I realize that not everyone loves baseball. In fact, I’m sure some of you don’t even care for it, preferring other sports – or no sport at all. But stick with me here, because with the start of the World Series tonight in St. Louis, I’m reminded that baseball is more than just a sport.
It’s even more than just a game.
My childhood is full of some tough memories. Memories of a broken home, broken promises and dreams that just didn’t come true. But it wasn’t all bad, of course, and thanks to baseball, I have one particular memory that stands out in vivid, wonderful color.
The date was Saturday June 23, 1973. You could look it up. I had just stepped off a Greyhound bus in San Gabriel, California. I was there for a highly anticipated weekend visit with my father, a break from the dysfunctional foster care family I was living with, the Reils.
“Do you want to go get a Dodger Dog?” my dad asked me, just seconds after saying hello. I was incredulous. Was he serious?
He was, but we had to hurry. Another bus was leaving for Chavez Ravine, the site of Dodger Stadium and that afternoon’s doubleheader (!) with the Cincinnati Reds.
As things turned out, we missed the bus. Watching it pull away from the curb, I was heartbroken. We’d never make it given how infrequently the buses were running. Seeing the look on my face, my dad hailed a taxi, and for no small sum – a cost he really couldn’t afford.
So off we went, and what a day it was! I came back with a ball autographed by Johnny Bench, Steve Garvey, Joe Morgan and Pete Rose.
Best of all, I came back with a rare, golden memory with my dad.
I felt like a kid again. A normal kid.
My father would die only a few years later, broke, alone and homeless. But for one shining afternoon under a warm Southern California sun, a childhood dream of mine came true: I was with my dad at a Major League ballgame! Baseball brought us together, even as the sins of a broken world ultimately pulled us apart.
Just across the hall from me is my friend and colleague, Gary Schneeberger. On his desk in his office is a ball from a game he went to with his own dad on May 4, 1974. It was during batting practice that White Sox pitcher Skip Pitlock launched a ball in their direction. Dale Schneeberger snagged it for his son, who stood looking up at him with wide and admiring eyes.
Through the years, Dale and Gary have experienced some ups and downs in their father-son relationship. Thankfully, time and prayer have healed old wounds, so much so that Gary and his brother recently surprised their dad with tickets to a Cubs game. In the seventh inning, Gary pulled a ball from a bag and all the men signed it, a special souvenir of a poignant day together at Wrigley Field. Tears fell from their eyes. After the game, Dale said to his two sons, “I’ve always wanted to know my boys loved me as much as I loved my Dad. Tonight I know that.”
The old arguments and grudges were gone. Just boys turned men with their dad rooting on their favorite team.
Don’t tell me that baseball is just a sport. Baseball can bring and keep families together, even help draw them back through strain and strife. “Baseball is a ballet without music,” said the late Tigers announcer, Ernie Harwell. It’s “Drama without words.”
Not only on the field – but also in the stands.
One last thing. Did you notice what’s written on the ball hit by Skip Pitlock? The years have faded the writing, but indeed, that ball was caught by Gary’s dad. It’s good to remember, though, that as dads, our values and lessons are caught by our sons and daughters – whether we know it or not.
I would enjoy hearing your memories of how baseball and family have intersected in your own life. Let’s have some fun. Is there a special day or moment that rises above all the rest?