Baseball is connective tissue in the Dahl family story, and it is sewn with Black and White Sox thread. Perhaps it was born in Steve’s conscious decision to cheer for an AL team to keep the Dodgers and Vin Scully safe in his heart. Sox allegiance was galvanized on a hot summer night when he blew a locker of disco records sky high. It is a constant.
Steve always lectured me about how baseball ties fathers to kids. It was a new concept for me: my dad never had the cash or inclination to cart 6 kids to Briggs/Tiger Stadium. The slow pace of the game is where the magic resides for him. Dads and their kids sit together for 3 hours (or 2.2 with Buehrle) on the couch, at the park, or listening on the radio while they putter. There is enough space between innings (hell, sometimes between pitches) to drive a truck through. Silence is awkward, so conversations percolate. There is time, no urgency. The problems of the world could be dissected; more likely, chats toggle between the game, food choices, and moments from past games. With 162 games (mercy) in a season, few games rise to a fevered pitch. The shared memories, differing views and meal sharing become touchstones. Steve was taken to the ballpark by his Grandpa, who had a hard time forgiving the Dodgers for leaving Brooklyn. His Dad was an LA man, and he took Steve to the park with joy. Steve still remembers Roger’s shortcut to the parking lot, and he delighted in showing it off to Pat when he treated him to a game during the stretch that he lived there. Sure, eating a Dodger Dog does not seem like it will make the highlight reel of your life..and yet, it does. Because you did it with people you love.
Our trips to the park straddle 35 years. Once upon a time, Steve splurged for Club level seats in the new Comiskey. The five of us thrilled to Carleton/ Frank/ Bo moments. (among others) We made some great memories, but Steve was still drinking in those days, and there were some dodgy moments in the Stadium Club or when I had to drive home. When Steve started working afternoons we saw fewer games. By then the boys were hardwired to love the game.
Here’s my favorite thread, crocheting our family fabric together: 22 years ago today, Steve had his last drink. He became that dutiful father who waited up, set an example and earned respect the old fashioned way. He avoided places where he had drinking memories, and that meant less time at the Ballpark. But in 2004, Steve had a chance to buy a set of absurdly costly Scout seats. He did it. The love affair was rekindled. ( the retirement account dwindled) He rotated sons in and out of those seats. ( I poached a few nights) It was in those seats that he saw the Sox catapult to the World Series, so close he could see AJ wink and Ozzie spit, and Mark Buehrle hustle through a game. They would Win or Die trying. Fortunately, no deaths were reported.
By then, Steve was confidently sober, and the boys were in the volatile swing of college to adulthood. They needed their Dad, but did not know this (or care to admit it.) The act of sharing a leisurely 3 hours, facing forward, allowed them to open up about big things and small. The fireworks let them share awe. A generation divided them, the ballpark united them. They were free to disagree, argue plays, tease each other. The game was the thing. This shared history tightened a sturdy knot. Someone else watches the Sox from those seats now, but they did their job.
Last fall, Patrick Dahl put a job posting on Matthew’s radar: the White Sox were looking to add digital production to complement the scoreboard videographers. Pep talks from brothers and Dad ensued. Doubts bubbled in Matt. Dreams , skills and memories took him through the interview process. He was offered the job. By then, he had learned that Baby #3 was on the way, and he wondered if he was overloading his nervous system. We were in Mexico at the time, (coincidentally on a White Sox/Steve Dahl Fan trip) and Steve got wind of Matt’s trepidation. Steve poured himself two cups of coffee, ambled to the terrace, and made a call to exhort Matt to trust in himself. He mined the Comiskey and Cellular One memories, the White Sox love that bound them. He fluffed Matt’s wings and pushed him, as fathers are wont to do. Matt flew, of course.
This afternoon I glimpsed Matt on TV, with a camera hoisted, capturing Mark Buehrle as his number was retired. Buehrle’s son sang the anthem (beautifully) and his daughter threw out the first pitch. His wife and parents glowed. I am sure Matt flashed back to the days when he watched Buehrle from a more distant vantage point with his stone cold sober Dad. I am positive that he took note that Buehrle honored his family in his words and actions. I don’t suppose he realized that his dad’s 22 years of sobriety started on this date. I did. It meant the world to me that Steve’s first priority for those 22 years was taking his sons to manhood. Maybe the Sox played a supporting role, providing something sturdy to share.
Matt has grown in skill and confidence since January, when he took his nervous stomach into the South Side where the Dahls bonded every summer. Much of life is random, but today I saw distinct, kevlar threads, winding their way through our lives. Family. Sacrifice. Love. Communication. Aspiration. Fathers and Sons. There is order in the universe, but it takes time to see it.
Thank you, Steve for embedding the tradition of baseball. Thank you for initiating a safe (hot dog laden zone) for conversation. Thank you for realizing that great moments and traditions are best shared sober. Thank you for unlocking the secrets of the boys to men trajectory.(many foul balls and strike outs) Thank you for becoming reliable and credible just as the boys became oppositional. ( You’re outta here) Thank you for keeping your eye on the ball for these 22 years. (Grand slam)
Congratulations to my team mate for 22 bright eyed years, and to Matthew who now gets to see every home game through a new lens, built on his dad’s baseball religion. (You can put it on the board. Yes!)
It is my wish that the next generation of Dahl Sox fans (there will be 9 at season’s end) have the magic moments and opportunities that our kids had. They will form a cousin cheering section. For a while, it will be wiggly with mustard stains.
Of course, my ultimate dream is that they will share a Chicago White Sox World Series with their families.With a big parade, and cake and cookies. That Matt will film it. The Dahl cheering section will be deafening, all 3 generations of it. Let’s not wait for Generation 4 or 5. I’d like to be there.