19 June 2011

Baseball and Fathers

"What's important is that baseball, after twenty-eight years of artificial turf and expansion and the designated hitter and drugs and free agency and thousand-dollar bubble gum cards is still a gift given by fathers to sons." - Michael Chebon

Last night I sat in the stands of a major league baseball game, eavesdropping.  More specifically, I was catching snippets of a conversation between a father and his seven year-old-ish son:
“What’s a batting average?”
 “Did you see that—right there at the end of the pitch? The way the catcher moves his glove?”
“What if someone hit the ball all the way over that wall and into someone’s house?”
“Keep eating peanuts. We have to keep eating peanuts until the Mariners score.”
And so on.  It reminded me of many an afternoon spent watching the Giants with my dad—him explaining the nuances of a good swing, what ERA means, and why there is the infield fly rule; me listening, and not listening, and wondering if we were going to get chocolate malts this time.

For me, there’s something altogether fatherly about baseball—about spending several hours together with someone whom you care about deeply, pointedly not talking about anything genuinely important, but rather the bits of minutia and trivia that make up our national pastime.  Accentuating this dialogue are moments of contented silence born of shared experience, a sort of conversational negative space.  And from out of it all—the endless stats and scorecards and rally caps—emerges what both of you might say to each other if you didn’t have baseball to say it for you.     

Not all fathers are baseball dads, of course.  But to varying degrees, I think all dads need a construct for communicating how much they care, that they value you enough to invest their time, energy, money, and love in you.  The construct itself is unimportant—it could be fishing, or books, or cars, or a cabin.  But for many, it’s baseball.  It’s this sort of thing that makes the most stoic of men shed half-hidden tears at the end of Field of Dreams when Rays asks, “Dad, you want to have a catch?”  And for more than a few, it is what will keep them returning to a ballpark for an afternoon with dad, long after he is gone.

Paul Richards, former manager of the Orioles, once said, “Baseball is made up of very few big and dramatic moments, but rather it's a beautifully put together pattern of countless little subtleties that finally add up to the big moment, and you have to be well-versed in the game to truly appreciate them.” 

He may as well have been speaking of fatherhood.

Happy Father’s Day, Pop.  Sandoval’s hitting .287. 

02 June 2011

Book'em Danno

Amazon puts on these really cool weekly "fishbowls," where famous authors and musicians come to speak or perform.  Today's special guest: Erik Larson, renowned author of beautifully-rendered historical narratives interspersed with lurid true crime.  My sister introduced me to Larson's The Devil in the White City several years ago, so I was pretty excited to hear about his latest best-seller, In the Garden of Beasts--a story of Nazi Berlin as seen through the eyes of William Dodd, America's first ambassador to Nazi Germany, and his rambunctious 24-year old daughter.

Larson spent the better part of an hour describing father and daughter as characters in a true life Grimm Brothers fairy tale, two "innocents" lost in the dusky and darkening wood that was 1933 Germany. He was easily compelling enough that I had fully decided to bump his book to the top of my reading list--and that was before both Bryant and I won the raffle for a signed copy.

Just one of the perks of being an employee at the world's largest bookstore.