For a long time, it has been the opposite of cool to say you saw something interesting on Facebook. While it is how many of us receive a remarkable amount of our information, publicly acknowledging it can put you well down on the B-list. Sometimes, though, something there does inspire reflection. That was the case with a recent posting by Greg Ward, who used to wear the head honcho robe at the Unitarian outlet on the Peninsula. It was about his dad and baseball.
Ward posted a couple of nice pictures of himself with his father at an A’s game in Oakland. Ward wrote that it was the first baseball game he had attended with his father in 11 years.
“How we once loved to go to the games together!” he remembered. “And what a joy to get a chance to do it again–thanks to the kindness of David Keyes to make it happen. My Dad would never have agreed to go unless it was a gift, as he believes baseball games are too expensive.”
Here’s where I come in. Ward’s posting reminded me of one of the great regrets of my life. Which is simply that I never thought to take my dad to a baseball game.
Donald E. Calkins was a Yankees fan by virtue of having grown up in Willsboro, N.Y., a tiny town on the banks of Lake Champlain. It was a lovely place filled with people of slight aspirations. Canada was less than 100 miles away but I don’t think any of my relatives ever made it that far. New York City? It might as well have been in China.
From Willsboro you could see Burlington, Vermont, on the other side of the lake but that required a ferry, and the ferry required money and why would you pay money to go somewhere unless you really, really had to?
Anyway, as I was growing up in the ‘50s and ‘60s, baseball was Little League or something you watched on TV. Fortunately for my dad, the NBC Game of the Week featured the Yankees as often as not. It became a ritual, him in his easy chair eating pretzels and clam dip and drinking Olympia while I sat in my mother’s smaller chair being glad he was in a good mood. We laughed at the silly things announcer Dizzy Dean had to say.
Dad and I were fans of Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford and Yogi Berra, of course. It never occurred to me until I read Yogi’s obituaries this week that he and my dad were the same age. Apparently quite a few things never occurred to me, such as taking Dad to a game. Never sharing a game that wasn’t on TV.
I now realize there were several reasons for that. My dad was in the Air Force and I mostly grew up on or near Air Force bases, none of them close to a major league city. We were stationed in Marin County for a time but that was before the Giants had moved west. Later we were in Germany, Oklahoma, southern Virginia, Las Vegas and the San Joaquin Valley. No big league teams there. But a bigger reason, I now understand, is that we weren’t the kind of people who went to baseball games.
It wasn’t all about the money. My dad’s dad never took him to a ballgame unless it might have been a contest between Essex and Elizabethtown, so my dad really didn’t know how to go to a ballgame. He was an NCO in the Air Force. Going to games, that was something officers did. If you go to games, you know how to go to games, how to pick your seats and where to park, etc., etc. But if you don’t, you don’t.
We traveled a lot, and we often came close to places with big league teams. I remember a summer trip through the lower Midwest when it seemed like every radio station was playing a song about Stan Musial, the great Cardinal. I remember how excited I was when we drove through Cleveland one night and I could actually see the lights from an Indians game. I remember saying something like “Oh, my God, Dad! Rocky Colavito is right over there!” But when your cross-country trips mean sleeping in the back of a ’59 Chevy station wagon and eating baloney sandwiches, you don’t find your dad stopping at a stadium, pulling out his wallet and saying, “We’ll take four of your best seats, please.”
Unfortunately, we never talked about this. I never said, “Hey, old man, how come we never went to a ballgame?” And, even more unfortunately, I never thought to ask him, even when he was living near San Diego in his later years, “Hey, old man, would you like to go to a ballgame?”
In his later years, we didn’t talk about baseball much. He didn’t care about the Padres or any of the new breed of Yankees. If they had shown reruns of Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese calling a Yankees-Tiger showdown, he might have whipped up some clam dip, but they didn’t.
Fortunately, my brother and I did think to take him to Las Vegas one last time, so he could sit in a lounge with a view of the pool, order a shrimp cocktail and say, “This is the life,” At that point, it probably was better than a ball game. Fewer stairs, shorter lines. But there were times when the Yankees flew into San Diego and I wish to hell now that I had thought to show up in my own version of a Chevy station wagon to say, “Hey, Dad. We’re going to the game.” Even if the names on the uniforms were unfamiliar, he still would have recognized the pinstripes.
This column, by the way, has very little to do with baseball.