I spent yesterday working with my 84 year old dad as we repaired the steps leading up to my screened in porch. It was a day of talking baseball. My dad has skin cancer, just had a huge portion of his ears cut off due to the cancer and is covered all over his body. He is going to have a tough way the rest of his life. Looking back, baseball is what we always had together.
My dad never played. He left school at a very young age and drove mules in a lumber yard. My Grandfather was a huge baseball fan, had a tremendous arm but was never able to play because he had to work. So, when I got to be of age to play, my Grandfather insisted that my dad let me and my brother play. I was, at that time, pulling roots out of a persimmon orchard trying to get it cleared so that we could plant corn. I think I was 9. We were as poor as poor can get. I got to play and that became the big thing for my dad.
We had to move and ended up in Illinois. Me and brother were able to continue playing. My dad worked every low paying high sweat job you can find to make ends meet. He would show up at the games and somehow that made his day bearable. In HS, my dad would show up at the end of the games and sit by a big tree down the line. He worked in a vinegar mill by then and he smelled strongly of vinegar. He was also filthy from that job. My HS baseball coach would find a way every home game to walk down that line and say a kind word to my dad. My dad would go to work and he could be proud of his son. I did well at the HS level and made all of the post season awards I could earn.
One of the stories my dad always tells is when a local drug dealer (teenager) was in the park and I was named the starting pitcher for the local All Star game. He commented in the stands that he could get a hit off of me. Dad heard him bragging saying the same and so, went up to him and told him that I’d throw 5 pitches to him and that if he got a hit on any one pitch, dad would give him $5. The park and parents had wanted to keep this kid out of the park but somehow he always got out of jail and was back at the park. Dad came up to me and asked me if I could take him. He was 2 years older than me but I told dad no problem. So, after the game was played, dad had this kid get a bat and go to the plate. Then, dad walked up and told me to hit him 5 times. I gladly obeyed. Dad went to the kid and gave him the $5. Then, he told him that if he had a problem with me, that I was standing there on the mound so go get some. The kid stopped coming to the park. Dad laughs every time he tells that story.
Dad was working in a muffler shop at the age of 74 and I was coaching HS baseball. He and I would talk on the phone after every game. He never met any of those kids and yet, he knew them all. My cousin who worked with dad would say that dad would brag about my teams and my players. Those teams helped my dad through everyday of work. As we worked yesterday, dad asked about some of those boys. He still remembered their names.
There are so many reasons why parents want their sons to play baseball. In the end, baseball got me into college and so, I was the first person on either my mom’s or dad’s side to go to college. I owe that to baseball and a dad who was willing to work every stinking job in America to give me that opportunity.
I won’t have my dad much longer. When he left yesterday, he stopped at his truck and thanked me for one of the best days of his life. All we did was talk baseball and the work was secondary. I’d have to say it was really special.