The other day, I passed a young father playing catch with his son in the driveway, and as I drove off, tears gathered in my eyes as I reminisced about the times when that little boy was instead a little girl, and the father was my dad. Between school, work, and softball, not many things grab my attention and stick with me, but this did. Call baseball what you want — boring, too slow, outdated — but never deny its ability to form a bond between father and child in a way that few other things can.
The year is 2004, the girl is six years old, and her mom has tied a pink bow in her hair to match her pink dress. She’s in the backyard on a summer afternoon, holding a bat that’s certainly too heavy, and her dad has a baseball in his hand. He’s painstakingly trying to teach her how to hit one. She doesn’t understand that she’s not supposed to swing in the same spot every time. She keeps swinging across her body and missing the ball, and all she wants is to go inside. It’s hot out, and she’s frustrated. Why won’t Dad lay off?
Eight years later, she’s preparing for her first year of high school, and rumor has it the varsity softball team needs a shortstop. She’s not very good at this point in her career, but Dad sees things in her that she doesn’t and knows what it takes to be successful. He’s hard on her and pushes her to her limits, and she doesn’t understand that this is what would make him so influential throughout her adolescence. But soon she will.
My dad was a great softball coach and a great life coach, but — most importantly — he was always a great dad. The little girl in that pink dress is now a sophomore in college, and the older I become, the more appreciative I am for everything my dad has ever done for me.
Baseball helped us form a bond that will never break — so long as Cleveland baseball is still on TV and neither one of us loses our passion for the game. It was during the hours of front toss and ground balls that I learned what it means to be a parent — a real role model. I will never forget the image of my dad bent over and covered in sweat after an eight-hour workday, which didn’t include the hour of traffic he had to sit through on the way home. He was exhausted, yet he never turned down a trip to the softball field. Not once.
Last winter my dad underwent his second open-heart surgery. We were told the surgery was complicated and unlike anything the surgeons at the Cleveland Clinic — one of the best hospitals in the world — had ever performed. My heart broke as I entered the intensive care unit to find him strapped down, connected to several machines, and it continues to break a little more each time I turn around to find him 10 steps behind my mom, my brothers, and me, because he doesn’t have the energy to match our pace anymore.
Long gone are the days when Dad would spend hours tearing up field number seven at the community ballpark with me, but those memories will stay in my heart forever, especially when I someday have little ballplayers of my own. For now, I’m content with making the 30-minute drive home to plop down on the sofa next to Dad and take in all of the knowledge he shares as we watch our beloved Tribe.
The sport has given me more than I ever asked for: lifelong friends, coaches who instilled confidence in me, and more good times than I can keep track of. But the most important thing it’s ever given me is a relationship that I vow to never take for granted — a dad who never gave up on me and taught me that anything in this life is possible if you approach it with a relentless work ethic and a little bit of mental toughness.
I’m not the only one who has been blessed with an inseparable bond thanks to the game.
There’s a reason why Carlos Correa got emotional hugging his father after winning his first World Series this fall. There’s a reason why Michael Brantley considers his father Mickey — who attends most games and offers his son advice after every single one — the best role model and coach he’s ever had. Before the fame and the money and the awards, there were the hours of work put in and the formation of an unbreakable relationship. As our to-do lists grow and life’s burdens become heavier, baseball is the glue that holds fathers and their children together. Our dads never stopped sacrificing for us and showing us the way back then, and we are nothing but grateful now. The memories will last a lifetime, and as long as the game is still being played somewhere, there will forever be something to bond over.
Kids, go grab your mitt and ask your old man to play catch. Time is flying by. Dads, please never turn them down.