I miss the days when my son played baseball. Nate is 15 now, his desire to play baseball finished when he was 13. It’s not that he quit being a baseball fan, although even that waned for a bit. He is a fan, if being a Cubs fan counts. This afternoon I remembered what it was like to come home from work this time of year, my boy waiting for me every day in the driveway with our baseball mitts and a ball, ready for a game of catch. Every day March through June, from the time he was 5 until 13.
That is what I miss. Often we would throw a baseball to each other until it was too dark to see. I taught him how to field a ground ball, the proper way to throw a four seam and a two seam fastball, and countless other little bits of baseball knowledge I had picked up over the years. The last year Nate played competitive ball, I taught him two ways to throw a knuckleball and a change up. We both grew strong from all the catch that we played. At an early age, my son was able to take a hard throw from me, told me to throw it hard, able to catch my throws without flinching. There was one day where he told me to throw him a real fast one, told me not to worry, and he panicked as the ball came at him head high. The ball glanced off of his left cheek. It scared me to death, but Nate dusted himself off, got up and told me to throw him another one. I was so proud.
I hope he remembers those days the same way I do.
Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop.
The sound of a baseball meeting glove leather is so satisfying. I know my neighbors enjoyed hearing it, a few actually coming out with a chair to sit and watch us throw the ball to each other in the street. Doug, an older man who lives a few doors down, shared his admiration for the attention that I gave to my son, reminiscing about his own days of playing catch with his sons. J.C., my next door neighbor, came out one evening to hand us tickets for a Cubs game. Watching us made them smile.
I have my chair ready for the front porch, ready for those days when I can watch someone else enjoying the same game of catch with their son or daughter. There will be trips to watch my grandkids play ball, I hope. With an almost 19 year old daughter who is learning to fall in love very quickly, that may not be all that far away. Occasionally I even dream of donating my time to helping out with the local youth baseball association as a coach or administrator. Who knows.
What I know is that the gospel of baseball is very important to me, the love of the game instilled in me from the day I was born. My father’s parents were passionate about the game. When I chose to run track in the Spring, something I had a gift for, they were very disappointed. They never came to my track meets, even when I set the school record in the mile/1500 meters as a high school freshman or when I qualified for the Illinois state track meet in the 800 meters (1:46 for those who want to know) and as anchor for my school’s 3200 meter relay. But my grandparents came to almost all of my summer baseball games, sure that my defensive talents as an outfielder were outstanding, telling stories about catches I had made and throws until the day they died. Grandpa and Grandma H lived a short walk from Lanphier park, where we watched countless baseball games, especially when the St. Louis Cardinals AAA team played there. Satchel Paige had relatives in the area and was often in the stands at Lanphier, sat in front of us at one game and called my grandparents by their first name when he saw them (‘Hank’ and ‘Jessie’ sounded cool coming from him). The hallway in their small bungalow was decorated with framed autographed pictures of Red Schoendiest, Dal Maxvill, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Mike Shannon, Stan Musial, Joaquin Andujar (who played AAA at Lanphier, along with Tommy Herr), Joe Torre, Ted Simmons, Orlando Cepeda. They gave me albums of pictures they had taken at the ball parks they visited, players like Roberto Clemente, Johnny Bench, Pete Rose (no autograph), Cesar Geronimo, Kent Tekulve. When my grandparents died and were shown at their memorial, they wore Cardinal hats and held Cardinal memorabilia.
My grandfather was the youngest of eight brothers, a farm family in Fancy Prairie, Illinois. The farm house he was raised in was said to be on the county line for three counties — so one could be in three different counties depending on which room of the house they were in. Grandpa loved to say that there were eight boys in the family so that they could field a family team for the Sunday afternoon baseball games, not so that there were plenty of hands to run their farm.
Baseball is in my blood. I love it. There is nothing like the feel of the leather as it leaves my finger tips or the sound as it meets the oiled leather pocket of a baseball glove. When I played catch with my son, I felt like I was sharing a bit of myself each time I threw the ball to him.
I miss that.