Michael J. Chandler wanted a father to complete his family. What he got instead was a baseball team and a good man.
Amidst a sea of televised paternity tests and stories of professional athletes past and present sidestepping paternal responsibilities, there remains a prominent male demographic that receives little to no attention; the archetypal father.
For the purposes of full disclosure, I know almost nothing about my biological father, beyond his name and some obvious genetic traits. From an adolescent age, there was a realization that what little I could discern about the man meant nothing to me. I have never Googled his name, nor is there a desire to do so. This is not to say that he couldn’t be a model father; he just isn’t much of a father to me.
When I was six, my mother began dating a man who I immediately became enamored with. He was kindhearted, regularly made my mother smile, and shared a love with her and I for the Toronto Blue Jays. There was now another lap to sit on at home games, rain or shine, snow or ineptitude; there with my mother, the man she loved, and a couple hundred peanut shells at my feet. I was never happier.
Despite not being the most conventional of family constructs, my parents excelled at making it work. Not unlike an expansion Blue Jays club playing in a multi-purpose lakeside parking lot fit for football, my parents made an alternative situation a stellar one.
While the decision to update Exhibition Stadium on the CNE grounds in the mid 70’s to welcome Canada’s second Major League Baseball franchise is partially responsible for the inception of the club, the place was never well suited to host baseball games. The benches installed along the first base line, specifically for the Jays, were not only completely open to the elements, but were both aluminum and without any posterior support. When facing the field, spectators seated along the first base line were susceptible to howling winds coming off of Lake Ontario. Throw in the unusually high number of seagulls hovering above and their penchant for making precise deposits, and what you have is an open-concept stadium with unfortunate amenities and conditions.
My parents and I were more fortunate, with seats behind the catcher, but up a tier and adjacent to the press box. The massive concrete edifice to our right often quelled the winds, making the spectator’s experience bearable during cold April evenings and heavy rains. Besides that, Exhibition Stadium smelled like an industrial-sized urinal cake and more often than not, the Blue Jays matched the convenience and practicality of the stadium with their results on the field.
This is not to say that the Blue Jays didn’t have some early success. The 99 wins posted by the division winning team of 1985 is still a club record, and were it not for a collapse in the American League Championship after being up three games to one to the Kansas City Royals, the team may have won that first title on a snow-covered Exhibition Stadium turf. Naturally, a fan’s existence is one chocked full of retrospective what ifs and hypotheticals that matter less than a little in the grand scheme of things.
On the other hand, revisiting the integral elements of my youth and the foundation for who I am today is trip worth taking.
Before I had a father, I would observe other kids running around the baseball diamond with their fathers, enjoying the concept of it all from a distance, yet at the same time having no idea what exactly it would feel like. Whatever expectations I had were immediately eclipsed by the joy of actually having a loving father to call my own. This is not unlike being a fan of baseball in general or of a certain club from a distance, only to have your city awarded an expansion franchise that you adopt as your own. The two experiences are incomparable.
The path the Blue Jays took is much like the one my family followed. The early years of Exhibition Stadium were witness to error-prone baseball and a fan base that knew not what to expect. There’s very little I recall of those early years, as is the case with the time before my father came along. What little I can recall is that I imagined that it was my mother and I against the world, an uphill climb similar to the plight of the Jays from their perpetual residence in the American League East cellar.
The parallels between the growth of my family and the success of the expansion Toronto Blue Jays constitute the majority of my favorite childhood memories. Just as the Jays were rising to prominence, starting with the pennant drive of ’85, my life was starting to feel complete.
No longer did I need to throw a tennis ball against the rear wall of my mother’s house and its crudely chalk-drawn strike zone, now I had a partner to play catch with. The memories of my father taking me to the batting cages and helping me with my swing are some of the fondest recollections of my youth. Despite all of the help he offered concerning the basic fundamentals and nuances of baseball, my father’s to blame for a terrible swing that missed balls on the tee and constantly flirted with the wrong side of the Mendoza Line, but that matters little.
A year later, my parents were married, and besides now having a stake in Jays season’s tickets, my father had a stake in the growth of a very impressionable child that desperately needed a dad.
My parents have since had two children, and all things considered, we have become the model nuclear family. I love my brother and sister unconditionally, never considering that they are my half-siblings. Perhaps this is because we share the strongest of bonds, but more likely is the fact that I have not once contemplated whether my father loves his biological children one bit more than he loves me.
There is no doubt that my father had an unquantifiable impact on not only my youth, but also on my becoming the man I am today. His sacrifice to marry a woman once scorned and adopt her son is the same commitment millions of men make, but receive no attention for. For every deadbeat father, there are hundreds like my own who deserve to be placed atop the highest of pedestals.
Within the family, it’s been a long-running joke that my father married my mother for the season’s tickets, but I’d like to think it was because he really wanted to be my dad.
Photo by bobolink/Flickr