Please enjoy this post from my 2010 archives while I man the grill.
Happy Father's Day!
It's not even a complete sentence. No command or question, no declarative statement, no imperative verb, no main verb at all. Just a phrase with an -ing participle (maybe a gerund) which indicates some type of action ongoing between two select people.
Fathers playing catch with sons: the lovely, familiar phrase may not be a complete sentence, but perhaps that's one reason why the words resonate poignantly for so many.
"Everybody that plays major league baseball, I promise you, had a dad that played catch with him." That's what Don Nava had to say last Saturday at Fenway Park after watching his son's first major-league at bat: a grand slam delivered by 27-year-old rookie Daniel Nava on an 0-0 count. What an amazing way to break into the big leagues after an unpromising eight-year journey; what an important moment for father and son.
My dad played catch with my brother almost every single day at lunchtime in a bygone era when kids walked home from school for their midday meal, then returned to their classrooms an hour later. Kind of like Jem and Scout and Atticus Finch. Like Atticus with his children, my dad made it his business to join my brother for a sit-down lunch in our small kitchen, and that quick lunch was usually followed by an unhurried game of catch in the front yard.
The only boy in our family following three sisters, my brother went on to become an outstanding player in our town's youth league. One spring weekend I rode a Greyhound bus home from college just to see him pitch. Working efficiently and striking out almost every batter in the lineup, my kid brother threw a complete game that Saturday afternoon. Mowed them all down with blazing fastballs and pinpoint control. He was just nine or ten years old at the time, but something about his consistency and confidence on a hill of dirt made him seem much older. I had left home, and my youngest sibling had grown up overnight.
My dad didn't play catch with me very often.
I never really coveted or envied the baseball times that my brother enjoyed with our dad, however. Truth be told, I didn't particularly want to play catch with my father. There was something else I wanted even more.
I just wanted to watch the game with him - wanted to watch baseball every single night.
There we sat, just my dad and I out on the screened porch, gliding side by side in the soft breeze of a sultry July evening, listening to Ralph Kiner, Lindsey Nelson, and Bob Murphy, and watching the New York Mets. Together we enjoyed the primitive, grainy images that brought baseball to life on a small black-and-white RCA television topped with skinny rabbit ears.
It's a miracle that we chose the Mets in 1963, but that's what we did. A team of losers (51-111) felt like a win to me, because I had just fallen in love with baseball, and I loved every single part of it.
When my father came home from work, the game began to assert itself as language, and that is how baseball felt most real to me. Its magical sounds, metaphors and idioms, syntax and rhythm, its diction both poetical and crude became integral pieces of our evening conversation, a comfortable mode of speech and thought, a language that I loved. While learning to speak English in increasingly complex ways in grades three and four, I simultaneously acquired the splendid vocabulary of baseball, as if it were an important part of the curriculum. The game felt like something basic and essential - as normal, natural, and necessary as speech itself.
Baseball took shape for me as language not as sport, partly because the man who nurtured my early love of the game was a Protestant minister. Using few words and allowing for long periods of silence, he taught me baseball, both its fundamentals and its poetry. In my mind's ear, an amazing vocabulary became inseparably entwined with familiar Biblical passages, both deeply embedded in my young psyche, and both becoming an essential part of who I am: "3-2 count," Love is patient and kind, "in the cellar," my rock and my Redeemer, "6-4-3 double play." And the Word was made flesh ... and dwelt among us, full of love and peace.
Many years have passed since those summer days and nights, but I can still hear the ever-modulating commentary, the sweet sounds of a televised broadcast, a soft breeze and buzzing in the trees, the gentle words of my father out on the screened porch once upon a quiet New Jersey evening. I was a lucky girl, because when hearing my dad's voice and while listening to the comforting music of a play-by-play, I knew for certain that I was safe and deeply loved.
I have always associated baseball with happiness and love. Thank you, Dad. I love you.