What’s more American than baseball and apple pie? And what game is more archetypal than baseball for the bonding of fathers and their children, especially their sons?
Watch the 4-minute video below from my blogger friend Charles K. Hale, and try to imagine why I connect viscerally with Charlie’s story. We are about the same age, but we lived very different lives.
Charles captures so perfectly the way in which baseball wraps itself around the psyche. He connects the deep emotions of fathers and sons to a special season and time of day — the twilight time of summer evenings when shadows lengthen.
No peanuts, no Crackerjack
My brother Henry and I wanted a dad like Charlie’s grandpa and Charlie’s dad — someone who would carelessly throw his arm around our shoulders and take us out to the ball game. And we loved the game itself, heading out to the meadow to practice hitting and pitching as often as we could.
Our father, however, was consumed by one thing in the summers of my teenage years: paying off the farm, the mortgage he owed to his father. That meant getting the hay in before it got wet, growing a good strong crop of tobacco, and keeping milk production high (keeping the cows cool and hydrated). When drought threatened the corn crop, Daddy turned it into silage. He couldn’t afford waste. Baseball was a waste.
Learning and listening with Lester
We had a hired man named Lester, however, who seemed relaxed and full of interesting stories. Lester loved the Philadelphia Phillies. He explained the finer points of National League rules and players to us as we leaned over the green and leafy tobacco beds, pulling the largest, healthiest plants and placing them in wooden boxes covered with wet burlap bags. Our little brown leather-covered transistor radio could pull in the broadcasts from Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia, allowing us to listen to the rich, deep tones of By Saam and Richie Ashburn doing the play-by-play.
I learned about RBI’s and ERA’s and read the statistics in the newspaper, following my favorite players Cookie Rojas and Wes Covington, two very different kinds of players who both helped the team in clutch situations. The year was 1964. I turned sixteen that summer, and my brother was thirteen.
If you are a Phillies fan, you may know what the 1964 season was like. First, there was irrational exuberance as the new pitcher Jim Bunning pitched a perfect game on Father’s Day and the team led the league in the latter months of the season. I listened to every game, including ones played on the west coast that ended after midnight Eastern time. I put a pillow over the radio to muffle the sound.
Then disbelief set in during the last two weeks as the team lost ten games in a row and tied for second place instead of going to the World Series. After coming so close to breaking the decades-old image of being losers, the Phillies reclaimed that title in a spectacular way.
The “Phold” — a season that has gone down in infamy
I had become a baseball fan during the “Phold” as it later came to be called — “one of the most notable collapses in sports history.” Neither my brother nor I ever went to Connie Mack stadium with Daddy. And we learned that life goes on even if your team lets you down. Lester assured us, “There’s always next year.” But when next year came round, the luster had worn off. Baseball would never be the same again.
Daddy died in 1980, having pitched a few innings with both Mother Nature and Father Time. Henry and I have both grieved for all that was unknown and undeveloped in our father. I once asked Henry what he thinks Daddy thought of our love affair with Lester and the Phillies.
We looked at each other knowingly, since both of us are parents. “He was jealous,” said my brother.
Do you have a baseball story? A parent/child, sister/brother summertime story? Please share below in the comment box. Batter up!