A fine early June spring afternoon at the ballpark. I sit alone in section 141, row 21 seat 9 at Guaranteed Rate Field, home of the Chicago White Sox. It’s too difficult and frankly too damn expensive to get a ticket to see the Cubs at Wrigley Field, so I’ve taken my passion for our national pastime eight miles to the south to Guaranteed Rate Field, formerly known as US Cellular Park, formerly known as Comiskey Park.
Anyone who knows baseball knows the White Sox are bad, and won’t be good for a few more years. Perhaps 16,000 are in attendance today. No matter, it’s still major league baseball, and for seven bucks a wily fan can get a ticket and sit just about anywhere and enjoy a fine late spring afternoon.
This particular setting is a postcard come to life – temperatures in the mid-70s, low humidity, the sun providing just the right amount of warmth in a cloudless sky. The Milwaukee Brewers are in town for a weekend series, the teams splitting the first two games, this the series-deciding finale.
It’s top of the second inning and Sox right-hander Dylan Covey is pitching to Milwaukee second baseman Jonathan Villar. The count goes to two balls and one strike. There’s no one around me, I have practically all of row 21 to myself. I stretch out a bit and say out loud to no one in particular, “God what a great way to spend a day. This is the perfect afternoon.” Something I’ve said hundreds of times at ballgames at Wrigley, Dodger Stadium, Jacobs Field in Cleveland, Camden Yards in Baltimore, Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park. I love baseball.
However, for the first time, another thought follows, emanating from somewhere deep within me. It’s a thought I’ve never given any thought to before, yet there it is: “How did I get here?” Specifically, how did it happen that I’ve come to enjoy this sport, this kids’ game, with as much childish joy as my soul and being could produce?
It’s a good thing I’m wearing sunglasses because as Covey is preparing to deliver a fastball to Villar, I start weeping. As the count goes to 2-2 and then 3-2, my shoulders shake uncontrollably as I’m convulsing with tears.
At that moment, it hits me. My dad gave me baseball.
- My dad, who died when he was 56 and I was 9. My dad, who I have only four or five memories of because he wasn’t around very much because he was in the hospital a lot because he was sick a lot and my last memory of him was seeing him in the hospital but he couldn’t see me because he had these white pads over his eyes so all he could do was hold my hands and tell me he loved me.
- My dad who I’m still angry at for dying even though I’ve forgiven him I’m still mad at him and probably always will be.
- My dad who left me behind as the “man of the house” at the age of 9 and with a mom who emotionally raped me by leaning on me for support when I needed her.
- My dad who I’m still angry at because he wasn’t around to watch me play little league baseball, to help me with my homework, to go with me to Cub Scouts so I had to borrow one of the other dads to help me with projects.
- My dad who left me without a dad and left me feeling “less than” the other kids because they had two parents and I only had one.
- My dad who wasn’t the male role model I needed growing up so I had to figure it out for myself and at the age of 56 – the same age as when he died – I’m still trying to figure it out.
- My dad gave me the greatest gift – my own kids notwithstanding – of my entire life. He passed on to me his encompassing love and passion for baseball. He afforded me the opportunity to pass my love for the game onto my daughters (as soon as I’m done writing this my 16-year old and I are heading to a White Sox game), and the opportunity to coach them and teach them the game when they played softball.
Some of my happiest memories are those times playing catch with my girls, hitting them pop flies and grounders, crouching down behind the plate to catch them when they practiced pitching.
Section 141, row 21, seat 9. I don’t know what happened to Villar, whether Covey struck him out or he grounded out or what. I do know I looked up into that glorious blue cloudless sky, and I thanked my dad for giving me baseball. “I love you,” I said between the tears.
By the way, dad, the Sox won 6-1.
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