Hey Dad, Wanna have Catch?
How can you not think of this clip when the notion of Father’s Day comes up every year in baseball. It is one of the classic baseball movies of all time, and this scene in particular makes it all worthwhile to watch again and again every year. How many of us, as young boys got that same opportunity with our fathers to enjoy a simple game of catch on a cool spring night, or a balmy summers eve. It was a basic bonding moment that was forever etched in your mind and memories for all the right reasons.
It is one of the most cherished moment of my younger life. My father was a boxer in the Navy before and during World War II. He also dabbled playing semi-professional baseball with my uncle Johnny, who did get to play a bit with the New York Giants in their Philadelphia neighborhood before my father joined the Merchant Marines in 1941, right before the United States involvement in the world conflict.
He always loved the game of baseball and settled in St. Petersburg, Florida after the war just for the purpose of raising a family and watching summer minor league baseball in the warm balmy Southern nights under the swaying palm trees. That same love for the game was instilled in my blood early in life as each Christmas and birthday baseball goods were the first thing I usually opened either at the table or under the tree.
I had the same bug he had, I loved baseball with a such a forgiving passion, my glove slept right next to me on the bedpost every night. I was always playing some sort of sandlot baseball before dinner on the vacant lot right next to our house on Central Avenue. And you could always see me at the mini golf batting cages in South Pasadena across from the hospital from the time I was 8 years old.
While my mom and sister did their 18 holes of golf, my dad and I would take turns in the cages with him giving me instruction and fine tuning my young swing into a more precision stroke. It was a special time for us, that bonding moment where you knew the two of you enjoyed something with the same passion and the same love for this simple game.
When business was slow at my dad’s gas station at Pasadena Avenue and Central during the weekends, we would pop out the back door and throw in the alley behind the station for hours. He tinkering with my throws to try and develop some sort of new pitch that would set me apart from the other kids in the Little League.
That pitch never came, but my dad always taught me to strive harder and dig deeper if you really want it, and that instilled a hearty appetite for always wanting to be the best. I used to sit in the station when I was working for him oiling up my mitt and even brought a bat to work to practice my swing and even improve by hitting a tennis ball dangling off one of the car lifts.
We had a concrete block storage shed on the side of the station that I painted a strikezone and I would always spend at least an hour a day, mostly during my lunch time throwing towards it dreaming of that ninth inning save, or striking out Hank Aaron or Willie Mays. And we both looked forward to going down to Al Lang Field and watch the Florida State League St. Petersburg Cardinals play every summer.
Loved watching some of the games future stars play on this simple stage amongst the twilight of a Florida summers eve. It was poetry in motion to watch these guys doing their orchestrated baseball ballet, and I learned the essence of the game watching players like a young Tito Landrum and Gary Templeton play while the team won 88 games in 1975. And even seeing a young prospect named Cam Bonifay play back in 1974 as a 22-year old before his days in the suites as an executive in baseball.
But those times before my own baseball games, or the ones down by the St. Petersburg waterfront, we always took a few minutes to throw to each other before I ever headed to the field to warm-up with my team, or go to our seats in the stadium. It was my time to put the emphasis on our bond, to throw a few with the old man and try and mess him up with a quirky slider or curveball.
But he never seemed to miss the ball on purpose, but a few times did it to show his vulnerability to me. He passed away trying to get to one of my High School baseball games at a friend’s gas station getting ready to head over to the Dixie Hollins field to watch me play.
I knew the minute he was not there something was wrong, but a friend of the family came over the threw with me on the side of the dugout to keep with my superstitious nature. But about 5 minutes into the game without anyone telling me, I want to say there was a warm calming feeling going through me, but it was more of a stark reality that I would never throw with him again.
On Father’s Day I always say a prayer to that great man. Not because he threw a ball with me or taught me to truly love this game, but because moments like that are not just for movies and dramatic television. I was truly one of those things in my young life that made me who I am today. I have tried to pass that same tradition on to my daughter’s, but they are not at all into the game.
I will credit my daughter Tracey with throwing with me for a few years, but she did not have that passion for the game my father and I shared. She was the cheerleader type, and not the jockette. But she has gone to games with me and actually enjoys watching the Rays play baseball. But she is not hooked on it, or even mildly interested like her Old Man.
So on days like today it hurts a bit. Not because he did not see me after my 16th birthday flourish, or even see my first college game, but because I miss those solitary moments of throwing with him. Most people tend to bawl like babies when Bambi is killed in the Disney movie. For me it is that scene of Ray and his dad finally throwing on that Field of Dreams.
I miss you Dad. Every time I throw the ball. Every time I sit and watch the Rays. But mostly I miss you loving the game with me. I know where you are they have a helluva baseball team, but we do too. And it is a true shame I can not enjoy it with you every game.