[My dad's been gone for more than five years, but as we build toward his favorite sporting event of the year—the World Series—I can't seem to stop thinking about him. Here's something I wrote for a Father's Day gift a few years ago. He loved it. I hope you will, too.]
I remember it as though it were yesterday. I was in the second grade and had received my first report card containing nothing but A’s. Perhaps one of the reasons I remember that card so well is that, sadly, it didn’t get lost in the shuffle with many other such report cards.
In any event, my parents were appropriately impressed with my accomplishment and told me how proud they were. And that would have—and should have—been more than enough. They’d encouraged their three children to do well in school, corrected fractured grammar when we uttered it, helped us with long division and multiplication tables, and generally taught us that education was a good thing.
So when Dad asked me to go with him for a ride to the store after dinner, I had no idea that it would be anything more than just a pleasant father-son drive. Even after we arrived, I didn’t know why we were there. But I must say that my interest piqued when we got to what I considered to be the store’s Mecca—the Sporting Goods Department.
The sights, smells and sounds of a good sporting goods department in the pre-aluminum-bat days of my youth were almost overwhelming to a second-grader. And I think it still affected Dad the same way.
It couldn’t be said that we were rabid sports fans in the sense that we loved every sport and every team with equal intensity. In fact, in many respects, we were just casual fans. We didn’t really have a strong interest in football, golf or tennis. And we didn’t even know anyone who’d ever been to an auto race.
But we did share two great passions in the sporting world—the Boston Celtics and anything to do with baseball.
It was easy to love the Celtics. They were the best team in the world, and they played basketball the way it was meant to be played—with passion, skill and ego-free teamwork. The Celtics also had Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, Tom “Satch” Sanders, Tom Heinsohn, Sam Jones, K.C. Jones and John Havlicek. What’s not to love?
It was easy to love baseball too. We loved baseball because . . . well, because it was baseball. It truly was the national pastime then. I remember sneaking a recently invented transistor radio into school to hear the World Series (back in the days when the Series was actually played before the sun went down so 10-year-olds could be awake for the final out). And, in days when video games were 35 years away from being invented, baseball was what kids did for fun after school or on Saturdays. It was what I did and it was what Dad had done.
He was from Pennsylvania and a lifelong Phillies fan—a hearty, long-suffering breed, to say the least. Dad had taught me practically everything I knew about baseball. I have vivid memories of him showing me how to turn my shoulder away from the hitter in my pitching motion, then how to “push off” the rubber, take a big stride and “follow through” as I delivered the ball toward the plate, remembering to finish in a good fielding position (as if anyone would ever hit one of my pitches). I also remember him teaching me to hook slide and that a drag bunt can only be executed by a left-handed hitter who “drags” the ball with him as he runs to first base. Regrettably, a sports commentator I heard recently must not have had a father to teach him that.
Dad usually spent time with my older brother and me—playing catch with us and telling us how to field ground balls or get our hips and arms into our swing—after he’d put in a long day at the office. But he seemed to always find time.
It was partly because he loved baseball, but mostly because he loved his sons, and his daughter, too, when she wanted to take a few swings.
So, it shouldn’t have been that surprising when he and I found ourselves at the store, in the sporting goods department, standing in front of a display rack of beautiful-looking, wonderful-smelling baseball gloves. All were a rich, dark tan and had leather engraved with names like Wilson, Spalding, Rawlings and MacGregor.
I was in a near Nirvana-like trance when he asked, “Which one do you like?” Of course, I liked them all, but I had been immediately drawn to one in what was as close to love at first sight as a second grader is likely to experience.
It was simply beautiful, the MacGregor GC27 Ernie Broglio Professional Model, with the Flex Pad and Natural Ball Pocket. And it was, of course, Hand Lasted. All the best gloves were Hand Lasted. I didn’t know what it meant, but I knew it was good.
It fit my hand perfectly and, when I brought it up to my face, the smell of the new leather was intoxicating. I loved it.
“Let’s get it,” he said. “Sometimes when you do things like making straight A’s, good things happen to you.” That was all he said. Or at least it’s all I remember, because I was so excited I just couldn’t take in anything else.
I couldn’t believe it. A new glove! I was too young to know for sure, but it had to rank right up there with a new car on a 16th birthday or having the guy from TV’s “The Millionaire” ring your doorbell and hand you a check. A new glove. Wow. A new glove.
It was a simple, yet very powerful, lesson. He hadn’t dangled the glove out to me as a prize to be sought or even something to be earned. He had said absolutely nothing about it in advance. No bribes, no enticements. He and my mother expected their three kids to do well in school because we were capable of doing well and because it would help us have a better chance in life if we did well in school. Period.
But the glove was his way of showing that if you do the right thing just because it’s the right thing, there may be some unexpected, wonderful consequences. Not a bad lesson to teach a second grader.
Several years later, more than 30 in fact, I was in another sporting goods store, this one in San Antonio. Once again, after looking at golf clubs and running shoes, I found myself standing in front of a rack of baseball gloves. This display didn’t have quite the same effect on me as the rack in the second grade (too many red and blue gloves for my purist’s taste), but I still loved the feel and smell of the leather.
I looked the gloves over and tried on a few, eventually being drawn to “the one,” just as I had been with my dad so many years before. This one was a Louisville Slugger Eric Davis model LPS24D Players Series made of Genuine Steerhide Leather with Bruise-Gard Padding.
I don’t know why I did it. I was approaching my 40th birthday. I had no tryouts scheduled with any major league teams. I didn’t even belong to a church league softball team. But I bought the glove. I had to have it.
If I hadn’t been with my girlfriend when I bought my glove, I’d probably explain my totally irrational purchase by calling it a “guy thing.” But she wanted one, too. So we both got new gloves.
Then, I thought about Dad. He was over 70 then, but I knew he’d love getting a new glove just as much as I did, and he’d have just as much practical use for it—no tryouts on his calendar either.
But this wasn’t about being practical. It was about getting a new baseball glove. No other explanation required. So I got him one, too. He said it’s the best glove he ever had. So was the one he got me.
Now, at 87, he’s the one with the pain-free arm, and I’m the one nursing a sore rotator cuff (the likely result of trying to whip an out-of-shape body into condition before a milestone reunion). And even though it’s been a while since we took our gloves out to play catch, the few times we did were more than enough practical reason to have bought them. Or maybe it was just the icing on the cake.
Thanks, Dad. For the glove—and for everything from then ‘till now.