As a new father of a beautiful baby boy, I find myself thinking about the bond between father and son through baseball. Perhaps there is no better personification of this unique bond than the closing moments of Field of Dreams in which Kevin Costner’s character says, “Hey Dad, you wanna have a catch?”
The game of baseball has always had a special place in the lives of father and son. Baseball is an opportunity to teach, to learn, to love, and to laugh. It is a place where fathers can dream and sons can hope. A simple passing of knowledge becomes so much more as an admiring son hopes to one day be like his dad.
I remember the first game my father ever took me to. Fernando “El Toro” Valenzuela was pitching for the Padres. It was the end of his career and I couldn’t have known at the time that this was a pitcher who once dominated the 1981 season and helped to lead the Dodgers to a World Series. I may not remember the specifics of the game, but I remember being in complete awe. And I remember enjoying spending time with my Dad.
My love of baseball only grew from there. My father took me to countless games and taught me how to understand the game by showing me how to score it. In what other sports do boys come to the park excited about keeping the stats of the game and feverishly hoping that their score of a certain play matches up with the official scorer’s?
I remember standing in the outfield bleachers of Qualcomm Stadium during batting practice and catching “home run” balls. Or at least trying to. I only ever caught one, but still loved every second of it. The only reason we were at the park early enough for this to happen was because of my dad’s love of the game. He wanted to get there and watch batting practice. He wanted to see who was swinging a hot bat and who was blasting monster home runs. That was a time where, when not attempting to catch home run balls, my dad and I could sit and talk baseball in the hours leading up into the game.
And when the games were over, what did I want to do? I wanted to go play. Even with his busy schedule and odd hours, my father found time to take me to the local parks and play catch. Or he’d teach me to stay in front of a ground ball. He’d pitch to me and help me work on my batting. Even as an errant curve ball from my dad hit me in my un-helmeted head one day, I still loved being out there with him.
As I got older, going to the games with him took on even more meaning. I was able to understand some of the nuances of the game better, and soon it became a competition of who’s knowledge of the game was better. He’d always tell me if I memorized my school work half as much as I memorized baseball stats, I’d be a genius.
Some of my best memories are of being with my dad at the ball game. And this is no slight to my step-mom or my sister, but the times when it was just my father and I at the ball game were truly special. I think back to those days and wonder if baseball made my time with my dad more interesting, or if being with my dad made baseball that much better. And every time I think about it, I know the latter is true.
So on this father’s day, my first as a parent, I think ahead to one day teaching my son the beauty of a game with different rules in each league, the wonder of catching a baseball hit from a Major Leaguer’s bat during batting practice, the difference between a two-seam and a four-seam fastball, how to dig a short-hop out at first base, the importance of using two hands in the outfield, and always hustling on every play. I look forward to the bond we may share while talking about who the best pure hitter in the game was, who is the career leader in stolen bases, where Hank Aaron ranks amongst the home run hitters of my son’s generation, and why Cal Ripken Jr.’s consecutive game streak will never be broken. I hope for the day when my son comes up to me and asks, “hey dad, wanna have a catch?”
Through life and through baseball, my dad showed me what it meant to be a man. And with those lessons I enter fatherhood more prepared. Thank you dad and happy father’s day!