Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A memory gift-wrapped beneath a bleacher seat

From Sunday's TIMES and NEWS-STAR

Father’s Day is today but is traditionally celebrated around Tuesday morning when one of the kids says, “Hey, wait…wasn’t Father’s Day Sunday? Happy day, Dad! Hey, can I borrow 20 dollars?”

Mom’s Day gets the pub, which is right since moms do the heavy lifting. But we dads have feelings (sort of) too. And memories. Usually we can’t take a lot of credit for the memories; it’s just that Fate puts us and our kids in the same place at the right time.

Most of us dads are sort of family misfits, fretting over the next oil change or dying shrub or promotion or mortgage payment. So just to be included in the occasional family fun and then to actually recognize it while it’s happening is a blessing that makes us the luckiest people on the planet.

My friend Scooter took his son, Hadley, age 6, to his first big-league game a few Saturdays ago. Wise dad. Put himself in position to make a play. Headed to Arlington for a Texas Rangers-Boston Red Sox game.

“All Hadley has been talking about for weeks is that he wanted to get ‘a real baseball’ from ‘a real stadium.’” Scooter said. “We were in section 249 in right field, so I knew Prince Fielder or David Ortiz would be about the only two in the game who get one out there to us. But Hadley and I went to our seats while the rest of our gang went to get food and when Hadley got to his seat, right at his feet was an official Major League baseball. Some might tell you it was a batting practice home run that no one found or picked up before we arrived. I would say it was gift from God to thrill a 6-year-old boy's heart.”

(A metaphorical home run and the game hadn’t even started. Thank you, baseball gods!)

They dined on mini-helmets filled with ice cream. Nice.

“There was a group of folks sitting in front of us from West Texas,” Scooter said. “Three of them -- Cami, Dustin and Blake -- befriended Hadley over the course of the game. They chatted with him, high-fived him, laughed with him. They bought him cotton candy and a giant foam cowboy hat. When he went to give them a hug in the top of the ninth, I thought Cami was going to cry. It all warmed my heart as his dad.”

My son Casey was 5 when we went to his first game, in that same ballpark but a hard-to-believe 20 years ago. It went into extra innings when a fading Casey said he would stay if they’d let him bat. I think Eddie Murray won it for the Orioles with a hit in the 11th, but I remember the most important part: Casey slept in the hotel bed while I watched that part on TV. Casey slept a winner’s sleep. A post-mini-helmet ice-cream sleep.

I have a photograph on my wall right now of my son only a few years after that game; it’s of him and then-Shreveport Captain Jason Grilli at Fair Grounds Field. Now the park is closed and Casey is in Chicago waiting tables and acting/performing and Grilli is in Chicago when the Pittsburgh Pirates he pitches for play the Cubs. Funny: in my photo, Grilli has braces.

Things change. Photos and memories don’t. My boy moved to Chicago in August and sometimes I miss him so badly my chest hurts. I think that’s normal; parenting, after all, ain’t for sissies. I’m happy for Grilli, who caught a dream, and for Casey and others like him, who are chasing one. And I’m happy for the dreams these boys fulfilled for dads just by being sons.

Every boy’s age is a good age, but when boys are little, pre-car-keys-borrowing age, there lives a kind of father-son magic that can never quite be recaptured. If it could, it wouldn’t be so special. The Scooters of the world are finding that out. I hope they keep showing up for as many memories as they can.