Monday, July 22, 2013

Baseball, Fathers and Sons (and Daughters too)

I just fished reading Joe Posnanski's book The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O'Neil's America and have to say that it was one of the best Baseball books I've read in a long time. The oral history narrative of the Negro League stories from the great Buck O'Neil was simply amazing and a pleasure to read. Buck's positiveness in the face of hatred and often times insurmountable odds is an inspiration to not only Baseball fans but for all individuals from all walks of life. There was one thread in the book that got me thinking about my own life.

In the book both Posnanski and O'Neil touch upon the subject of Baseball in relation to fathers and sons. Posnanski reflects back to the moment when Mark McGwire broke Roger Maris' single season home run record of 61 during the magical (though now maligned) 1998 homerun race between McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Here is what he says about it:
When McGwire reached home, he lifted his son high in the air. Even now, even though I presume that McGwire was chemically enhanced when he broke the record, I feel a little something building in my throat when I think of that night. Fathers and sons and all that. [Posnanski, Joe (2009-10-13). The Soul of Baseball (p. 14). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition]
He also reflects on his relationship with his own father when Buck asks him what he remembers the most about his father and Baseball. This is how Posnanski describes it:
When I was a toddler, my father had bought me a cheap glove. The glove was plastic, and it was packaged in plastic with a plastic Wiffle ball bat and a plastic ball. After he learned more about baseball, he took me to Kmart and spent a few hours of his factory salary to buy me a proper glove. He used the plastic one.

“On fly balls, always take a step back first,” he would tell me as he smoked his Kents and threw baseballs high over the telephone wire. “It’s easier to come in on the ball than it is to go back.”

“When you have two strikes, choke up on the bat,” he said. “You have more bat control.”

“Before the ball is hit, think about where you want to throw,” he said.

And so on. He was a Confucius of baseball proverbs. Get in front of the ball. A walk is as good as a hit. Make the easy play. Expect the bad hop. Step into your throw. Keep the bat head up when you bunt. Don’t make the third out at third base. If a pitcher is struggling with his control, take a strike. Catch the ball with two hands. Charge the ball. Meet the ball. Follow the ball. Keep your eyes on the ball. I never knew where a semiprofessional soccer player from Poland picked up all that stuff. 
[Posnanski, Joe (2009-10-13). The Soul of Baseball (pp. 15-16). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition]
Buck O'Neil reflects on the bond of baseball and father and son's numerous times with his meeting with the sons of Negro Leaguers Satchel Paige and Dan Bankhead. He also reflects on a general basis on how Baseball, fathers and sons make up a very interesting and intertwined trio when Posnanski asks him why there are so many father and son combinations in professional Baseball:
“Why do you think there are so many fathers and sons in the game?”

“Maybe it’s because baseball is a sport you hand down to your kids,” Buck said. “Does a father teach his son how to be a running back? No, see, that’s instinct. Everybody runs with their own style. Does a father teach his son how to play basketball? Maybe, there are a few fathers and sons in basketball, right? But it’s not the same thing.

“In baseball, you play catch with your son. You teach him how to hold a bat, how to swing it, how to get under a pop-up, how to throw to the right base. You teach him how to run the bases. You teach him how to run back on a ball over his head. You teach him how to throw a curveball. You see what I’m saying?”

I nodded. But Buck wanted to be sure.

“In baseball, you pass along wisdom,” he said. “Like your father did for you in your backyard.”
[Posnanski, Joe (2009-10-13). The Soul of Baseball (p. 80). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition]
Now here is where it gets personal for me. I never had my dad throw a ball to me or take me to a ballgame. Dad was not really the athletic type...unless womanizing is a sport :) In his defense, through his busy work schedule and extra curricular activities, he always found the extra money to indulge me on my epic dream of becoming a professional baseball player and often found the time to drive me to little league games. He even found the time to take us to a parade where Dominican pitching great Juan Marichal was the Grand Marshall and signed the t-shirt I was wearing. Alas, if only I still had that shirt :/

So in my case, the bond between Baseball, father and son was not as described in the book but to be perfectly honest, it wasn't half bad. Which leads me to the herein and now with my own children.

Now my kids haven't picked up the Baseball fervor that I have but I feel they indulge dad by going to games with him and asking questions that at their age I knew the answers to for years. I try my best to have them involved in the game of Baseball whether it was T-Ball (my son found it boring), baseball sticker books (no real interest) and watching the games on TV (minor interest). Even at the games the interest tends to lie in the food and the atmosphere rather than the games themselves, though in their defense in my nose bleed seats in section 431 at Yankee Stadium only the die hard fan can really follow the game properly. I did notice a bit of a change in them when we attended the Brooklyn Cyclones vs. Staten Island Yankees game at Richmond County Bank Ballpark a few weeks ago.

Since we were right at the visitors dugout and were in the midst of every crack of the bat, every pop of the ball in the catchers mitt, every foul ball and every loud fan behind us they seemed to be a little more involved...at least I can hope :) My daughter was even given a ball by Cyclones 2nd Baseman L.J. Mazzili (son of former professional player Lee Mazzili). So here we were watching the game and having a grand old time in the way Buck O'Neil states in the book:

“Fathers and sons,” Buck said. “That is what this game is all about. You know what I mean?" [Posnanski, Joe (2009-10-13). The Soul of Baseball (p. 79). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition]

In my case it's Fathers, Sons and Daughters...and yes Buck, I know what you mean. ;) Rest in Peace and Thank You.

Sisco Kid