≡ Menu

Sit.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.


Baseball’s back, and all is right with the world


Old Baseball and Glove on Faded WoodWatched some baseball on TV last night and woke up feeling rested and optimistic. Switching channels to the NCAA finale also was good for the mood, but the big credit goes to baseball. If you’re watching baseball, you’re either retired or you worked your day out just right.

Watching baseball is like reading a good book. It takes patience to get to the really good parts, and the good parts make you forget about the waiting. Watching baseball is like weeding the garden. It’s incremental and rewarding in a subtle way. At the end of the furrow, nothing has been created but something has been accomplished.

Baseball is an old movie, black and white even when it isn’t. You may have seen the pre-season TV commercials for the Giants, showing the end of last year’s World Series mostly in black and white. Good commercials.

Because I like baseball, I suppose I should like soccer. Like baseball, soccer is a process. What happens in the third inning, or the tenth minute, sets the stage for what happens in the seven inning or the final minute. But they’re always moving in soccer and there aren’t enough pauses, fresh starts. And if you didn’t run around soccer fields when you were a kid, the game doesn’t have the nostalgic appeal of baseball.

I was, of course, one of the worst baseball players ever. My little league was on an Air Force base. There were four teams each year, the Flyers, Jets, Rockets and Pilots. Hats were blue, red, green and yellow, in that order. No one wanted to be a Pilot because of the yellow. My best friend was the best player and he had enough pull with the coaches to save me from the yellow.

I like basketball, too, but football not so much. Football fans are too loud. And football players are almost anonymous with all that hardware welded onto their helmets. In baseball, you can see faces. Hunter Pence should be seen. You recognize your favorites by the way they stand at the plate.

Football players have to rest up for a week. Baseball players play all the time. If you miss a game, no worries, there will be another one tomorrow. If you can’t watch, they’re worth listening to on the radio. If only there was a way to have Vin Scully talk us through every game.

It would be better if there were still double-headers. Your day was baseball and nothing else except for getting there and back.

3d rendering of a Baseball on a pitchers mound

Baseball is a warm evening, a sip of whiskey, a poem that makes sense the first time through. It doesn’t have to be pro ball. Knowing that the boys of summer are millionaires washes some of the charm away, so a high school game, an American Legion game if they still have those, even a softball game at the schoolyard down the street is worth a few minutes or a few hours.

Some of my friends love to memorize the numbers of baseball, the batting averages and the obscure statistics like number of times reaching base against a left-handed pitcher from another hemisphere. TRBLPHs, for short. They like to argue about baseball. Roberto Clemente or some other fellow?

I don’t have a head for that stuff. But I can remember in great detail how Mickey Mantle looked catching a deep fly while we watched it on TV and my dad ate pretzels and clam dip and drank Oly beer and forgot just for a while to be upset about this or that. I remember Dizzy Dean singing the Wabash Cannonball during the seventh-inning stretch and my dad waking up and singing along, like we didn’t have a care in the world.