I originally wrote this three years ago, but I am re-publishing it today for obvious reasons.
Football is my dads sport. If we didn’t have something to fix in the house or wood to cut, chop and stack for the wood-burning stove, he watched football. He loves both the Giants and the Jets (I know, that’s not suppose to be possible), but, if pushed on the issue, he’ll show his true blue and red. He worked hard, both at the plant, and later, the office. He works hard at home. He and my mother raised two girls and four boys. I am number five. I have never known anyone with stronger will power…when he decided to quit smoking, he went from four packs a day to jelly beans and gum drops, literally the next day. He hasn’t smoked one since. He spent time with all of us. Some of my earliest memories of him is my sister and brothers ganging up and wrestling him (we all would learn what “Brooklyn rules” meant).
My dad never talked about baseball. Never breathed a word about it. I remember him mentioning something about a scrapbook once or twice, but I never knew what he was talking about. The first conversation…or exchange…I can remember having with him was October 15, 1986. I had heard on the school bus that the Mets were down by three runs in game 6 of the NLCS. When I got home, they had just tied up the game. And I started watching…I don’t know why. I had never watched a baseball game before, but I started watching. And sweating. And getting sick to my stomach. And feeling anxious. I started going outside and chopping wood between innings. My dad, with a twinkle in his eyes, started laughing each time I headed back outside, not just because I was almost six feet tall and only 140 pounds and hated chopping wood, but because he knew. He knew exactly what I was going through.
He grew up a Dodgers fan. His father loved the Dodgers, and would bring him the afternoon newspaper everyday and my father would put it in a scrapbook. He has a scrapbook with newspaper clippings of nearly every game the Dodgers played in route to winning the World Series in 1955. He has a second scrap book that in between game stories from 1956 and 1957 are stories about the Dogers quest for a new stadium. The last page of the scrapbook has a picture of the wrecking ball taking down Ebbets Field. And that was baseball for my dad. His devotion to the sport he love ended when the Dodgers left Brooklyn, even when my grandfather continued to follow the game. During the 1998 season, my first year with the Mets, my dad started compiling a scrapbook for me. He meticulously tracked every Mets game and compiled it in the book, along with Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire’s pursuit of the home run record. In spite of the Mets disappointing finish that year and the sour note that home run chase took, the book is still a treasure to me.
When I fell in love with the Mets in 1986, I think something that had died with Ebbets Field was reborn in my father. We started talking baseball, and more often than not, arguing about it it, although arguing doesn’t feel like the right word. I believe we both enjoyed the arguing, so, perhaps debate is a better word. He taught me how to stand up for myself this way and taught me how to express my opinions and then stand behind them. These days, we hardly ever argue baseball (we leave that for politics). I think, as I get older, I see baseball more they way he does. Fundamentals and execution. Go out there, do your job and have fun. Hustle and fight for everything. I remember one night, arguing with him well past midnight because of something Lenny Dykstra had done. I believe it had something to do with sliding into first base (always a pet peeve of my father). I enjoyed that argument because it was time talking to my father and finding out what he thought and seeing that kind of passion from the man I admired. Arguing baseball allowed me to connect with my father.
It is such a cliche, but the catches I would have with my father and going to the Jefferson Field, a local ballfield, to shag flies were some of my favorite memories as a teenager. I feel like I could have done that for hours on end with him. He taught me how to throw, how to catch (you use two hands) and how to field a grounder. During those years, when I was so confused and never felt like I fit in everywhere else in my life, those moments with my dad were true joys.
I find it a little sad that my father didn’t have his love of the Brooklyn Dodgers to pass along to me, like it was passed along to him from his father. Fortunately for us, we have the Yankees. With the Yankees seemingly beating the Dodgers every year in the World Series (except in 1955), my dad learned to hate the Yankees. I learned to hate the Yankees while working for the Orioles in 1996 and 1997 and then it was solidified when the Yankees beat the Mets in the 2000 World Series. I took my dad to one of the World Series games that year, and although a heart breaker, I felt a bond to him and his father in losing to that team.
When I interviewed for the job with the Mets, I didn’t tell my parents what I was doing. I stayed with them and told them it was an interview for a PR firm in New York. When the interview went really well and I got back to my parents house, I told them who the job was with. The excitement in my fathers voice complimented the twinkle in his eyes…the same twinkle that was in his eyes that night in October 1986.
Now, I am a father to two boys and I hope they will learn to love the sport. Even if they don’t love the Mets, I hope they will love the game. I look forward to talking about the infield fly rule, sacrifice bunts and sliding into first with them. Of course, I hope, they don’t become Yankee fans.
Happy Fathers Day, Dad.