A father, a son, and a game called baseball
Baseball is America’s pastime and in many households it is passed down through the generations like a family heirloom.
This Father’s Day, fathers and sons throughout the country will sit down at a ballpark or in front of the TV and watch a game or go in the yard for a catch. In that respect, my family is no different. Baseball and the love of it is one of the few things that link me to my father and both of us to my grandfather.
I’ve not always had the greatest relationship with my dad and Parkinson’s robbed me of any real relationship with my grandfather, but baseball was one thing that bonded us together.
Baseball was the language we could speak to each other when we had nothing else to say. Unfortunately for me, a lack of ability to play baseball and a horrendously sarcastic sense of humor are two other things that bonded the three of us.
The former meant that I would never be able to play the game with any skill, while the latter erased any chance that the three of us would share a common team. As I reflect back, it seems that we were destined to end up on opposing sides of baseball’s Hatfields and McCoys: I am a Yankees fan like my grandfather and my dad is a Red Sox fan.
I measure my life in years, but I remember it in baseball seasons. I remember October 1986 because it was the first time I heard my father curse.
Dad let me stay up late that Saturday night to watch baseball with him. It was game 6 of the World Series between the Red Sox and the Mets, and it was the first game I remember watching with my father.
When the ball rolled through Bill Buckner’s legs, my father hung his head and said one particular four-letter word. Dad had learned the intricacies of the curse while in college in Worcester, and could feel the Ghost of Babe Ruth all the way in south Jersey.
I didn’t get to see game 7, dad put me to bed early that night, claiming I needed a good night sleep for school the next day.
I remember 1987 and 1988 and my father teasing his father as the Yankees faltered. This was the point when I sided with my grandfather’s Yankees over dad’s Red Sox. I knew nothing of there past success despite the fact that pop-pop regularly told me stories of Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, and Mantle in lieu of bedtime stories during those years. The Yankees and his stories would be the only thing I really shared with my grandfather.
I remember October 26, 1996. Ten years and a day on from watching my first World Series game with my father, we watched another. This one was different. His father had passed less than a month earlier, finally loosing a lengthily battle with Parkinson’s.
Dad stood in front of the TV as Charlie Hayes caught Mark Lemke’s foul pop and the Yankees won their first world series since 1996. Dad looked up and simply said, “Enjoy.” In that moment I watched a father and son bond in death in a way they’d struggled too in life and understood my father better than I had before.
I remember July 19, 2002 and the day I realized a dream some 10 years in the making. Every son should have the opportunity to see his father as he was as a child: eyes wide in wonder, mouth agape and speechless with the amazement that only child-like exuberance can bring.
I saw that man-child that day as we dodged raindrops in midtown Manhattan, frantically searching for the Uptown D train to 161st Street and Yankee Stadium and the Yankees Red Sox game.
I had given him two tickets to the Yankees-Red Sox at Yankee Stadium for Father’s Day that year in an effort to realize a son’s dream of giving something back to his father.
As we sat in the stands, I with my Yankees Jersey and he with his Red Sox hat, I watched my father relive his younger years as he realized with his son things he wished he had the opportunity to realize with his father.
To our left were a group of Red Sox fans, all World War II and Korean War vets, who had come down from New England to watch the game. In front of us were a father and his young son, also Red Sox fans.
Dad talked about the days of Williams, Bench, and Yastrzemski while watching a man explain the nuances of the hit and run and Yankees Red Sox with his son. We sat for long stretches in silence with a quiet, contemplative understanding of the need to soak up this experience.
That day became more profound six months later as I boarded a plane for Iraq. That night was how we chose to remember each other for the next year. When times got rough and I needed something to get through, I would reflect back on that experience. My father upheld his end by taping every game of the 2003 World Series for me to watch later.
As I think about those memories and the others like them I am left with this thought: As a boy I thought my father was the greatest man alive. As I grew into a teenager, I thought he was the biggest idiot ever. Now I realize how awesome he really is.
Mike Simzak is the Youth Programs Coordinator at the National Constitution Center and the official sports writer for Constitution Daily.