Happy Father’s Day
By Ed Botti, June 21, 2020
We have many special holidays in our culture, some that people look forward to months in advance. We plan trips around holidays. We cherish the days off from school or work when a holiday falls on a weekday.
As a kid I always loved the 4th of July!
A holiday that never falls on a weekday, never accrues a day off for us, doesn’t have a shopping season and doesn’t cause stores and banks to close for the day is Father’s Day.
The first Father’s Day in the US was celebrated on June 19, 1910, in Washington State. It was not until 1972, 58 years after President Woodrow Wilson made Mother’s Day an official holiday that Father’s Day became an official holiday in the United States.
For some, including myself, Father’s Day is a tough day. My Dad passed away the summer of 2011.
Yes, my wife and kids have a small, very nice celebration for me each year. But, it’s never been the same. How could it?
But that’s life. It’s one of things my Father taught me many years ago “keep your eye on the ball” he would say. In other words, focus and stick with it and you’ll be fine.
Each year when Father’s Day rolls around, one of the first things I find myself thinking about is Baseball.
Not because Baseball is more important than the holiday, and not because (in normal years) we’d have a game on TV that afternoon that we would watch.
No, I think of Baseball because of my Father. In a way for me, they are connected.
Some of my earliest memories are of my Father teaching me how to play Baseball. Spending untold hours with me either in the driveway or at a park hitting me grounders at second and shortstop, and pitching batting practice to me. Teaching me the right way to play the game. Teaching me that nothing is easy, and the harder you work, the better you get. And of course to “keep your eye on the ball”.
Telling me stories of the great Yankee teams he got see as a kid growing up in Brooklyn. A Yankee fan from Brooklyn back in those days was not as common as it is today. After all, they did have their own team back then.
I remember listening to him tell me that he and his friends slept outside Yankee Stadium to get World Series tickets. Back in the 70’s when he told me that, I thought to myself “who would sleep out in the Bronx”?
When I think of the very first major league game I saw, who was I with?
When I wanted to know why everyone stood up during the seventh inning, who did I ask?
When I made a bad play in the field or struck out, who did I turn to?
Who would buy me a new bat when I broke my favorite one?
Who taught me tricks like soaking my new mitt in Neatsfoot oil, tie it up in rope, put it under my pillow and sleep on it for a few nights to break it in?
And who is the one person that wanted me to be better than he ever was?
Those were tough shoes to fill, he played 4 or 5 seasons in the Washington Senator and Yankee minor league systems. He actually went to spring training in 1952 with the Yankees as a 23 year old outfielder.
He had a lot to teach and was always happy to do so.
Baseball is an American tradition and has always been a game of Fathers and Sons, for most of us.
He wasn’t as lucky, my Grandfather was an immigrant that didn’t know much about the game, or even speak much English. Their lives were much different back then, so my Father had to learn it on his own in the streets of Brooklyn, like many other kids back then, including one of his teammates, Frank Torre, who used to bring his chubby little brother named Joe to their games!
But his summer routine was the same as mine would become years later. Get up, eat, find your friends, and play ball all day.
One condition, be home before your Father gets home from work.
The Father – Son relationship can be a tricky one at times. Even as the years went on, and new interest entered a rebellious teenager’s mind, Baseball remained a bond between us. During periods of time when there was conflict between us (definitely caused by something I did), we could always just sit by the TV and watch a game together.
And sooner or later during that game, we’d speak to each other again. It would start out Baseball related and go from there.
Through my Father’s teaching of Baseball many things were learned that not only mattered on the field, but in life.
Always give your best effort
Handle success with class
Learn from each failure
Earn your opportunities
Work hard even when no one’s watching you
Be a team player
The fact that there are infinite images in my mind and life lessons that can be harvested from the many hours spent with my Father playing Baseball, are the primary factors that make the game so thought-provoking and stimulating to me.
Our parents can drive us very hard, and at that point in time many of us, me included, do not appreciate it.
I remember countless times being forced to hit the field and take grounders in the evening as the summer sun would set and my friends would all be hanging out somewhere, desperately wishing I could be with them, instead of being covered in dry, hot dust and sweat.
It took years to understand. But I finally got it, he had better things to do as well. This was for me, not him.
Unlike other sports we played as kids, at least in my experience, it was just something we did without thought because it was a part of who we were; a desire never questioned.
Just like him, most days in the summer would be the same routine for me. Get up, eat, grab my mitt and bat, jump on my bike and ride off to play ball, all day long. No cell phone distractions, just me and my friends all applying some set of skills taught to us by our Fathers.
The only condition, be home before your Father gets home from work.
I was lucky, we usually had a field, but if a field wasn’t available, the street was just as good. We’d use our imagination, first base could be the fire hydrant, second could be a sewer cover and third base a parked car or street light pole.
It never mattered, we just knew we had to play some form of Baseball, and be with our friends.
Another tradition handed down from our Fathers.
I was thinking about it recently, because of the dynamics of Baseball, I do not know anyone that has acquired an adulation for Baseball as an adult. It just doesn’t work that way. It’s a game that gets ingrained in us at a very young age. Learning from each failure and bad hop along the way.
In my case, it was my Father that did the ingraining.
Hot or cold, rain or shine, we would practice, and then talk.
Most societies have old traditions and folklore that get passed down from Fathers to Sons in the cycle to adulthood. In my opinion, that American institution and tradition has been Baseball; taught to Sons by Fathers.
I hope that doesn’t change. I fear it might.
So, instead of thinking about if and when Baseball will be played in the major leagues this year, spend some time with your Father, or if you can’t anymore, spend some time thinking about him and all he has done for you.
I’ll bet a lot of thoughts will go back to a simpler time and a sand lot diamond, driveway or street somewhere in the hot sun.
I don’t know who made the below poem, but I thought it would fit well today.
Happy Father’s Day!