Fathers, Sons and Baseball
Baseball’s opening day has arrived, a surer sign of spring to me than the daffodils popping up in our front yard.
I learned the game from my father, who played the game himself as a young man and later coached me when I was young. We’ve spent many hours catching up playing catch.
It wasn’t until I had a son of my own that I really came to truly treasure the game myself. Baseball connects fathers and sons with ritual and tradition. I think I came to own it when Oscar was born because I knew I could lean on it as a common activity that would connect me with my children in the same way that it connected me with my dad.
That, and the Twins started winning.
I was born and raised in South Dakota, and on both sides of my family, the Minnesota Twins were our team. Watching their World Series wins in 1987 and 1991 on TV with dad were formative moments in my childhood. We made several trips to the old Metrodome to watch Kirby Puckett and Kent Hrbek play on Astroturf under a giant tented roof.
The Twinkies had a drought in the late 1990s, but came back as a franchise in the last decade, despite being one of the smallest markets in the big leagues. Their resurgence has led to a new baseball stadium, Target Field, which just opened last summer to a chorus of praise.
In following the development and construction of the new field, and hearing how much fans liked watching games there, dad and I shared the expectation that someday we’d go to Target Field together to watch the Twins play in their new home.
A great and noble idea, until I trampled it recently.
Stacey has had a few opportunities to connect with her former roommates from college and has really appreciated how those relationships have matured and grown over the years and through different stages of life. She has felt sustained by these friendships because those women know and affirm her at a deep level.
In her care for me, Stacey had the idea to encourage me to make the same kind of connection with a good friend from graduate school, Nate, who is also Simon’s godfather. When we were in grad school together, she used to tease Nate and me about having a “bro-mance”—we share a lot of interests, a sense of humor, and a real respect for one another. Nate is from the Twin Cities, and Stacey thought it would be an easy thing for me to get away to visit him for a few days.
So, we began to make plans. And, as I was visiting Minneapolis in May, I figured I’d be stupid not to go to Target Field. We arranged things so that we can take in a short series against the Tigers.
It wasn’t until I was talking to dad about these plans that the trip started to sit uneasy with me. I felt awkward and ugly telling dad about it, not because he would hold it over me, but because my plans for this trip failed to acknowledge the expectation that we shared about seeing Target Field together.
It took a few conversations with Stacey to get to the bottom of my feelings about the matter. We’ve gotten better at helping one another process events simply through listening, and I’m grateful for the insight that comes from talking with her.
I called dad back recently to apologize. In the end, it really isn’t a big deal, but I realized that I had to acknowledge with him that sharing our experience of the Twins and the game of baseball is important to me because it is a way for us to share each other.
Naturally, loving father that he is, he was understanding and told me not to worry.
It is tempting to think that as a father, I stand alone in the batter’s box, taking swings at what life is throwing—whether kids are throwing fits and refusing to get dressed, or even when they triumph with Lego robotics. And anyone who has played the game can tell you that the batter’s box can indeed be a lonely place to be.
I take courage from the knowledge that at this moment, I’m simply the one from the family team taking an at-bat. There is a whole lineup of hitters who have come before me and who will come after me—fathers, sons and grandfathers—each digging in and taking their best cuts. I will do my best to honor that lineup.