By Jon Lane
This was first published during Father’s Day weekend two years ago. Two months later my son was born and it’s since had a deeper meaning. Happy Father’s Day to all who have been blessed to enjoy it.
“I’ve tried all the major religions … and most of the minor ones … and the only church that truly feeds the soul —
day in and day out — is the Church of Baseball.”
— Annie Savoy, “Bull Durham”
You frequently read and hear about the impact of our national pastime and how it makes a difference in people’s lives. Some
look at NFL Sundays as their religious day. Once a week they vent a week’s worth of professional frustration by screaming and
yelling at a television set or blending in with 70,000 people doing the same thing. Others prefer the daily laid-back routine
of baseball, which I think has a stronger awareness of its history.
Such history is passed on by generations, from father to child.
Whether it’s the tangible ballpark atmosphere, or how a game is suddenly and dramatically altered with one swing, many credit
baseball for welding a relationship created at childbirth, and tethered by each game of catch and every family outing
consuming nine innings lasting between two and four hours: That of Dad and his kid.
Baseball fed the soul of Susan Sarandon’s character in “Bull Durham,” and it’s fostered the unique bond of many fathers with
their daughters and sons, including my own.
My dad’s mission statement was to teach me to do what’s right and if I wanted something, I had to earn it. But that didn’t
mean I wasn’t allowed to be a kid, and part of being a kid were those games of catch and the times when I’d rejoice after
each Yankees victory, or complain after every defeat.
Believe it or not, as much as the Yankees win now, there were once plenty of defeats. Growing up in the late 1980s and early
’90s, the Yankees’ record declined each season until bottoming out at 67-95 in 1990. Yet my dad and I persevered through all
the taunts, and were rewarded when, together, we watched a handful of historic events as the team made its way back on top:
Jim Abbott’s no-hitter (1993), Dwight Gooden’s no-no (1996) and David Wells’ perfect game (1998).
Many consider it taboo to mention the words “no-hitter” or “perfect game” while potential history is unfolding, but
television announcers say it so fans can stay tuned and spread the word so more can watch. My father was helping my cousin
tend a garden on May 17, 1998, when I informed them what Wells was doing. Dad dropped everything and came in. My cousin, a
Mets fan, stayed loyal to his tomatoes.
It actually wasn’t until I had reached my adolescent years when he finally took me to the holiest of baseball holies —
Yankee Stadium. We’d attend about once a year, and it was always for Old Timer’s Day, a chance to continue my baseball
education, and prove how much smarter I was each passing season.
|There have been many father-son combinations in in Major League history, some even at the same positions. Here’s a list of several prominent duos.|
|1B||Cecil Fielder||Prince Fielder|
|2B||Sandy Alomar||Roberto Alomar|
|SS||Dick Schofield||Dick Schofield|
|3B||Buddy Bell||David Bell|
|LF||Bobby Bonds||Barry Bonds|
|CF||Ken Griffey, Sr.||Ken Griffey, Jr.|
|RF||Felipe Alou||Moises Alou|
|C||Randy Hundley||Todd Hundley|
|P||Mel Stottlemyre||Todd Stottlemyre|
|P||Floyd Bannister||Brian Bannister|
|P||Clyde Wright||Jaret Wright|
|Mgr||George Sisler||Dick Sisler|
|Umpire||Harry Wendelstedt||Hunter Wendelstedt|
|Umpire||Ed Runge||Paul Runge|
Once I became a regular at the Stadium, a pregame tradition was born: “The Walk,” which took us past the line of souvenir
shops and sports bars that hugged River Ave., Babe Ruth Plaza and the central meeting place known as “The Bat Pole.” During
that time, both my legs and baseball acumen received rigorous workouts.
My dad admitted playing the occasional game of hooky as a kid, forgoing a boring day of math and Spanish — especially
Spanish — to watch his favorite, Mickey Mantle, hit home runs, some launched hard enough to land in the old Polo Grounds on
the other side of the Harlem River. One of our more memorable walks was on Aug. 12, 1995, the day before Mantle died. My
father, knowing Mantle was taking his final cuts, shared his favorite stories, most known by any casual fan, but extra
poignant hearing it from someone who saw him in person.
Old Timer’s Day for us was when dad and son were joined by mother and either younger brother, random family member or good
friend. We’d do “The Walk” and enter the Stadium in time to watch Yankees legends prove they can still whack a baseball
during batting practice. That would segue into the highlight of the day, something more meaningful that seeing Reggie Jackson
go yard or Ron Guidry’s slider still take the twists and turns of a Wet ‘N Wild Attraction.
Our favorite part of Old Timer’s Day was listening to Frank Messer (and these days Michael Kay) introduce the greats of the
distant and recent past. Neither of us are marketing geniuses, so we titled it “The Guess Who Game.” As the emcee began to
read off a player’s career highlights, the first one to guess the correct player prior to his introduction would earn a
point. For example, “On Sept. 1, 1963, he became only the ninth player to homer from each side of the plate in a single game
… ladies and gentlemen please welcome back, Tooommmmm Tresh!”
Guys like Tresh and obscure names (to me) like Stan Bahnsen, were introduced first, which would give my dad an early lead.
But then details like “slick, pesky outfielder who played those games at Shea Stadium” would click and I would say “Elliott
Maddox,” Once Mickey Rivers walked on the field, I’d start my comeback, as more stars from the teams of the 1970s and ’80s
By the time the ceremonies concluded with Reggie, Don Mattingly, Phil Rizzuto, Whitey Ford — and many years ago, Mantle and
Joe DiMaggio — we’d be about even. There were never any bets to be cashed in, for it was never over money or a hot lunch,
but about enjoying a common experience.
A few years after one of our early excursions, I arranged for tickets to a Yankees-Mets game at Shea Stadium. Dad and I
walked to the gate when I unveiled a Father’s Day surprise: “Dad, the seats are on me.” They were box seats. It could have
been the Bob Uecker special, but it didn’t matter. My dad’s reaction said it all: “Thanks, kid.”
No, Dad, thank you.
Happy Father’s Day.