Jun 16

Baseball As A Bond On Father’s Day

Was channel surfing on the car radio Saturday when the numbers stopped on the New York Mets game. I thought I’d stick around for a quick listen to Howie Rose and Josh Lewin for a couple of reasons.

First, they are good, and secondly I thought I’d do my part to boost their ratings. What else are friends for?

I forget the context it was mentioned, but Howie brought up the now-demolished Cleveland Municipal Stadium. Josh called it, “The Mistake on the Lake.” Constructed on the shores of Lake Erie, the one-time home of the Indians and Browns – and built in the long-forgotten hope of Cleveland one day hosting the Olympics – like so many others exists only in film clips and memories.

Howie mentioned his disdain for the Stadium and asked how anybody could like the place. To anybody who once shivered watching the Browns in December or Indians in April, or battled the monstrous bugs, or sat behind a pillar, or smelt the stench of the beer and urine-soaked concourses, I surely understand.

But, I said “once.’’

For me, and thousands like me, there were countless trips and Cleveland Stadium became a second home. When Howie mentioned it I couldn’t help think of my father, who on this special day, is only with me in my distracted and rushing thoughts.

My father instilled in me my love of baseball and sense of fair play. He was my Little League coach and my teams weren’t that good, but win or lose, after each game we’d go for ice cream. And, whether you were good or not, on my father’s team you always played and everybody batted. No exceptions. Only now do I understand why we lost so many games late because some kid I’ve long since forgotten muffed a pop up or struck out.

The first day of practice was for preparing the field. You brought shovels and rakes, not bats and gloves that day.

Baseball was it in my house. Dad rushed home to coach the games, and on the nights we didn’t play we’d watch the Indians. I loved watching those games with him. Somehow, it was better in black-and-white long before the days of instant replay and high-def.

However, serious bonding was done at Cleveland Stadium. I still have the box score from the first game he took me to, won 5-0 by the Indians over Baltimore. I came to see Rocky Colavito, but Chuck Hinton homered.

We’d go several times each summer, and he always brought along a group of my friends for my birthday. I’ll never forget when he took my brother and me out of school for Opening Day. He said we’d remember that more than anything they’d teach us that day in school.

He was right, as he often was, but I didn’t give him that much.

I remember a lot of the games, including the time we had standing room tickets to watch the Browns beat Dallas in the playoffs. Dale Lindsey ran back an interception for a touchdown. What I remember most was looking up at him as he shivered just because I wanted to be there.

When I got older and covered the Indians, I treated him. Then, years later, the best time I had with him in my adult life was when he spent a week with me in spring training. Sadly, we did it once. But, that week in Florida was planted in Cleveland Stadium decades earlier.

The Stadium wasn’t glamorous, but it was mine. Just as Shea Stadium was Howie’s place of worship, so to speak. In these days of Citi Field and retro stadiums, there are countless of baseball fans like us weaned in dumpy ballparks.

Gone are Tiger Stadium; Memorial Stadium in Baltimore; the old Yankee Stadium; RFK in Washington; Metropolitan Stadium in Minnesota; Crosley Field; and Forbes Field. And, we haven’t even gotten to Ebbets Field or the Polo Grounds.

Those are sacred places of Tom Seaver and Mickey Mantle; of Al Kaline and Brooks Robinson; of Harmon Killebrew and Pete Rose; of Ralph Kiner and Willie Mays.

Some of those stadiums are now dust, or covered in concrete and built over by apartment complexes and shopping malls. Some of the players are also gone.

They remain in our consciousness in large part because our fathers told us about them while sitting in cramped aisles between innings and pitching changes. Those were the days before non-stop video and blaring audio, sometimes between batters. The lull in the action is the beauty of the sport, which those who run this game worrying about the added five minutes will never understand.

My father and I were close then, but drifted apart as I grew older. We differed politically and I rebelled about a lot of things, as most teenagers do.

I don’t recall if we ever played catch in the yard after he stopped coaching and I went to high school. Maybe we did, but honestly, I don’t think so. However, when things were the coldest between us, we always had baseball and World War II history to talk about.

There were times, even if I knew the answers, I’d ask questions just to hear him talk. Even manufactured conversation is better than silence. He’s gone now and there’s so much more I’d like to tell him if I had the chance I will never get.

If I were smart enough then as reflective as I am now, perhaps we would have thrown the ball around a lot more.