I think I've always loved baseball, but that love wasn't always supported in my family. Growing up in rural and rugged Oregon, far from any neighbors or teammates, 30 minutes drive to the nearest town and baseball diamond- didn't make for easy transport to practices. Growing up in a family of 6, each member with competing interests and activities, led by two hard-working parents, but still with meager means, often meant that making it to or from practice couldn't be guaranteed. Dad liked sports, but wasn't much into throwing the old cowhide around- too busy with his own interests I suppose. I never reached a skill level that kept me off the bench much, or out of right field, or higher than the bottom of the lineup when I did play. I practiced hard in little league though, when I could, eventually improving my play to a level which earned me a slot on the roster in High School. Although I lost track of the number of times I missed a practice after my folks said “Sorry, you’ll have to skip practice today" because my brother or sisters had some event, or my parents had to work, or we were yet again down to just one car. I understood this then, have had to say similar things to my own children at times, but it didn't take the sting out of it when it happened. It really hurt during the few times I had to miss actual games. I remember once instance in high school when my folks couldn't let me go on an overnight trip where we were to play two conference rivals several hours away- one game Friday night, and a double-header on Saturday- the biggest trip of the year that we all looked forward to. To miss that one, only because at 10:30 PM Saturday night, when we were scheduled to return, there was just no way to get me home from the high school. Apparently my Dad was called in to work the night shift and the single working car was with him. Yeah, I still loved baseball, but I hated always being down in the count.
Practice did make perfect though- I made an American Legion team one year, playing for four glorious weeks, until one day my dad showed up 30 minutes into a 2 hour practice. He said I had to leave. The coach called me at home that night, telling me I’d been dropped from the team, explaining that I just didn’t have the commitment needed. I had the commitment- just not the ride! I was so angry, but Dad didn’t want to hear it. I quit trying after that- losing interest in the game almost completely. Folks got divorced shortly after I graduated, and I wrongly associated baseball with my anger at my Dad.
Fast forward to 1998, I’m married, and the Navy has stationed me in San Diego. I bring my 2 year old with me to opening day to watch the San Diego Padres. Later that season the Friars are on a tear- ripping up the NL West. I’m excited about baseball again- the whole city of fair-weather fans is excited about baseball! My wife’s Grandfather calls to talk. It was totally unexpected, but oh-so-welcome- he was a FAN! He’d been watching the games when he could, the highlights every night, and checking the box scores daily. He knew the players and what they needed to do to make the playoffs. Our talks increased my interest, my baseball knowledge, and rekindled something I thought I had lost. I slowly forgot about my anger surrounding my Dad and my childhood baseball career.
My wife’s grandfather was a self-made man with the fruits of his labor in the bank. The Padres made the playoffs, won the Pennant, and he wanted to go to the World Series! He bought the tickets to game 3 and we had a blast, despite the results of the game and the series- NYY in 4. I had someone to share baseball with, and I loved the game again. He died not long after, but thanks to him, I’ll never again forget my love of baseball.