With baseball fever running wild—SO proud of our Golden Eagles!!!—and Father’s Day upon us, the time seems right for a column about America’s pastime and my daddy.
Thanks to my great-grandmother, I knew the rules of baseball long before I owned my first glove. I’d sit with her in front of her tiny black-and-white TV for hours on end, watching the New York Yankees play while she explained the game. It was the era of Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, and I adored them just as much as she did. But Grandma was in her late eighties and far too frail to play baseball with me.
That’s where Daddy came in.
I was nine years old and my brother Rusty was six on that hot Saturday before Father’s Day when Daddy took us with him to pick up a few things at the A&P. On the sidewalk outside the store was a big wire bin filled with baseball gloves. They were all exactly alike—same size, same color, same brand. Wilson. If we’d dug around long enough, we’d probably have discovered that a few of the gloves were for southpaws. But since that didn’t apply to us, Daddy chose three gloves from the top of the pile and tossed them into the buggy.
“The perfect Father’s Day present,” he declared, while Rusty and I looked at each other and grinned.
Later that afternoon, when the temperature finally dropped into the 80s, we headed for the front yard. Daddy showed us how to slide the enormous gloves onto our left hands, making sure each finger was in the correct slot. He showed us how to thwack the baseball into the webbed pocket. Then he taught us to catch, starting with gentle underhand throws we couldn’t possibly miss. And he drilled into our heads the most important rule of baseball: Always, always, always keep your eye on the ball.
It didn’t take many sessions before we could catch a ball thrown overhand. We soon learned to scoop up grounders and knock down choppers and get under fly balls tossed way up into the air. Daddy taught us to throw, too—how to thrust our left foot forward and windmill our right arm and not let go of the ball until our hand was all the way in front of us.
I still have that A&P baseball glove, though it’s cracked and dry and not much good for catching any more. With a decent glove, I can still scoop up grounders and knock down choppers and get under fly balls, though I rarely get a chance to do those things. But in my memory, I’m still standing in the yard with my little brother in the heat of a summer afternoon while Daddy—gone now for almost 20 years–reminds us to always, always, always keep our eye on the ball.
(June 17, 2018)