Messenger: Of baseball, fathers and sons, and the passage of time – STLtoday.com


For many fathers and sons, baseball marks the passage of time.

It’s like the mythical Terrance Mann said in his famous soliloquy in the movie “Field of Dreams”:

“America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time.”

A couple of weeks ago, I had one of those moments on a baseball field in which a river of memories flooded through my mind like a time machine. My 11-year-old was up to bat in the final inning of a tight game. The opposing coach stepped out of the dugout and held up four fingers to the umpire.

He was walking my son.

Kyler’s grin turned ear-to-ear with pride. He knew what was happening. In his previous at bat he hit a double over the center-fielder’s head. The coach was deciding that somebody else would beat him on this day, but not my son. My emotions were more mixed. Let my kid hit, I thought. He’s 11, for crying out loud.

Such it is with youth sports. We adults more often than not get in the way of letting the kids figure things out on their own. As the moment passed, my mind wandered to another baseball field, with another 11-year-old. In the summer of 2001, my son, Andrew, and his sister, Alisha, moved to Missouri to live with my wife and me. One of his new schoolmates asked him to play on his baseball team. And so he did. Watching Andrew play baseball was painful. There’s a reason kids start with hitting the ball on a tee, and then a pitching machine, and then coach pitch. Andrew skipped all that, and it showed.

When most games were over, we searched for something good that happened to try to compliment my son after the game.

“You really got a hold of that one foul ball today, son,” I would say. “Next time, that one is a hit.”

I’m not sure if he got a hit all summer. A walk would have been welcome.

He soon turned away from baseball and found football and lacrosse.

In college, he approached me one day with a surprise. He wanted to join the military. Filled with pride and fear at the same time, I blessed the decision, as long as he finished school and went in as an officer. So he researched the branches of service, and he settled on the Marines.

Why?

“Go big or go home,” he said.

This Father’s Day, he’s not home.

Five years ago he was commissioned as a Marine officer. Today he’s a captain on a deployment overseas. A few years back, he called after graduating the Basic School. He and his fellow lieutenants were out celebrating, talking about their fathers back home.

The young men, full of vim and vigor, each determined that they had taken the very best DNA of their fathers and turned it into something their fathers didn’t imagine they had in them. Andrew knew I’d appreciate the story.

Such it is with fathers and sons.

We watch them on the baseball field and imagine ourselves, hoping for something better than we ever were. Sometimes it happens. In the end, the baseball field is just a means to an end, a way to capture those moments in life that mold boys into men.

My oldest son has his own family now, three girls. They’re soccer players, like their father.

But in my basement is a reminder that at one point, there was baseball.

Two old-fashioned bottles of Coke with logos of the Colorado Rockies sit on a shelf. I bought them in 1993, the inaugural year of my favorite team. Bradley and I vowed that year that we would save the bottles until the Rockies won the World Series and drink them then.

Most summers, I glance at them once in the spring, when the baseball season still has hope, and then they are forgotten after the first summer road trip that ends with the Rockies in last place, fading like the color of Coca-Cola in 24-year-old bottles.

This year is different.

It’s mid-June and the Rockies are in first place.

Like an 11-year-old getting intentionally walked, I smile as I think of the possibilities.

Kyler’s teammate got a hit after him in that game. They both scored. They won.

Twenty years from now, the win will fade. Another Father’s Day will come and go, and he’ll tell his son of past glories.

He’ll remember all that was good, and will be again.

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