remember his second-guessing some of the pitches being called for by the catcher who is normally tasked with that particular job. This was especially true in our league because the pitchers were usually young and inexperienced.
As much as my dad loved baseball, he loved me and my siblings even more. I remember how I found out as I got a little older that my dad had had an accident while on the job before I was born. My dad was a welder. He spent a lot of his time working on tanks that were meant to be placed underground for fuel storage. One day as he was welding on the top of a particularly large tank he fell and landed on his right side. His right hand took the brunt of the fall, and my mom related that he broke all of the bones in that hand. He spends the next year rehabbing to build up the strength in his hand just to be able to work, write his name, and do those things we take for granted. My dad was right-handed, too! So, now when I think about the times we “had a catch” together I’m reminded that he was making something of a sacrifice, too. I know it must have been a little painful for him to throw the ball at times. He never complained though. He just enjoyed spending time with me teaching me about something he loved.
I ran across a review of one of my favorite movies about baseball, Field of Dreams, recently. I guess that’s what sparked this mood of nostalgia I’ve been sharing about my dad and baseball. The main character, Ray, rejected his father in his teen years. The break in their relationship is symbolized by Ray not even wanting to play catch with his dad. His dad died before they could work things out. In the end, it’s a story of the son’s realization of the impact his father had on him, and how important that relationship was and is.
My personal story was not quite as dramatic. In my teen years, I did have a period of time where I rejected my dad’s advice about the game he loved. He was still trying to teach me the finer points of baseball and impart some of the knowledge he had picked up in his playing days. I wouldn’t listen! In fact, I openly argued with my dad. I became so frustrated because of my own inability to listen to some helpful advice that I eventually quit playing baseball. Fortunately, for me, my dad and I were able to resolve our issues instead of allowing them to become a wedge between us. I finally grew up and had some sons of my own before my dad passed away. I taught them how to throw and catch just like dad had taught me. They are in their thirties now. Now and then we still find ourselves tossing a football or a baseball around. When doing so I’m prone to remember how it was when my dad first taught me. The relationship between a father and son is so important. No matter what vehicle you use to enhance that relationship, whether sports, music, art or something else just remember to keep the relationship first. Our heavenly Father continually teaches us this fact throughout the Gospels.