My dad wasn’t a sportsman.
- We lived on a farm, but he didn’t hunt, fish, or camp.
- I don’t recall every seeing him on a boat, much less a canoe.
- He didn’t shoot hoops in the back yard, throw a football or kick a soccer ball.
- He didn’t care about race cars, horse races or track meets.
- He didn’t swim, run or hike.
- He spent plenty of time in bars, but he didn’t throw darts, play pool or cards.
Interestingly, we did share interest in one sport: baseball.
In 1981, our family took a trip to St. Louis. I remember going to the Zoo, botanical garden, science museum, a brewery tour and the Arch. We happened to be in town on opening day for baseball and on April 11, we found ourselves in the upper deck at a busy Busch Stadium to watch the Cardinals take on the Phillies. The Cardinals lost the game, but I became a life long fan.
Here’s the thing - my dad didn’t even really like baseball. He never played and never encouraged me to play. Despite that, I had a glove and I would entertain myself on the farm by standing on the gravel driveway and kicking the rocks up to make a slight mound. From there, I’d throw tennis balls against a brick wall on the front of our house and field the ball as it bounced back. I’d do it for hours – didn’t have a lot of neighbor kids to throw with on the farm.
I wasn’t in love with baseball, but I kind of liked the idea of baseball.
Over the next few seasons, my dad took me to several games in St. Louis. Sometimes we’d drive up and back in one day and other times we’d spend the night. We got to see baseball greats like Pete Rose, Mike Schmidt, Willie McGee, Jack Clark, and Ozzie Smith. With the exception of Rose, he probably didn’t know the names of any current players, but he knew I knew them and he saw it as way to spend time with me and talk.
These weren’t especially great years for our family (divorce, bankruptcy, scarce resources) but my dad would gas up the big green Buick and off we’d go to Missouri. It was an escape. We’d pack light, and always have a couple of extra gallons of coolant in the trunk in case the car overheated. The tires were out of balance and I remember we bounced more than we rolled down the highway. Once out of range of his favorite station, he’s let me choose the music. We would talk and he’d share with me stories from his upbringing and lessons he learned along the way, but mostly he’d just listen to me talk about whatever was on my mind. We needed this time together.
In St. Louis, he liked to stay at a hotel that had, at least to me, a very English feel (never been to England, so I am guessing). I remember it had a old looking bar and old school bar tender. I’d sit there with my dad and he’d get a Beefeater and tonic and I got a Cherry Coke. We ate burgers and I talked the poor bar tender’s ears off about whatever it was I was interested in at the time. He’d give me a little extra cherry syrup in my Coke because I “knew” so much and shared so freely.
The specific memories of the actual games we attended have faded, but I loved this time with my dad and sense of adventure it satisfied. I don’t know why he took a sudden interest in baseball…maybe he saw the opportunity he had before him to spend some time with his son…a summer adventure to the ballpark to take in the national pastime…what boy wouldn’t want that?