Friday, July 11, 2014

What I Learned By Taking My Dad To A Baseball Game

In July of 1984 my father took me to my first major league baseball game, the second half of a day-night double-header between the Royals and As in Kansas City.  That was also, until yesterday, the last time he'd been to a baseball game.  With my parents in town this week, I decided it would be fun for us to venture to Citi Field and watch the Mets, partly out of my own selfish desire to get back to the ballpark, but also out of his interest in seeing a game again.

The Mets lost 3-1 and stranded nine men on base in a game that lacked home runs and dazzlingly defensive play.  However, it was a deeply enjoyable experience, and not just because I got to spend some time with my father.  Last night my dad showed me, in a very subtle way, how to better experience and appreciate baseball.

This came as a bit of a surprise, since he has not followed the sport for decades.  He can reel off all of the great players of the 1950s and 1960s, and has very strong memories of important moments, like the Braves winning the World Series in 1957 and Willie Mays' catch in 1954.  However, he did not know the name of a single player in the game last night, knows nothing of sabremetrics, and is pretty much unaware of what teams are good and bad nowadays.  These are all things we expect baseball fans to know, and he is definitely not a fan of professional baseball.  He is something else: an appreciator of the game of baseball itself, divorced from the big leagues.

Instead of discussing the Mets' winning streak or who they called up from the minors, he noticed the deeper facets of the game of baseball on the diamond in front of us.  He noted the ways the defense shifted, the bad angles taken by outfielders, the opposing hurler's pitch selection, the batting stances of the hitters, and the quirks of the pitchers' wind-ups.  It reminded me that while he never taught me to root for a particular team or watch baseball on TV with me, he enjoyed teaching me how to swing a bat and catch fly balls.  Raised on sandlot ball in a home too poor for television, baseball was and still is for him a living, breathing sport, not an entertainment spectacle to be dissected on blogs and talk radio.

As the game went on I ignored the scoreboard more and more, resisted the temptations of my smart-phone, and jabbered less, all so I could appreciate the deeper game being played before my eyes.  They say that baseball is a "thinking man's game," but that's only if you give yourself over to it when you watch it.  I am just as prone as anyone else in our current cultural moment to live in a state of endless distraction and rush, it was great (and a little sad) for one night to realize what I've lost, and now hope to get back.


Matt J. said...

Well put, not that I'm surprised. This is another in a long line of strong posts. I've tried to give a little of this to my kids, and I sometimes can when my personal team isn't involved, but my own quirks may inhibit the youthful enjoyment of the game. The closest story to yours that I can muster concerns the time last summer when everything converged, and I made it up to Illinois, and rode the El to Wrigley to watch the Cubs with my dad and my sons, much as I had in 1981 and 1982 when I was a kid. I'd like to pretend like I imparted some timeless baseball wisdom, but mainly I got mad at how messily my boys ate ice cream and tried really hard not to get choked up during the 7th inning stretch.

Werner Herzog's Bear said...

Thanks Matt. I have brought the girls to a major and minor league game, which they enjoyed without yet being old enough to know what was going on. I hope in a few years we can do a three-generation trip like the one you describe.