There is something about fathers, sons, and baseball. It’s a strange relationship that is probably overly romanticized in many ways. Most dads dream of having a son who can either follow in their cleated footsteps or be the player they never were. Either way, dads’ baseball dreams often lead to unnecessary demands and burnout for our youth. 

My son is one of the many baseball casualties. While he wasn’t a superstar, he was a talented and important member of his team for five seasons. He was a solid pitcher, very reliable first baseman, and had very good range in center field. He also hit his team’s first out of the park homerun — a memory I’ll never forget. But, as often happens, kids get older and interests change. A couple years back, my son decided he’d had enough of baseball. This decision was bittersweet for me. I love the game and loved watching him play, but baseball was also becoming a way of life. I could see that it was more work and less fun for my son. Politics, practices, and pressure had turned a beautiful game into an ugly chore. I think moving on was the right decision for him. 

I must admit that I haven’t really missed the many hours spent under the beating sun, the dust blowing in my eyes, or the screaming coaches (and, occasionally, parents). There is one thing I have missed greatly over the last couple of years, however. Playing catch and talking about life with my son. We did this almost daily during every baseball season since my boy could barely catch a ball. At first we’d mostly talk about the fundamentals of the game. We would discuss and work on grounders, pop-ups, getting into position to make plays, and making good throws. 

As he got older, though, we started talking about Major League Baseball, our Kansas City Royals, school, girls, and other “guy stuff.” When we were throwing that seamed ball back and forth we weren’t so much father and son, but instead were just a couple of buddies hanging out. My wife used to insist that I didn’t need to feel like I had to play catch every day, but she didn’t quite understand that I wanted to do it. I needed this time — maybe more than my kid did. 

Last night, out of the blue, my now teenage son asked me to play catch. I couldn’t believe my ears, and blurted out an overly emphatic “YES!” We picked up right where we had left off. I delivered not only grounders and pop-ups, but “divers” and “jumpers.” We talked about guy stuff and threw the ball hard. I felt the sting and heard the smack of the ball hitting my old glove. I smelled the leather, took in the glowing green grass of spring, and watched my son’s shadow grow in the setting sun. I’m not always mindful about being “in the moment,” but I was very present for this. I wanted to remember it. 

We laughed as the sun hid and we had trouble picking up the ball in the growing darkness. “One more,” we took turns yelling — many times. Finally, when it was just too black, I yelled, “last one.” My little boy — who isn’t little anymore — caught the ball and walked it back to me, setting it softly in my mitt. I hope this isn’t really the last one, but I suppose at some point it will be. If this is it, I’m going to remember it well. 

When I was a young man, I worked as a carpenter. I learned an old saying that you never make a mistake until you have run out of lumber. I’ve modified this as I race at what feels like an increasing pace through middle age — there are no mistakes as long as you have time. I make many mistakes. I’m far from a perfect parent, and I don’t generally give advice. But to both future and current parents, I would say this: if your child asks you to tell a story, shoot hoops, have a tea party, play a board game, help with homework, or have a catch…say yes. Because at some point they will stop asking. 

Today my shoulder aches and my arm is weak, but my heart is full and my memory is strong. 

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There’s nothing that can be written about baseball that hasn’t already been said. It’s a game that grown men wearing silly outfits play until their arms are dead, their knees give out, and their eyes can no longer pick up a fastball. It’s the perfect game in many respects, the chess of sports, where strategy is critical, yet a single pawn occasionally wins a game. The best hitters fail more often than they succeed, but when they come through at the end of a game — at the end of a season — well, it can bring tears to old men’s eyes. 

They say baseball is a metaphor for life. It’s a long season full of ups and downs, triumphs and heartache. Some days are good, some are bad, and sometimes the rain ruins everything. As in life, it seems that success is usually the result of teamwork, determination, and a lot of good fortune along the way. It’s not always the most talented team that wins, and as Yogi Berra’s saying goes, it ain’t over ’til it’s over. As fans, very few of us get to regularly enjoy the post season, but each new year brings renewed hope. The last two seasons are proof that anything is possible, and also that patience truly is a virtue. 

So as we start a new season in earnest today, I sincerely wish everyone luck. I’ve experienced the thrill of sitting on the edge of my seat during an unimaginable late inning rally resulting in victory. I’ve witnessed an entire city unite with unbelievable pride during a magical season capped by a long-awaited World Series championship. Most importantly, I’ve felt the simple joy of hanging outside with my family on a warm summer night, talking about life as baseball plays on the radio. 

Maybe life is actually a metaphor for baseball? As in baseball, remember that if you stay focused and keep your eye on the ball, eventually you’ll get a hit. Sometimes just a little hit is all it takes. Hustle every chance you get, play with all your heart, and — most importantly — remember to enjoy every game. The season is long, but life is short. Play ball. 

(And GO ROYALS!) 

  
When the Houston Astros scored three runs in the seventh inning of yesterday’s game, giving them a four-run cushion over our Kansas City Royals, I truly believed we were done. I was so mad. We’ve been too good to lose this early. It’s not fair to these guys. It’s not fair to KC, I thought. Then the realization hit that the season was about to be over, and my anger was overtaken by complete sadness.

The baseball season is long, maybe too long. A month of preseason, followed by 162 regular season games can be absolutely brutal when the team you love is having a(nother) dismal year. Any fan of the Royals knows this all too well. With each new season comes renewed hope; hope that is typically crushed long before summer officially begins. But that wasn’t the case this year. Our Royals stormed out of the gates winning their first seven games, and they never looked back. We had seven All-Stars (counting Alex Gordon, who was left off the roster due to injury), we easily won our division by 12 games, and ended the season with the American League’s best record and home-field advantage throughout the postseason.

Many media know-it-alls predicted us to be average at best. They said last year was just a case of catching lightning in a bottle, that we shouldn’t have gone as far as we did then, and certainly didn’t have the talent to repeat as American League champs, win the Central Division, or even make the playoffs as a wild card team. We didn’t listen. We never had a doubt. We were so close last year, and we have unfinished business.

I say “we” because I’m talking about all of us. Not just the team, but this town. A relatively small city of passionate, down-to-earth Midwesterners who have spent every night over the past six months huddled around a TV or radio, giving our full attention not just to a team, but to the individual players who have become like family members. It’s not just about a love of baseball, but a love of the people who make up this team we call our own.

The players fit this town. They are no longer crusty, aging veterans looking for a few paychecks before hanging up their cleats. No, this is a bunch of mostly twenty-somethings who have cut their teeth together. They have shared more failures than successes. Yet somehow, against all probability, they have become winners in a town that is not accustomed to winning. It is obvious that these guys truly care about each other and the fans. It’s infectious and undeniable. They wear “Kansas City” on their chests, and carry Kansas City on their backs. Better yet, maybe we are carrying them. 

So when we found ourselves down by four going into the eighth inning yesterday, I admit I was angry. I was appalled by the Astros’ cocky celebrating, knowing of course that they were acting no differently than we did during our playoff run last season. I was mad at the announcers, I was upset with our players for seeming so passive and not being more aggressive. I was really acting quite selfish, but I suppose that’s probably normal for die-hard fans when the team they have invested time, money and sincere love in must finally meet their fate. I’m not used to the end coming sooner than expected.

The end…this is what I actually wanted to avoid. This was the source of my sadness.

In twenty years, I may not remember the plays and games that made this season so special. I doubt I will be able to recall our record, any statistics, or maybe even all of the players on the team. But I will remember the many nights spent simply hanging out with my wife and two children watching the Royals and talking about baseball — and about life. It isn’t easy to find something the entire family genuinely enjoys doing together, but watching our boys in blue has been that something all season long. From the first game, when my then four-year-old daughter sadly asked, “Where is Billy Butler?” to high-fiving, hugging, and hollering with joy yesterday, spending our evenings with the Royals has become the family routine. Losses were like a kick in the gut, while victories left us going to bed fulfilled and happy. We didn’t know what to do during off days or rain-outs. What will we do when it’s finally over? I don’t want it to end. Amazingly, it didn’t end yesterday. Just as in the wild card game last year, an incredible comeback in the eighth inning has given us the opportunity to continue rooting on our team, even if for only one more game. I feel very guilty for doubting such a relentless, tenacious group.

These Royals’ players, starting in the second half of last season, have not only been a source of joy for my family, but have transformed our city into a town that believes not just in our team, but in each other. Baseball — something that seems like it should be so meaningless in the grand scheme of things — has actually helped to inspire and unite us. The Royals have made Kansas City proud. This transcends baseball, and is an example of how beneficial and powerful a game can truly be. I’m not being overly romantic, but am just stating a fact. My wish, and belief, is that this pride will carry on after baseball, regardless of how the season ultimately ends. Until then, like the rest of my fellow Kansas Citians, I will be on the edge of my seat, making sure to enjoy each pitch. And I will never give up hope.