Got an email this morning from a former student who now lives within walking distance of Arlington Stadium. Charles was at Yankee Stadium last night to see his beloved Texas Rangers demolish the Bronx Bombers behind Cliff Lee's dominating pitching and a 9th inning offensive explosion that cleared out the Yankee faithful before their team took its final at-bat.
Charles had never been to Yankee Stadium (or New York City for that matter) before. He described the experience of walking into the stadium as "something special" ... yet... at the same time a feeling of "emptiness."
I understood. His dad died just four months ago--a sudden heart attack.
His dad was a teaching colleague of mine--a few years younger than me. Charles and his dad were lifetime Cubs fans and almost daily played catch. When Charles reached high school, father and son took on the roles of coach and player on the Warrior team.
Something about baseball that connects fathers and sons. Seems to be typical that most men find it awkward to express love overtly. How many fathers tell their sons, "I love you." How many sons express this to their dads in words?
Instead, such feelings are expressed through actions. A game of catch serves this purpose. Dads will coach their sons and maybe even say "Good catch" or "Nice throw" to substitute for showing overt affection.
Then there's the father/son bonding that takes place daily during the baseball season when you "live and die" with your team--ritual talk passed on from generation to generation. Charles and his dad suffered every season with their hapless Cubs. My brother and I were more fortunate in that area--we were blessed by growing up diehard Cardinals fans, and were able to share many happy memories with our dad from Musial to Gibson to Ozzie to the great Pujols.
My dad and I seemed to evolve from different planets in various ways. He was logical and scientific while I am more attuned to emotion and the arts. He was a conservative Republican while I was a non-partisan progressive (used to describe this a "liberal" until recent politicians turned that word into something "nasty"). I had learned long ago to steer clear from many potential discussion topics--but we could connect via baseball. Especially when it came to the Cardinals.
That was a family ritual--we lived and died with the Redbirds along with Harry Caray throughout the season (he did the play-by-play for them for two decades before eventually hooking up with those pitiful Cubbies). It was also a weekend pilgrimage each summer to St. Louis to see our heroes perform at Busch Stadium--THE highlight of the annual trip for my brother, dad, and me. And at home were lots of hours of playing catch with Dad... until my brother was old enough to handle it.
My dad was relatively stoic, and most of his conversations took on the form of lectures and lessons about science or politics and matters that my brother, sister, and I soon found were best to either take in or endure silently. Baseball was different though. I could actually talk about baseball with Dad without being made to feel like an idiot!
Dad seemed to recognize this as well--a comfort zone that allowed him to connect at some level. And this lasted throughout his lifetime. Virtually every phone conversation and email message from my dad contained news about the latest news about the Redbirds.
When Charles wrote about missing his dad and wishing he could have taken him to Yankee Stadium last night, I instantly flashed back to 2002... when I was able to get my mom and dad to drive two hours down to St. Louis for a Divisional series game with my Diamondbacks as I flew in from Arizona. It was the first live playoff game they'd ever seen, so it was most appropriate that their beloved Cardinals clinched the series that night.
The Giants foiled any dreams I had of getting my parents to a World Series game that year. But we did get to share the increased tension of playoff baseball. And four years later it became most fitting that our whole family arrived at our parents' home in time to see the 9th inning of the Cardinals' amazing World Series victory over the Tigers. Even more so since it was the final weekend spent in their longtime home in Quincy.
I still can't walk into a baseball stadium without thinking about my dad. He just "seems" to be there, and I know that many share that feeling. That's why the line "Build it, and he will come" remains so potent in Field of Dreams. Any why many grown men weep at the end when Kevin Costner plays catch with his dad.
When Charles wrote this morning and said he "couldn't hold back tears before the game ... just couldn't" ... I completely understood.