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A Father's Day Baseball Story

I remember the creaking of the screened storm door opening, then closing quickly, the thin weathered door tiredly slamming shut against the door jamb. Following closely behind came the smell of sweat, it permeated the air, layered somewhere in the middle wafted that distinct metallic odor that comes home with you after working 12 hour days with steel machinery. I didn’t often see my father in his navy blue factory work wear, his fingers still stained with oil, tinged with hints of dried, crusted blood, the well-callused hands thick and swollen. Heavy. It always felt like I was stealing a secret when I caught a glimpse of my dad coming in through the back door on those days -- those days when he was so eager to be home again that he didn’t have the time to transform himself seamlessly back to dad before we all had dinner together. As much as I greatly anticipated his return each day, I knew to respect that other side of his life. It was the side he never talked about and so I did not ask. As children, he wanted to keep that part of his life shielded from us. When that door closed behind him, it was as if he left that whole separate world behind him, even if it was only for just a comforting home-cooked meal, a chance to catch his breath, and a richly earned night of sleep, a time of quiet and peace before stepping back in between the factory walls the next morning, ready for the unrelenting clamor of industrialism to fire itself up again.

In between that grind was our little window. We knew the routine. After a replenishing dinner it was an ice cold beer, which he took at his evening throne, the soft brown leather recliner in the corner of the room that cushioned his landing from from the long hard day. It was during this time that I would approach my dad, tell him about school, but it wasn’t really school I cared to talk about. That’s what he wanted to know. That is why he did what he did all day long. For us. Every penny that did not go to paying the bills went to us kids, mostly for our future, so that one day we could have it much easier than he did.

I was just a boy then. I wasn’t focused on the future. My life was right there in front of me. And just as now, my passion was baseball. My dad and I are very different in so many ways. He is pragmatic, results-oriented, linear, matter-of-fact. As child, I was a dreamer, curious, rebellious, inventive. I imagine that may have made him worry quite a bit at times.

What we did have was baseball. That was our thing. Whenever there was a time I needed to connect with my dad, baseball was there to act as a conduit. As you may have already surmised, my father is not the storyteller I am (that comes from my mom’s side of the family), but I asked him to tell me stories anyway. He would tell me about the clutch-hitting Ron Santo, the ultra efficient duels of Ferguson Jenkins and Bob Gibson, the slick glove of Don Kessinger, sweet-swingin’ Billy Williams, the Milt Pappas game featuring the worst non-strike call in the history of baseball, and on and on. My father provided the facts and structure behind the stories and my imagination raced enthusiastically to fill in the blanks. I don’t think he knew at the time that he would inspire such a passionate baseball fan. I think for him baseball was an occasional escape from the mundane reality of his working class life. As a child, a dreamer, it wasn’t that simple for me. A much as I excelled in school and big plans were being made all around for my future, I only wanted to be a ballplayer. Because, why not? When you are a child, anything seems possible. My dad, as usual, was more focused on the practical side of things and for him it was just easier to compartmentalize it all. School was school. Work was work. Baseball was baseball. There was a time for each, but they did not co-exist in the same world for him.

And so over time, baseball and I went on our separate paths. It’s not that I stopped following the game. I still followed it closely and passionately...but now it was separate from the rest of my life. It was just the practical thing to do. It was the responsible thing to do. It is exactly what my dad would have done. There would always be room to carve in a separate space for both.

But for me things don’t work that way. I see everything big pictures. Everything is connected. In my world, there are no neatly dividing lines except the ones we ourselves choose to draw. That worked for my dad, but I never dreamed I’d be the one actually drawing those lines as I got older.

My dad and I drifted apart over the years as well. It was not some kind of major rift or anything. More like an achingly slow continental drift that happens gradually over the span of a generation. I sometimes felt I let him down and didn’t live up to the promise and potential he always knew I had. I did well enough in life, made an earnest living. I exchanged my dad’s blue collar lifestyle for a white one. I exchanged the drone of factory machines for the drone of corporate life in America. That certainly seemed like progress. That’s the way things should be moving, is it not?

Except it didn’t feel that way.

About 10 years ago, around his 70th birthday, my dad and I began to reconnect again. It started with a speech the family asked me to write about him for a surprise party they had planned for him.

It was meant as a tribute to my father and everything he has sacrificed for us over the years. But something else happened as I delivered that emotional speech in front of the large gathering of our family and friends. Those lines I had drawn for myself suddenly became blurred and I found my voice again.

Nobody heard that voice louder than my dad.

“You should be writing”, he would later say. “You have a gift that I could never really have and that don’t think I ever fully understood. I wish I could have realized it earlier.”

To hear this from my father meant the world to me. My mother is more my kindred spirit in terms of our artistic sensibilities, but to be able to reach my dad on this level of openness was different. My father had always been practical, always drawing lines and wearily closing doors to shut out the noise and keep his different worlds separate and distinct

I think about myself now as I do my job as a writer, spending long days at the park out in the open air and sun, out near the field, with few physical barriers separating me from the the game I have loved my whole life, even if that game is often a slightly altered version with loosely defined rules and no pre-defined limits. If anything the quirkiness of time and rule in these games makes it even more appealing to me. It’s peaceful, quiet, only occasionally interrupted by the sweet crack of the bat after a long home run.

And then as I walk home after the game, I suddenly realize how tired I am.  I begin to feel how hot the Arizona sun beats down on me. As beads of sweat roll down my back and along the sides of my face,  I become eager to get indoors and feel the respite of our cool, air-conditioned home.  Then as I wearily reach to close the back door behind me, my sweaty hand slips on the door knob and I briefly catch a wisp of that familiar distinctive odor I remembered as a child.

Happy to be home at last, I sit down, crack open a beer, and begin to write...

 

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  • You've made me cry twice in a weekend John. Beautiful piece.

    My dads parents were huge Chicago sports fans. My dad grew up loving the Cubs. My dad has me and a son. I got the love of sports gene, my brother didn't. Growing up, my mom always felt bad for my dad that his daughter was into sport, followed teams, got into games, not his son. My brother and dad have a lot of other common interests, but sports, Chicago sports, that was something just I could share with my dad. And that's something special I still share with him today. In fact, we talked Cubs today when I called to wish him happy Father's Day.

    What's more special, my oldest son has the fan gene, and has it bad. That's something we love together and bond over, and that's something he shares with his grandpa as well.

    When the Cubs won the World Series last year, four generations of my family watched. Even though we weren't all watching together, it was special to know we were all watching the same thing, something my grandma had been waiting 85 years to see.

    Anyway, Chicago Cubs, uniting families for generations. Great writing as always John.

  • In reply to Mom2futurecubs:

    Thsnk you do much for those kind words. It is wonderful how sports, and especially the Cubs, seem to have a way of bringing us together. 4 generations! What a great way to watch the World Series!! Wow!

  • The filter ate my comment, but the most important part was this was another beautiful piece of writing John. Just beautiful

  • John, that was beautiful. I can't think that you could write a finer tribute to your dad. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  • In reply to TC154:

    Thank you, TC. I have always wanted to write such a piece. In the past I had always let Adam have Father's Day and with Sam not writing a brunch, figured it was a good day to do it :)

  • Thank you for this.

    I hope things are going well for you in your personal battle.

  • In reply to MN Exile:

    So far so good. Long road ahead, though. Thank you for asking.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Well, after this and your previous post, dropping back in seemed right.

    I spent some time in the machining world in a "previous life" and the description you wrote resonated - the smells of hot metal, oil, and coolant - come back to mind readily when well-prompted.

    Your father was right. Writing suits you.

  • In reply to MN Exile:

    Thank you, MN. It is always amazing to me how those images stay with us, the odors, the sounds. I am glad I was able to convey those images.

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    Another breathtaking read John. I got the Cubs gene from my mother. My father was more linear like yours. I sometimes think that people don't see the work involved in writing or any other of the "arts". I'm glad your Dad got to see you doing the thing you loved to do and heard what you had to say to him. Thank you.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    Thank you, Jonathan. It was a different world for him but he grew to understand it over time. Hr id probably my biggest fan these days!

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    Admin just ate my comment--must be hungry for dinner. I'll wait a while.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    One of mine as well.

  • I'd accuse you of plagiarism, John, because I just recalled similar sentients in a comment, but you do such a better job I wouldn't have a case. I can't think about baseball without thinking about my Dad. He raised me and two brothers by himself. He would come home, stinking, after a 16-hour shift at the steel mill, yet squeezed in an hour or so of catch before going to sleep and doing it all over again the next day. Happy Father's Day, ya'll. I know Mom and apple pie, but Dad and baseball is right up there.

    "My son turned ten just the other day.
    He said "Thanks for the ball, Dad, come on let's play".

  • I'd accuse you of plagiarism, John, as I just expressed similar sentiments in a comment earlier, but you do such a better job I wouldn't have a case. I certainly relate to your story. My Dad raised me and two brothers by himself, and would often come home, stinking, after a 16-hour shift at the steel mill. Yet he would play catch for an hour or so before getting a couple hours sleep and getting up to do it all over again, just because I wanted to play catch. I cannot think about baseball without thinking about Dad. I know the whole Mom and apple pie thing, but Dad and baseball is right there in my book. Happy Father's Day, ya'll:

    "My son turned ten just the other day.
    He said "Thanks for the ball, Dad, come on let's play"."

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    Amazing isn't it? I think back about how he always made time even though I know he was exhausted. Cool that we share a similar story.

  • The filter is hungry.

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    I will take a look

  • Wonderful words, John - thank you for sharing them with us!

  • What a wonderful tribute! You're a heck of a man for sharing it.

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    Thank you, Cliff. I really appreciate this.

  • Brilliant and touching piece John. So descriptive...so real. Awesome writing, and a great story. This was SO good. And the comments on it are too. Thank you John. My dad and I connected through the Cubs as well. He passed 11 years ago. At 60. I remember riding in the car asking him question after question about the Cubs. I usually had to wait til between innings to get the answer. He'd take me to games. I remember catching a practice ball from Utility Infielder Thad Bosley in '84. Anyway, thank you again for this.

    Also, to all of the community, I'll be posting the GoFundMe acct shortly. Got a little behind with the holiday weekend, and some O.T. shifts. Thank you for your patience everyone, I'm excited to get this kicked off for John and his "rock"...Stacey Arguello.

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    In reply to copinblue:

    I always liked Thad Bosley Chet and haven't heard his name in years. I hope he and you (if you both have children) had a very Happy Father's Day.
    I'll help anyway I can with the GoFundMe acct. I can. I can't thank you enough for doing it too Chad. You truly give it your all. Thank you.

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    In reply to copinblue:

    another hungry admin. I just said thanks Chet and thanks for reminding me of Thad Bosley, one of my favorites. Happy Father's Day to you and Thad (if appropriate).

  • In reply to copinblue:

    Thanks, Chad. Much appreciated as always. You know, it might be a fun project to share Fathers Day baseball stories for next year. Maybe have the writers join in as well. I am sure everyone has a story about how baseball has impacted their relationship with their father (or mother, or son or any family member for that matter). Thanks for sharing yours!

  • Very evocative writing, John.
    Your expression of the continuity over generations of family fandom in baseball is described as well by you as it was by James Earl Jones toward the end of Field Of Dreams. Seriously. In fact, with your invocation of many older Cubs fans' childhood memories of that wonderful team of the Durocher era, you have pretty much customized the theme of that great sports/life movie.
    Thanks for that.
    Sadly, just before the life-long wait for our Cubs to reach the top reached its climax last fall, my Dad lost his fight with heart failure, passing very early on the Friday morning of the day that would end with the Cubs winning Game6 over the Dodgers to get to the first World Series since my Dad had been in 8th grade (and of course the team then came up short). A soft touch in the story was that since he was only marginally aware of things in his last few days, after consulting with my sibs first, I told Dad after they won Game5 to go up 3-2 that the Cubs had won the pennant....yay!!! I'll never know for certain how that played out in his foggy state, but it was probably OK that I gave it a go.
    Anyway, thanks again for your second beautiful essay in the past few days.
    Take care,
    Pete B (AudsDad)

  • In reply to AudsDad:

    Thank you, Pete. That is high praise indeed and it means a lot.

    I am so sorry you didn't get a chance to see that World Series win with your dad. Thanks for sharing that touching story. I'd like to think that he was watching it with you in spirit.

  • Feliz Dia dos Pais to him, John!

  • In reply to braziliancubsfan:

    Thank you! And a Happy Father's Day to your father as well!

  • john, great story about you and your father. as mine will be 81 in about a month and is dealing with alsheimers (yes mispelled) it brought back memories about the two of us and baseball. maybe i can tell tell you about it later, i don't want to detract from your story. as far as the other thing, when you wrote last week about being in a hospital bed i had a feeling. as i stated last year, we lost my mother -in-law to cancer in 2004 and my wife still takes it personally. god go with you my friend and get well.

  • In reply to DLROBERTSON:

    Thank you for those kind words and I Would absolutely love to hear your story whenever you're ready to share it.

  • Please, keep writing. Anything and everything. From baseball to yes, politics, I've been treated to images and topics that have helped me through some tough times. Viv has a great dad.

  • In reply to edubbs:

    Thanks, edubbs, I will keep writing. It is humbling to me that I have helped get you through some tough times in my small way. Thank you for sharing that and also for the kind words, Hope to see you out again next spring.

  • Love this, John! Hope you write many more essays that go well beyond baseball. As your dad said, "You should be writing." And I hope you do on any topic that interests you.

  • Thanks John

    The thoughts from your Dad about the Cubs he watched, Santo, Kessinger, Jenkins vs Gibson. These were the Cubs that I watched with my Dad as young teenager. Billy Williams was my Dad's favorite player and I have a photo on my desk of my Dad with Billy his favorite player to remind me of him every day and what he sacrificed for me and my brother. My Dad like your Dad was a blue collar guy who didn't talk too much about what he did all day at work and what he had to endure in WW2. If you have a few more like these in you, I would love to read them.

    Thanks again

    Enjoyed

  • John- Thank you for this great article- your writing is a gift that we all enjoy!

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