I don’t remember how old we were the first time my dad explained to my brother and me the layout of the bases in our small living room. I just remember that he did it before sitting in the middle of the living room and softly tossing a Wiffle ball our way. I honestly do not remember a time without baseball and the person responsible for that is my dad.
Eventually my mom made us move the game outside so we wouldn’t break anything. We started in the side yard, with my dad again calling out modified bases. We eventually moved the game to the Little League fields in town when they weren’t being used for games. We played pepper on an infield with a sign that said “No Pepper Allowed” but I didn’t even bother to ask about it. I was confident that whatever my father said superseded whoever had put up that faded sign.
My dad coached the neighborhood Little League team. My brother started as the bat boy, and I operated the hand scoreboard in left field until my mom called me back to the stands to keep score with her. Over the years Master Muffler became Supreme Muffler and sometime after I mastered the basics of the score book my dad and I would sit down and talk about it after the games. He corrected errors I’d called hits and explained the reasons why. He taught me details I never imagined existed, like runners being able to run to first on a dropped third strike or why the batter was out when the infield fly rule was invoked.
He carried a pocket sized baseball rule book in his back pocket. It wasn’t to refresh his memory, it was to point out he was right when one of these situations occurred and a parent, or occasionally even an umpire, questioned him on one of these rules.
The All Star team was a pretty big deal in our little coal mining town, and my dad and the other coaches took the selection seriously. My introduction to baseball statistics was less a class and more me poring over the score book with my dad, tallying doubles and home runs. He taught me how to calculate batting averages and ERAs. I understood that I had an important role in this process and quickly applied my newfound knowledge of baseball statistics to a critical reading of a massive history of baseball coffee table book where I learned the importance of numbers like 61, 755, and 191.
Over the years we’ve discussed World Series, strikes, the steroid era and more. I took my dad to his first Yankees’ game at Fenway Park and introduced him to Sam Adams. He helped me move across the country twice and texted me on and off again through 2016 as the Cubs finally chased down a World Series win. Since I’m pretty sure my father still uses a flip phone those messages were no mean feat and I treasured every one.
I’ve lost count of the number of gifts I’ve received from my dad. He’s responsible for my long dark hair, my voracious love of books and music, my borderline addiction to documentaries, history and politics (even though we don’t always agree) and dozens of trips to isolated corners of Utah’s red rock desert. He’s the reason I can distinguish an arrowhead flake from a random rock and know where fish like to hang out at our favorite lake. He’s the reason I took a golf class in college and can almost sort of not embarrass myself over 18 holes.
Yet even among these treasures my baseball connection with my dad stands out. Beyond statistics, rules and celebrations I learned the importance of hard work as he ran those Little League practices for years after hours of working in the coal mines. I learned the importance of sportsmanship and fairness when he pulled his best players after they jumped out to an early lead and he insisted on giving everyone their chance to play. I took those lessons and so many more from my father’s coaching to my teaching career. Despite me closing in on 800 words here, I’m relatively certain the words do not exist to adequately convey my gratitude.
I imagine my dad is celebrating Father’s Day with a steak on the grill and a Sam Adams or two. I wish he could celebrate it by watching his Yankees, but despite the disappointment of a summer without sports, he’s prepared me well to be ready to connect via the greatest game ever invented as soon as baseball returns, and I will always be grateful for that gift.